Movie Night: Mortal Engines

Year: 2008
Genre: Fantasy
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving

In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, two people meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy.

As odd as it might seem, I’ve never really fully embraced steampunk. I mean, I appreciate the aesthetic, the blend of the modern and the antique, and the way in which it borrows from fantasy to allow things to work without true explanation, or scientific backing. And yet somehow I’ve never read a steampunk novel, or watched a steampunk movie. Until now.

I will admit that I have a soft spot for anything by Peter Jackson, and the way in which he brought Philip Reeve’s classic to life is a visual feast. From the conglomerate blend of London, reimagined as an enormous tank (hundreds of feet high) with all the classic landmarks of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Underground (and was that a piece of the Gherkin I saw fronting the whole thing?), to the airships that combine hot air balloons with jet engines, this is, to the eyes at least, a steampunk dream come true.

But of course, stunning visuals is only to be expected with anything involving Peter Jackson (see The Lord of the Rings), but of late it seems he’s struggled to tell a compelling story. Many of his more recent films have been critically panned, including the unfortunate Hobbit movies, and even The Lovely Bones, all of which were based on long-beloved books. In fact, Peter Jackson seems only capable of creating remakes and adaptations, but I don’t fault him for that, because to me, I think he does a bang-up job (that’s a good job, in case you were wondering).

You see, I think a lot of people misunderstand what Peter Jackson is trying to do. He doesn’t create films for the box office, nor does he pander to the lowest common denominator. I’ve read scathing reviews of Mortal Engines by supposed critics who clearly didn’t take the time to research the original source material, or appreciate in any way that Peter Jackson is making the films that us, the readers, have always wanted.

And therein lies the beauty of this film. It doesn’t explain; it doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. Mortal Engines is a faithful adaptation, true to the aesthetic and true to the plot. If you really want to understand the depth and complexities, you really need to read the book. Many of the events, character motivations and indeed scenarios don’t make 100% sense without context, even though Jackson does manage to cram a lot of world-building and exposition into a (for him) rather modest 2-hour runtime. And if the plot seems kitsch or predictable, it’s because it’s an adaptation of a 20-year-old book whose plot is essentially the same.

I wish I’d seen Mortal Engines when it was released; Peter Jackson, and director Christian Rivers, deserve considerably more credit than they were given for this film, and to see it on the big-screen, I imagine, would have been spectacular. That being said, it’s still a delight in HD or 4K, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching it, because it’s now taken a special place for me in my film collection.

Of course, it’s never going to get a sequel, which is a shame as there are three more books to adapt, but Hollywood is run by the box office, and when a film actually loses money, you can’t expect much more to come from it. Here’s to hoping it becomes a cult classic over time, because it deserves it.

9/10 would watch again.

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