‘Mortal Engines’ at NYCC: Peter Jackson’s Steampunk Epic A Long Way from Middle Earth
Inside the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, actor/ director extraordinaire Andy Serkis was playing the role of moderator for the New York Comic Con panel on the new sci-fi epic Mortal Engines. When he asked director Christian Rivers to explain the movie, the audience was given an in-depth answer about a young woman dealing with loss. Never once did he mention the massive cities on wheels navigating a baron wasteland in an attempt to steal the resources of other cities. But don’t let Rivers’ character discussion distract you from the fact that this is a large movie.
The panel consisting of many of the principle cast along with the behind the scenes creatives, spent their time on stage introducing the audience to the world of Mortal Engines. The film adapts the 2001 book of the same name written by Philip Reeves. Producer, Peter Jackson describes the world as “post post-apocalyptic” approximately 3,000 years from now with the unique wheeled civilization being a way to survive the dangerous landscape.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit filmmaker has his name all over the project. After spending so much time in Middle-Earth, he saw this as an opportunity for a change. “A new story, new world, new experience.” There are no talking trees or hobbits in sight. But everything hasn’t changed for Jackson. Several collaborators are back for this project. Rivers worked as a second unit director on two of The Hobbit films before Jackson suggested he direct this one. Also, Jackson’s co-writers on Engines are his frequent Middle-Earth colleagues, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. On the acting side, Hugo Weaving reteams with his Lord of the Rings boss. However the actor, who plays the mysterious villain Thaddeus Valentine, wasn’t on hand at NYCC.
Many other principle cast members were though. Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Leila George, Jihae and Stephen Lang made up the group on hand, which Serkis pointed out is a noticeably international one. Those six actors hail from six different countries. The ensemble is led by Hilmar, who plays Hester Shaw. After witnessing Weaving’s Valentine murder her mother, she barely escaped with her life. Now, years later, he’s after her. The trailer premiered at the panel on Friday showed that Hester’s main method of staying ahead of Valentine is running and jumping off giant machines onto other giant machines. It looks tiring.
The actors on hand all took turns introducing their characters. One particularly detailed introduction came from Lang. The actor, who is possibly best known for his role as the villain Miles Quartich in Avatar explained his complex character, Shrike. The character, who has a bond with Hester, died and then had his insides replaced with mechanical parts before he was brought back to life as an assassin with no memories. How wonderfully sci-fi.
The audience was also treated to a sneak peek of the film. After Serkis playfully asked a mysterious backstage figure for permission, that sneak peek expanded to the first 25 minutes of the film being shown. So the MSG crowd got a pretty good sense of the project. The rest of the world will have to wait for the December 14th release of the film.
Jackson mentioned that he hopes this is the beginning of a larger franchise. There are four books in Reeves’ book series meaning the material is already available. Apparently this title has been on his mind for a while as he explained that the project was shelved for “four or five years” since the film rights were acquired. Jackson’s name has been one of the primary advertising elements for the movie. But with Rivers directing and the drastically different setting, the obvious visual connections to Middle Earth are few and far between.
The title, Mortal Engines, is a reference to a line from Shakespeare’s Othello that can be tied to several different aspects of the plot. Even with a name from the Great Bard and the creative team behind Lord of the Rings, there are still some questions surrounding the film. Mainly, will people go to see it? Will you?