Film Review: Mortal Engines

still from mortal engines

Christian Rivers’s dystopian adventure feature.

What’s more tedious than watching a slipshod film? I’ll tell you what: writing about it!

Mortal Engines is a dystopian adventure film directed by Christian Rivers and written by the New Zealand dream team that so skilfully interpreted Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mortal Engines is not cut from the same cloth.

In post-apocalyptic future, mobile cities patch-worked together from surviving architecture roam the barren landscape on huge caterpillar tracks, searching for smaller towns to literally consume for their resources.

Mobile city of London museum worker Tom (Robert Sheehan) naively stumbles into the midst of the political machinations of the city’s respected leader Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) after a meeting with orphan Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). From this simple premise there are a few parallel stories running within the film, some which dwindle off to nowhere making one wonder what their original purpose was.

The idea behind this film is solid and the timing, of visual metaphors showing the failures and predator tenacity of capitalism, is impeccable. But Mortal Engines required a lot more workshopping in pre-production. I don’t know if the original novel by Philip Reeve reads as a mash up of scenes taken almost verbatim from Dr Who, Hunger Game, Star Wars and Monty Python.

While the Steampunk styled CGI effects are stunning, and reflect the director’s professional strengths.  The action when it happens is riveting and once again Hugo Weaving casually reveals the difference between a good actor and a great actor. The movie face palms in its close up, inter-relationship dialogues and the rest of the cast simply fails to overcome a poorly resolved script.  The only other interesting personality to watch is Anna Fang; I predict we are going to see a lot more of the South Korean singer/actor Jihae Kim.

The tightknit background of the team that produced wrote and directed this film is actually more fascinating than the film itself. As a kid, debut director Christian Rivers wrote Peter Jackson a fan mail, they then met when he was 17 and he has storyboarded all of Jackson’s films since 1992. Fight club author Chuck Palahniuk says “every masterpiece is just dirt and ash put together in some perfect way”, I think maybe it is time that Rivers got out from under the steam roller that is Wingnut Films and took over the wheel for himself for a while.

Check out the official website here.


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