Directed by: Christian Rivers
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on the Book by: Philip Reeve
Produced by: Zane Wiener, Amanda Walker, Deborah Forte, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide and Stephen Lang.
Set in the far distant future, all the cities of the world have been destroyed in an event known as the Sixty Minute War. Now, cities move around in roving machines, cities on wheels that ‘ingest’ other smaller cities (Municipal Darwinism) to keep feeding the beast that transports its citizens around the Great Hunting Ground.
The enemy to these future-humans is old tech, now viewed as the downfall of the Ancients; Tom (Robert Sheehan) who works in the museum of London (yep, that’s the biggest and baddest rolling machine around) collects artefacts in an attempt to understand the history of their predecessors.
We see the attempt at humour with rusted Minions displayed as gods and the cracked screens of mobiles and monitors that asks the question of whether the Ancients ceased reading and writing completely.
Then we have Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) break on board London in the assassination attempt of much admired lead archaeologist, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). A two-faced man who killed her mother.
After seeing what Thaddeus is made of and finding themselves grounded, Hester and Tom have to fight to survive while under attack from the Southies (machines driven by people who hunt humans for sausage meat) and having to drink water from puddles… the unlikely pair of urbanised Tom and would-be assassin Hester, now working together to stop Thaddeus from his evil plan to take control and change the very ideals of this future world.
But wow, there are so many other side-stories and characters in this sprawling saga that the momentum of the film gets lost. The investment in what’s happening gets thrown away because the emotion just isn’t there. Instead, we get an overdramatic soundtrack.
Ironically, the character I liked the most was the part-human, part-automata (yep, it’s a Terminator rip-off), Shrike (Stephen Lang). He’s the last known Stalker – a dead man resurrected by technology – that’s a killer yet haunted by his human memories.
Shrike is the character used to give Hester a backstory, the only real showing of character we get. The rest explain themselves with a forced monologue that made me grit my teeth.
Yes, the intricate design of the machines and future world were amazing and detailed.
And Hugo Weaving as Thaddeus Valentine kept the believability of the story up to a certain level.
But there were so many holes it made me wonder how much was left out from the book the film was based on (of the same name written by Philip Reeve, that became a series of four books: The Mortal Engines Quartet).
It’s a young-adult novel, which may explain the bad humour… But trying to condense so much into the film made the sentiment feel forced.
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