It feels like forever since we’ve heard Peter Jackson‘s name, but that changed today as Universal Pictures released the latest trailer for his “Mortal Engines” which brings him back to epic fantasy movie mode. This film has been in the works for a long time as Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh took their time writing the screenplay based on the Philip Reeve book.
Peter Jackson hasn’t been sitting on his laurels during this time. He worked behind the scenes for the West Memphis Three, who were three young men wrongfully put in prison for killing three eight-year-old boys in a satanic ritual. Yes, back in the 1990’s Satanic Panic had crept into America and this was thought to be a pandemic by many in the South. Jackson funded a private investigator to help the three young men (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr) and filmed the process in the documentary “West of Memphis.” This one is a must see that shows how badly our justice system can go, and it’s a great bookend to the “Paradise Lost” trilogy which brought a national spotlight onto the three men.
Jackson chose to stay out of the director’s chair and Christian Rivers will be helming “Mortal Engines” which takes place in a future world where the cities of Earth roam the globe on massive wheels while battling each other. It makes me think of Battlebots, but in this film two very unlikely heroes (that’s usually the case in these epic films) come together to help change the course of a bleak future. It’s like a steampunk version of Earth, and the cities are called Traction cities that hunt down smaller ones and strip them of their parts. Kinda like back in the 1980’s when ‘arbitrage’ was the word of the day.
Rivers has been working with Jackson since being a storyboard artist on “Braindead” and has moved up to visual effects along with second unit directing on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, all of “The Hobbit” movies and “King Kong.” Now he puts on his big boy pants and makes his directorial debut.
“My role has always been in service to his vision,” Rivers told a group of reporters on the film’s set last June. “I mean, that’s what you do. Films are hierarchical and the director is essentially the creative dictator. So, my services to Peter have always been to help him achieve his vision. And now, on this one, it’s sort of the other way around.”
He almost didn’t get the shot as another director had been brought aboard the project but left. Jackson could see the writing on the wall and handed over the reins to his protégé. I would assume that after working together for 25 years, they realize that it’s time. Rivers actually had sent a letter to Jackson as a young student with pictures of dragons and the like which led to their long-term working relationship.
“He just left school, and I wanted to do storyboards for that movie,” Jackson recalls. “I’d done storyboards before and I can’t really draw, myself, particularly well. So, I thought of Christian, and I thought of that fan note, and I looked him up.” Rivers would continue crafting storyboards for “virtually every film since then” for Jackson. With Mortal Engines, it’s now as if a family of filmmakers has come together after all these years to support their kid’s first big effort. Jackson says he helped out shooting second unit shots when needed, but it was really Rivers’ show to run.
“I know he knows stories, and I know he knows how to shoot because of the storyboarding he’s been doing for me,” Jackson continued. “He’s someone that I’ve always wanted to find a way to support somehow into a feature film.”
The new director admits, “I’m also absorbing as much as I can in the collaborative way from everyone who is around me.” That includes Jackson. “He’s helping me direct a film rather than the other way around,” Rivers added. “That sometimes works. Peter, he’ll have a strong opinion about things, but it’ll be very defendable. And if it’s not defendable, he’ll give in to what you want. So, it’s a very healthy and fun and creative process.”
“I kind of just caught on to what would happen if there was a nuclear-esque war or a new weapon that devastated our planet and what would sort of happen to London,” he says. “And what would be left?” Rivers’ son has also been a longtime fan of Reeves’ series, so “if he doesn’t like the film, I can have a long conversation,” he jokes.
The above trailer should satisfy fans who’ve missed Jackson’s presence in the past four or so years, but you can tell the visual effects are still in development. What we can see looks pretty amazing with some great landscapes, and those roaming cities brought out the little kid in me with excitement.
“We’re still designing the film as we shoot it, and we’re all really excited by what we’ve come up with,” Rivers says in between filming on set. “But, yeah, we have no idea how it’s going to land.”
I did feel like I needed a Cliffs Notes as the story was a little confusing, and I’ve not read the book so I am going in blind on this. I usually like not knowing anything with a film like this as you have no idea what to expect, but with Peter Jackson’s name on this, you know it will be a thrilling ride. This was the official trailer so you can be sure Universal will be cutting many more before it opens on December 14th.
Jackson knows a thing or two about franchises, but he’s not expecting to tie Rivers into a long-term commitment if the film takes off.
“I have to see if Christian wants to direct some [more films],” commented. “That will be up to him. He might go off and do other things. I’d like to direct. I thought I was going to direct. I’d love to direct the last one if we got that far. But, by then, if he’s directing them, I’ll let him decide. We’d produce them for sure. And, obviously, Christian would be having first offer to direct and hopefully he would.”
“Mortal Engines” stars Hugo Weaving as Thaddeus Valentine, Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw, Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy, and Stephen Lang as Shrike.
Here’s the full synopsis and breakdown for “Mortal Engines” for those not familiar with the book.
Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.
“Mortal Engines” is the startling, new epic adventure directed by Oscar®-winning visual-effects artist Christian Rivers (King Kong). Joining Rivers are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies three-time Academy Award®-winning filmmakers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, who have penned the screenplay. The Universal and MRC adaptation is from the award-winning book series by Philip Reeve, published in 2001 by Scholastic.
On board as producers are Zane Weiner (The Hobbit trilogy), Amanda Walker (The Hobbit trilogy) and Deborah Forte (Goosebumps), as well as Walsh and Jackson. Ken Kamins (The Hobbit trilogy) joins Boyens as executive producer. Universal will distribute the film worldwide.