Everything you need to know about Mortal Engines

As Philip Reeve’s dystopian book series hits the big screen, here’s everything you need to know…

Spoilers to follow.

What’s it about?

In a post-apocalyptic future, Earth has been devastated by the so-called ‘sixty-minute war’. To escape total destruction, the planet’s cities have uprooted from terra firma and are now able to travel on wheels powered by huge steampunk engines.

Resources, however, are limited and a phenomenon known as ‘Municipal Darwinism’ has seen larger cities develop the power to consume their rivals. Only the Anti-Traction League stands against the dominance of these predatory powers.

Born and raised in mechanical London, Tom Natsworthy is a lower-class, apprentice historian whose contented life is uprooted when he saves the life of Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine but learns too much in the process.

Stranded on the wasteland, with mysteriously scarred assassin Hester Shaw, Tom must fight for survival but can he and his new friends stop London in its terrible tracks?

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Who’s in it?

Fresh from Geostorm and Bad Samaritan, Irishman Robert Sheehan leads as Tom but it is the face of Iceland’s Hera Hilmar who has dominated the publicity, here playing Hester.

Lord of the Rings veteran Hugo Weaving brings star wattage to the role of Valentine, whilst newcomer Leila George plays his daughter Katherine and Patrick Malahide is his superior as the power-hungry Mayor of London, Magnus Crome.

South-Korean singer-songwriter Jihae makes her mainstream film debut as Anna Fang, leader of the Anti-Traction League, and Stephen Lang promises to terrify as undead soldier Shrike.

Colin Salmon, Regé-Jean Page, Mark Hadlow and Caren Pistorius all feature as supporting players and watch out too for a cameo by Peter Jackson.

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Who’s made it?

Adapted from the first book in Philip Reeve’s ‘Mortal Engines Quartet’, the film owes its existence to Jackson and his regular collaborators at New Zealand-based studio WingNut Films. Too busy with projects like They Shall Not Grow Old to direct, Jackson serves only as producer and co-writer here, with VFX wizard Christian Rivers in the top job – his directorial debut.

Helping Jackson translate Reeves’ book, his Lord of the Rings co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are behind the script, with Walsh also among the film’s producers.

Music comes from Dutch DJ Junkie XL – cinematically known for Deadpool and Tomb Raider – with cinematography from Simon Raby.

As one might expect from a Peter Jackson produced film, the effects teams are huge. Dan Hennah (Thor Ragnarok) leads the production design, with Shane Vieau (The Shape of Water) behind the set design and The Hobbit‘s Bob Buck and Kate Hawley on the costumes.

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Did somebody say ‘controversy’?

In the book, Hester Shaw is described as ‘hideous’. Specifically, Reeve writes…

‘A terrible scar ran down her face from forehead to jaw, looking like a portrait that had been furiously crossed out. Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump, and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as great and chill as a winter sea.’

Needless to say, Hera Hilmar is not hideous. What’s upset many fans of the book series, however, is that neither is her portrayal of Hester – who has two eyes, a whole nose and untainted mouth. Her scar is relatively subtle.

The decision to ‘beautify’ the character has been justified by the production team as being a logical choice.

Whilst Jackson has argued that an absolute translation of Hester’s appearance would have proved too distracting for audiences, Boyens claims that such make-up would have made it ‘impossible’ for the Hilmar to say her lines. Indeed, the screenwriter has dismissed suggestion that it was an aesthetic choice as ‘absolute crap’.

We don’t buy it – the clean up’s too much – but let us know what you think in the comments.

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When’s it out?

Mortal Engines will be hoping to make tracks in UK cinemas on 14 December.

 Watch the trailer here:

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