“Mortal Engines” Devours New York Comic-Con

With his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson has earned himself, at least in some corners of fandom, a lifetime pass.  That is, if Jackson is involved in a project, a whole lot of folks are going to be more than willing to give it a shot.

Now, I won’t say that Jackson being a producer on the upcoming “Mortal Engines” is the reason the house at MSG was so heavily populated this morning, but the New York Comic-Con crowd was exceptionally happy to see him.

They were also thrilled when the day’s moderator was announced – Andy Serkis.  A google search will reveal that Serkis’s presence in New York today was known in advance, but clearly not everyone in attendance was paying close enough attention to know they would be seeing him.

The panel itself was quite a large one, featuring, in addition to Jackson, director Christian Rivers; writer Philippa Boyens; and actors Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Leila George, and Stephen Lang.  Hugo Weaving also sent a video message, but wasn’t physically present.

Some might argue that it was too large a panel for the amount of time allocated, particularly as the whole thing started off with the first 25 minutes of the movie (thereby taking up roughly half the panel’s time including the intro to the clip).  Afterwards, much of the panel was spent trying to offer up a brief explanation of the main characters and the world in which they inhabit as it is such a very new an different place.

Consequently, Jackson’s big picture overview was, perhaps, the most useful. He explained that the movie, which is based on the first book in a series by Philip Reeve, takes place about 3,000 years into the future.  Rather than being seen as “post-apocalyptic,” he suggested it was, “post-post-apocalyptic.”  In other words, the world, as we currently know it, was destroyed in a war lasting 60 minutes and now, out of the rubble, a new society has formed.

This new society is made up of “traction cities,” with the movie focused on London and the various things London seems to… well, swallow (see the trailer).  A large city, London captures smaller towns and uses them as the fuel to keep itself going.

As the first 25 minutes of the film showed, London is unquestionably a predatory thing and not all is well in the city itself, particularly after ingesting a small town which just happened to be the current location of Hester Shaw (Hilmar), who has a history with one of the muckety-mucks in London, Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving).

One would not suggest that the story offered up in those first 25 minutes is notably new or different than what we have seen elsewhere – a person thought long gone comes back to wake up the populace and take down a big bad.  No, what felt distinctly new about the whole thing was its size and scope.

The city of London was not in size seemingly what the city is today, but it was shown a massive, mobile behometh, and truly impressive for it.  The aerial, swooping, look we got at London did not make it look real, but rather hyper-real.  It seemed an amalgam of different parts of present day London, realigned, reformulated, and mixed in with new areas.  And, most certainly, it felt alive.  It felt like a beast that had to be fed.

As always, until we see the movie we won’t know for certain whether the movie is able to maintain the scope and awe the first 25 minutes offer, but (as I’ve written before) it did more than enough to get at least this member of the audience excited to see more.  With luck, the story and performances will be worthy of the visuals.

If the movie is a success, we are sure to see more books in the series follow it to the big screen.

“Mortal Engines” roars onto screen on December 14.

photo credit: Universal Pictures

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