CITY LIV­ING

Peter Jack­son is bring­ing the Post-aPoc­a­lyP­tic sPec­ta­cle of Mor­tal En­ginEs to the big screen. bryan cairns is on set as civil­i­sa­tion fights to sur­vive...

SFX - - Mortal engines -

Peter Jack­son ex­cels at epic sto­ry­telling. ev­ery frame of his Lord Of The Rings and Hob­bit trilo­gies – from the mas­sive set-pieces and daz­zling vis­ual eye candy, to the lav­ish cos­tumes and com­pelling char­ac­ters – con­veys that mes­sage, loud and clear. now Jack­son’s tak­ing an­other crack at world-build­ing with the sprawl­ing fan­tasy saga Mor­tal En­gines. Based on philip reeve’s young adult novel of the same name, the project has been on Jack­son’s radar for more than 10 years. truth­fully, the new Zealand na­tive al­ways planned on step­ping be­hind the cam­era for it, but a hec­tic sched­ule pre­vented that from ever hap­pen­ing. “it was prob­a­bly one of the movies i would’ve done dur­ing the time that The Hob­bit was be­ing shot,” Jack­son tells SFX on the Mor­tal En­gines set. “But i ended up di­rect­ing that and it sort of took me out of com­mis­sion for five years. and com­ing out of it we were faced with a sit­u­a­tion where the rights to the book, which we’ve had for a decade or so, were due to ex­pire, and we had to move fast.”

it’s a love story, but i also just like the idea of see­ing big cities eat­ing each other

yet Jack­son’s fin­ger­prints re­main all over Mor­tal En­gines. He wrote and pro­duced the movie along­side reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tors Fran Walsh and philippa Boyens. Fur­ther­more, they tapped Jack­son’s pro­tégé, Weta dig­i­tal ef­fects vet­eran chris­tian rivers, for his di­rec­to­rial de­but.

“chris­tian is a film­maker i want to sup­port,” says Jack­son. “He’s worked with me for 25 years and he needed to di­rect some­thing soon. He shot the short film called “Feeder”, if you’ve seen it. it’s prob­a­bly on youtube. it’s great. and, he’s done sto­ry­boards for me for­ever, since Brain­dead.

“also, Fran and i ended up af­ter five years on The Hob­bit with so many other projects we wanted to write and de­velop our­selves,” he adds. “in fact, we went straight into an­other movie with me di­rect­ing it. again, it took me two years out of com­mis­sion. Whereas here we write the script as pro­duc­ers, which al­lows us to write our other scripts and screen­plays, while chris­tian does all the hard work.”

it’s June 2017 when SFX trav­els to stone street stu­dios in Welling­ton, new Zealand to visit the set of Mor­tal En­gines. the tale takes place in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic fu­ture, roughly around the year 3800, where a cat­a­clysmic event has al­most an­ni­hi­lated civil­i­sa­tion. out of those ashes, sur­vivors live in “trac­tion cities”, enor­mous mo­bile me­trop­o­lises on wheels that roam the harsh land­scapes. these cities prey on tinier towns, es­sen­tially de­vour­ing their sup­plies and in­te­grat­ing the peo­ple. one of the im­pos­ing and preda­tory cities, lon­don, dwarfs al­most ev­ery­one else.

to­day’s se­quence in­volves the hu­man el­e­ment of the nar­ra­tive. lon­don has gob­bled up a smaller quarry. in the lower lev­els, af­fec­tion­ately re­ferred to as “the gut,” the cap­tured res­i­dents are be­ing wran­gled. it’s here that a masked, knife-wield­ing Hester (Hera Hil­mar) at­tempts to as­sas­si­nate re­spected politi­cian and head of the guild of His­to­ri­ans, thaddeus Valen­tine (Hugo Weav­ing). Hester blames him for dis­fig­ur­ing her as a child, as well as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the death of her mother. When His­to­ri­ans ap­pren­tice tom (robert shee­han) in­ter­venes, Hester fails at her mis­sion, but still man­ages to es­cape. Un­for­tu­nately for tom, thaddeus can­not al­low any­one to link him to Hester, or his past crime. He con­se­quently pushes tom down a chute, ex­il­ing him to the out­side world.

now alone and on un­fa­mil­iar ground, tom and Hester forge an un­likely part­ner­ship in or­der to nav­i­gate the hos­tile ter­rains, re­turn to lon­don and put the ki­bosh on a con­spir­acy, one that jeop­ar­dises the trac­tion cities’ way of life. to make mat­ters worse, shrike [stephen lang] – an un­dead sol­dier re­an­i­mated with

me­chan­i­cal parts, who also shares a past with Hester – is hot on the pair’s trail.

“this is one movie where i hope it’s suc­cess­ful enough that we get to do the other sto­ries be­cause the story mush­rooms in such un­ex­pected ways in the fu­ture books,” Jack­son says. “i re­ally hope we get to make those films.

“at it’s core, it’s a love story,” he con­tin­ues. “it’s an un­likely love story. it’s about a young woman who doesn’t re­ally think she will ever find love, and she finds it through a very un­ex­pected way, in the mid­dle of this chaotic, strange world that we’re in. i also just like the idea of see­ing big cities eat­ing each other. there’s a per­sonal story and there’s the spec­ta­cle, which is go­ing to be pretty amaz­ing.”

strict Ma­chinE

as ex­pected, the Mor­tal En­gines screen­play takes lib­er­ties with the source ma­te­rial – all with au­thor reeve’s bless­ing. Most no­tably, the key char­ac­ters are no longer teenagers. in­stead, they now fall into a more cap­ti­vat­ing “Star

Wars pro­tag­o­nist age group”. “We’ve aged it up,” con­firms Jack­son. “the book is writ­ten for quite a young au­di­ence, to some de­gree, you know? i just don’t think any­one wants to see an­other teenage dystopian movie any­time soon. We made it a lit­tle more adult. so, in some re­spects, it dif­fers from the book in quite a few places. philip comes out here, and we al­ways send him script re­vi­sions as we do them, and he al­ways seems to be very pleased with them.”

to bring Mor­tal En­gines to the big screen, the pro­duc­tion has con­structed more than 63 sets. some re­quire com­puter an­i­ma­tion to ex­tend their vol­ume or al­low them to reach the sky. oth­ers are more prac­ti­cal. a few rest on gim­bals to sim­u­late the mo­tion of these rov­ing cities speed­ing across the lands.

one gi­gan­tic sound­stage serves as the set for the lon­don Mu­seum. glass cases dis­play arte­facts from our present day, in­clud­ing smart­phones, videogame con­soles, cDs, lap­tops and even De­spi­ca­ble Me Min­ions, which are la­belled “an­cient deities”.

ob­vi­ously, back in 2008, the movie in­dus­try was vastly dif­fer­ent. the tech­nol­ogy alone has im­proved in leaps and bounds. Jack­son ad­mits

Mor­tal En­gines’ scope could never have been ex­e­cuted in the same man­ner as it is now. “one thing that’s prob­a­bly hap­pened in the last 10 years in terms of dig­i­tal ef­fects, and i’m sure we’ll see it on this film, is the way dig­i­tal hu­mans can be made for a lot of the big stunt and ac­tion stuff,” Jack­son shares. “even just some of the stunt scenes that we’ve been do­ing on the sec­ond unit… ‘okay, we’ll do this and this, but this shot has to be cg,’ be­cause you want it to be some­thing that’d be so hard to shoot. “that’s one de­vel­op­ment,” says Jack­son. “Be­cause by 2008, we had made Lord Of The Rings. We had done

King Kong. We knew what we were do­ing. But, cer­tainly

They knew the bus stop was around here some­where.

Meet the brave (and very at­trac­tive) band of rebels.

Who wouldn’t want to rue the end of the world against a beau­ti­ful sun­set?

A bit am­bi­tious fly­ing through there, isn’t it?

We hope you get poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

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