Worth the sum of its mov­ing parts

What Mor­tal Engines lacks in story, it makes up with some fas­ci­nat­ing world build­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Showbiz - Re­view by MICHAEL CHEANG en­ter­tain­[email protected]­tar.com.my

Mor­tal Engines

Di­rec­tor: Chris­tian Rivers

Cast: Hugo Weav­ing, Hera Hil­mar, Robert Shee­han, Ji­hae, Ro­nan Raftery, Leila Ge­orge, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

WHAT is the true mea­sure of a film adap­ta­tion of a book?

Is it one that stays as faith­ful as it can to the book (like the first two Harry Pot­ter movies), or one that tweaks the story but stays true to the spirit of the book (like the last few Harry Pot­ter movies?)?

What­ever the mea­sure, it’s hard to deny that one of the best book-to-movie adap­ta­tions ever has to be Pe­ter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings tril­ogy, which not only stayed true to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books but also added el­e­ments of its own to make it richer (though The Hob­bit tril­ogy sub­se­quently proved that too much of a good thing can be bad).

Above all, LOTR also built a world where we all wanted to see more and more of, which I per­son­ally feel has to be one of the most im­por­tant el­e­ments in adapt­ing science fic­tion and fan­tasy books, which are usu­ally set in worlds that ex­ist only in the au­thor’s imag­i­na­tion.

With that in mind, it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that I liked Mor­tal Engines so much (and not just be­cause it was co-pro­duced and co-writ­ten by Jackson).

An adap­ta­tion of Philip Reeve’s sci-fi steam­punk book of the same name, Mor­tal Engines is set in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world in which the en­tire world has been dec­i­mated by war. Cities have lit­er­ally up­rooted them­selves and they rove the land­scape on gi­ant wheels in search of fuel and re­sources.

The largest of these mo­bile cities are known as “Preda­tor Cities”, which can lit­er­ally swal­low and “in­gest” smaller cities, crunching them up for fuel and scrap metal. Tom (Robert Shee­han) is a Lon­doner who has never been out­side his trav­el­ling home­town, which is also one of the great Preda­tor Cities. But his life changes when he foils an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt by a mys­te­ri­ous girl named Hester (Hera Hil­mar) on Thad­deus Valen­tine (Hugo Weav­ing), one of Lon­don’s most pow­er­ful peo­ple, and whom she ac­cuses of mur­der­ing her mother.

One thing leads to an­other, and the two are thrown out of Lon­don and have to rely on one an­other to sur­vive in the Out­lands, and some­how find their way back to Lon­don.

Cast wise, it’s hard to fault the per­for­mances of the two leads: Hil­mar and Shee­han do their best in a movie where they are lit­er­ally over­shad­owed by the gi­ant ma­chines they are on. Weav­ing is his usual im­pos­ing self as the main vil­lain, though he does more to build up the threat and men­ace of Lon­don on his own than all the he­roes com­bined.

While the film al­ters quite a bit from the book’s plot, it stays largely faith­ful to the story as well as the ma­jor plot points of Reeve’s novel.

The ac­tual story may seem a lit­tle for­mu­laic at first, but the film is that much richer thanks to the world Reeves con­ceived, which di­rec­tor Chris­tian Rivers does rea­son­ably well to bring to life. The au­thor built a world across four books that has so many mov­ing parts (pun in­tended) that it would take more than just one movie to cover it all.

In­deed, per­haps the big­gest frus­tra­tion is that Mor­tal Engines only scratches the sur­face of this fas­ci­nat­ing world. We only get to see Lon­don in all its glory, and not the other Preda­tor Cities, and as well as some spec­tac­u­lar but rather shal­low scenes fea­tur­ing the air­borne city of Airhaven and an ocean-far­ing pri­son.

The glimpses we get of these re­ally made me wish Rivers had got­ten deeper into the in­ner work­ings of these lo­ca­tions. Think Hob­biton or Mi­nas Tirith in LOTR, where we got a true sense of what made those places tick and how its com­mu­ni­ties lived, rather than just a cur­sory “look how cool it looks!” sweep of its build­ings and denizens.

Still, Rivers does build a world that is both be­liev­able and mys­te­ri­ous, and crams enough into the film to sat­isfy fans. He also man­ages to give a sense of scale that im­plies there is a lot more to this world we have not seen.

Be­sides, when a movie makes you want to go out and read the book again just to im­merse your­self in the world more, you know it has done its job. Maybe that, more than any­thing else, is the true mea­sure of a film adap­ta­tion of a book.

This is what hap­pens when you give Sau­ron a set of wheels. — UIP Malaysia

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