En­gines de­lights in the de­tails

The post-apoc­a­lyp­tic tale of global con­flict hits the screen run­ning and never re­ally lets up the pace, Graeme Tuck­ett finds.

Taranaki Daily News - - Entertainment -

First, the gripes. Please can we stop call­ing Mor­tal En­gines a Pe­ter Jack­son film? Sir Pe­ter was one of three scriptwrit­ers, along with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. And yes, with­out his in­flu­ence it is pos­si­ble this film would not ex­ist.

But Mor­tal En­gines is not a Pe­ter Jack­son movie. It was di­rected – on de­but – by Chris­tian Rivers. And Rivers brings a style and tone to this film that is of­ten quite dif­fer­ent to what I imag­ine Jack­son might have.

So from now on, let’s please start to give Rivers the credit he de­serves. Mor­tal En­gines is his vi­sion. And a pretty bloody good one it is, too.

As the open­ing voiceover kindly ex­plains – in a voice of such bass-heavy pro­fun­dity it makes Mor­gan Free­man sound like a 12-year-old in the front row of a Justin Bieber con­cert – we are 1000 years in the fu­ture.

Back in the mists of time, ‘‘the an­cients’’ (that’s you and me, bub) wrecked the world with a ‘‘60-minute war’’. And now hu­man­ity mostly lives in gi­ant wheeled cities, travers­ing the postapoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape in search of what­ever re­sources are still ly­ing around.

The most king-hell of these cities is Lon­don, a vast sprawl of clank­ing, steam-pow­ered me­chan­i­cals and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ru­ins, joined to­gether by a jum­bled mess of giddy walk­ways and eerily sus­pended cob­bled streets.

Lon­don is home to thou­sands of peo­ple, stuck in a rigid and cruel so­cial hi­er­ar­chy, thundering across the deserts of Europe on tracks that oblit­er­ate ev­ery­thing in their path.

Lon­don is ruled by despots – nat­u­rally – the most despotic of whom is Thaddeus Valen­tine (played with lip-curl­ing gusto by Hugo Weav­ing). Os­ten­si­bly, Valen­tine is merely the Head His­to­rian, but in an age in which what peo­ple know of his­tory will also dic­tate how much they

will let their lead­ers get away with, Valen­tine’s po­si­tion makes him the most pow­er­ful man in the city.

Op­pos­ing Valen­tine and his rov­ing city are Hester Shaw (Hera Hil­mar) – a scarred and em­bit­tered or­phan with her own rea­sons to want Valen­tine dead – and Tom Natswor­thy (Robert Shee­han), a plucky young man who finds him­self on the wrong side of Valen­tine when he over­hears some­thing he shouldn’t.

Mor­tal En­gines hits the screen run­ning and never re­ally lets up the pace.

There is noth­ing in­flated or self-im­por­tant here, just a com­mit­ment to tell the story with enough vis­ual and sonic in­ven­tive­ness to keep us watch­ing and lis­ten­ing.

There is also a wealth of de­sign and de­tail on screen that needs to be ac­knowl­edged. Spec­tac­u­lar dig­i­tal ef­fects are the least we ex­pect from a sci-fi block­buster to­day.

But Rivers and his crew have found spec­ta­cle in the tini­est of mo­ments. Ev­ery set and cos­tume in this film, down to the last but­ton, book­shelf, coin­purse and dag­ger, is a beau­ti­ful thing to be­hold.

Philip Reeve’s novel was writ­ten with the 9-to11-year-old mar­ket in mind, so we’re not go­ing to

bother call­ing out the var­i­ous story arcs run­ning through Mor­tal En­gines for be­ing just a lit­tle too pre­dictable.

If you find your at­ten­tion wa­ver­ing, just have a look at the 11-year-old sit­ting next to you. I’m pretty sure they’ll be en­tranced.

And Rivers does a deft job of jug­gling the global con­flict in Mor­tal En­gines with the per­sonal and the hu­man.

There is one sto­ry­line in the film that the trailer doesn’t hint at, so I won’t spoil it here. But if you’re any­thing like me, you’ll find it de­liv­ers the most

af­fect­ing and mov­ing mo­ments of the en­tire film.

Mor­tal En­gines plays like Star Wars – with Lon­don as the Death Star and Valen­tine as Vader – fil­tered through Mad Max, plus a cameo from an­other ab­so­lute sci-fi clas­sic, shot with a sal­vagepunk aes­thetic and re-as­sem­bled by Jean-Pierre Je­unet and Marc Caro (The City of Lost Chil­dren).

It might not do any­thing nar­ra­tively you won’t see com­ing, but it does it all with such pace, style and com­mit­ment to mak­ing ev­ery frame a thing of won­der, I couldn’t help but ad­mire and re­spect it.

Go see for your­self.

Ev­ery set and cos­tume in this film is a beau­ti­ful thing to be­hold.

Hera Hil­mar takes the lead in a fight for jus­tice set in Lon­don, 1000 years in the fu­ture.

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