Mortal Engines Is No Home Run, But A Nod-Worthy Triple

December 15, 2018

 

Peter Jackson's adaptation of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines can raise an eye brow or two, but its beauty lies at its core of fundamental storytelling success supplemented by awe-inspiring visuals. Definitely a solid cinematic combination.

 

Mortal Engines' traction cities hit the ground running in an engaging opening scene, as a small mining town on wheels is chased down by London, the largest traction city of them all.

 

Among the bevy of compliments I can give Mortal Engines, is praise for its ability to not only engage the viewer, but hold that engagement. I found myself biting on the top of my soda straw during most of the film's action sequences, and sometimes in between them, too.

 

If Peter Jackson and Hugo Weaving's involvement isn't reason enough for you to be itching to catch Mortal Engines, consider that many of the movie's visually stunning scenes and awe-inspiring scale isn't truly portrayed in the film's trailers and commercials.

(Is this yet another pro? The fact that the trailers don't spoil the entirety of the film? Or sub-par marketing? I'll let you be the judge of that.)

If Mortal Engines were to have a 100-item-checklist, it hits about 80 or 85 of its marks.

 

The film is far from perfect. An early-on Minions reference leaves a vile aftertaste in the mouth, as its inclusion is nowhere near a match for the film's tone and vibe. Additionally, Many of the film's climactic peaks or plot-points come with predictable, convenient timing.

The Death Star-on-wheels is stopped with milliseconds to spare. London comes to a screeching halt mere inches from trampling the movie's antagonist. And I'm sure there's more.

 

I don't know how important believability was to Mortal Engines' overall goals, but it sure would be nice to see a film in which the heroes don't save the day by the skin of their teeth, all the time, every time.

 

A lot of the storyline is easy. Simplistic in nature, formulaic, and predictable. Having not read the original Philip Reeve novels, it's hard to say how much of that can be attributed to the film, versus the original book.

 

     All Images: Universal Pictures

But where Mortal Engines' faults end, lies uniqueness, both in aesthetic as well as character development. Grandeur, akin to the likes of Avatar, if Avatars were powered by antiquated minerals and not humans in horizontal chambers.

 

Another thing Mortal Engines nails is scope. I never felt a particular fleet, armada, or scene, was too small for the world. This may seem like a feeble accomplishment, but its a cinematic component that's blundered more often than not.

I even found myself appreciating the film's chromatic tonality. Daytime scenes, nighttime scenes, the whole gamut.

But a Nanofleche film review wouldn't be complete without reflection on quite possibly, a film's most crucial element: Emotion.

Mortal Engines passes the test. Hester, Tom, Shrike, even Anna Fang, Governor Kwan, Mr. Pomeroy, and probably many others. They all contributed to the development of their own characters, as well as their relationships with others, in an impactful manner.

I've gotta say, I wasn't expecting storytelling of this caliber when I first made the decision to see Mortal Engines in theatres, but perhaps only my own momentary lapse in judgement can be faulted, as Hugo Weaving doesn't strike me as an actor that takes on bad roles in bad films, and Peter Jackson's success with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbits franchises needs no introduction.

I was worried by the YA nature of the film at first, as avid readers of Nanofleche can attest, the Young Adult market is not my cup of tea, but other than that gruesome Minions reference early on, I never felt Mortal Engines was significantly below my level of maturation. (Which my friends, family, and wife can attest to, is debatable.)

Were there areas in which I could tell corners were cut? Likely in an effort to save money? Yes. At times, Shrike seems like a plausible robotic zombie of sorts with a spirit, where in other scenes, his physics seem like the work of a junior high school editing buff.

But the elements the film did nail were so spot on, and so abundant, that I can't help but take my hat off to the Mortal Engines cast and crew.

Even though Steampunk is no more or no less my thing than YA entertainment is, gripes aside, Mortal Engines is a solid example of just how much a film can achieve when the fundamentals are solid.

 

 
Mortal Engines is essentially the Tim Duncan of cinematic sci-fi. (And in case you're wondering, that's a compliment to both Tim Duncan as well as Mortal Engines.)

A story doesn't have to be overtly original, and its production doesn't have to be perfect, as most things seldom are.

 

But when the basics are executed tastefully and professionally, the story will overshadow its faults, and a memorable piece of cinema will emerge.

Since the original novel series is a quartet, I'm assuming a sequel is already in the works, pending the financial results of this endeavor, of course.

 

But I'll be the first to admit that if a sequel to Mortal Engines is released, I'll be ready to see it on opening day, just as I was with the first installment.

Fans of science fiction or otherwise, if you're a reasonable human being and not a sociopath, you'll most likely derive enjoyment from Mortal Engines.

Cheers for now, sci-fi fandom.

 

-A.C.H.

 

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