Based on the book of the same name by Philip Reeve, Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines looks set to be ‘the next big thing’, both in terms of stature and in box office numbers – at least I’m sure that’s what Universal is hoping.
Hollywood is always looking for their next big franchise. In their attempts to find the ‘new Hunger Games’, studios have sent out into the world the likes of The Divergent series (I couldn’t get past the first book) and The Maze Runner series (first book was pretty decent but went so far downhill there was no hope coming back). Similarly, Hollywood tried for a while to find the ‘new Twilight’ but seriously came up short (but to be honest, the Twilight films were terrible, although for some they are epitome of great cinema, which is hard to understand or comprehend).
With failed ‘new series’ abound from the likes of The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, Beautiful Creatures and even Percy ‘didn’t warrant a third film’ Jackson, it seems that studios are mostly stepping away from the supernatural, although they look to be trying to reboot that genre with the somewhat troubled premise of The Darkest Minds. In fact, Harry Potter seems to be one the few monstrously successful fantasy franchises adapted from YA series.
While they know that aliens don’t bring in an audience as proved by The Host and The 5th Wave, science-fiction seems to be the favourite of all the genres so far, even if the last film of various trilogies are often forgotten about, such as Allegiant from the Divergent series. The futuristic, post-apocalyptic world characters exist in is the environment audiences want to see. Maybe because no matter how outlandish the stories are, there is a feeling of ‘this could happen’. Harry Potter ran adjacent to current day, and focusing on magic over technology allowed the films to avoid becoming dated, making them new for each generation discovering the series. This is perhaps also why science-fiction series fare better too.
I read Mortal Engines years ago when I was a young adult. I had picked up a paperback copy at a church fate, along with Pride and Prejudice and a book about The Blair Witch Project. Admittedly I didn’t read the latter as I was too freaked out. I read Mortal Engines in 4 days, which was record-breaking for me at the time. I was used to reading Judy Blume books, The Hobbit and books about girls with depression. Apart from Harry Potter, my dip into YA science fiction/fantasy had only been through random audio books; Mortal Engines was actually my gateway into the sci-fi dystopian world and I couldn’t put it down. I found out years later there were sequels; 4 books in total in the series, but instead of rushing to my nearest Waterstones, I didn’t venture further as my experience of just the one stand-alone book had been so profound, I didn’t want it spoiled. I had always thought though that the book would lend itself perfectly to the big screen. The machines of the title are epic in size, as was the story. So when I read that Peter Jackson was making the film, I was really excited. I wasn’t precious about who would play who, I just wanted Hester to have that hideous scar as it was a big part of the character. The concept art for the film was amazing and got me even more hyped up for the film but as soon as the trailers emerged, doubt and pre-disappointment set in.
The concept art showed promise, with the Great Hunting Ground and the towering mechanical beast that is London in the distance and a hint of what main character Hester Shaw, her scarf covering her brutally scarred face, would look like. But when the trailers arrived, this beautiful artwork felt betrayed by the shift in focus. It seemed to be all about Hester and her revenge on Valentine, with another character, Thomas (not named in the trailer) getting caught up in the assassination attempt. It then veered off into conspiracy territory, with the American accented ‘good guys’ living in air ships, with the London machine housing the British ‘bad guys’. Oh dear. It seems those machines are treading on familiar territory and familiar stereotypes which is a shame as the story was really about two different sets of characters evolving, rather than straight forward run of the mill conspiracy, secrets and death.
The old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ springs to mind. Or in this case, ‘don’t judge a film by its trailer’ as it might seem unfair at this stage. With a powerhouse of talent at the helm, it feels like this could be heading into franchise heaven and frankly, Universal could use a win. But as with all the previous successful dystopian YA book series adapted for the big screen, the odds are 50/50 whether the fans of the book will accept this version and whether new fans will be intrigued enough to go watch it.
Mortal Engines rolls into cinemas this Saturday, December 8th.