Mortal Engines (2018)

This is a wild and extravagant film.

I know the reviews have been unkind, but I suspect that it’s one of those films that will eventually gather a culty little reputation, once it escapes from the tiny box the reviewers have put it in and onto the small screen, like a lot of other, equally extravagant films have.  Someone compared it to films like Speed Racer (although this one is decidedly more serious) and Dark City (although this one never quite reaches that film’s poetic visual heights) and that should give you the idea of what to expect:  an incredible series of visual thrills, unlike anything you’re going to see in far tamer films.

After all, we start with a group of small villages fleeing for safety as the giant predatory city of London swoops down upon them:  we have such incredible sights along the way as a chase through a village being cut apart by giant chainsaws, pillbug-like scuttling vehicles, and a balloon city floating in the clouds.

Peter Jackson produced this one and wrote the script, although he wasn’t able to actually direct, as he wanted, and turned those chores over to first time director, Christian Rivers.  It still looks and feels like a Peter Jackson film, with the epic scope of his Lord of the Rings films and a lot of beautiful New Zealand scenery.  The effects are flawless, and his world feels very real and solid.  It’s based on a series of YA books by Phillip Reeves, but it doesn’t have the sparkly vampire/Hunger Games vibe that we expect from a YA adaptation today.

And that’s something for which we can all be duly thankful.

Now it does borrow heavily from Star Wars, with a Death Star-style secret weapon and a “Luke, I am your Father” moment we can see a mile away, but it makes up for that with a surprising relationship between two characters, and someone who was willing to accept something truly horrible for a reason I would hope most of us will never sink to such depths of despair that we would ever consider it.

But perhaps, in our day and age, a lot of people would be willing.  I hope not.

Is this a great film?  No, but it is wild and extravagant and keeps surprising us with its strange visions of its post-Apocalyptic world. Hugo Weaving as the villain (did I really need to add that?) is superb, as always, and there is a great sense of design and depth to every detail of this world, from the surviving technologies, to the clothing, to the way that a glimpse of a Great Britain that is already fading has been idealized and re-imagined.

So by all means, avoid this if you are looking for great drama or philosophical depth.  But if you want outrageous action, insane design, and truly inspired and over-the-top effects, this one is for you.

I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen, which is the way it deserves to be seen.

But I’m sure that even on the small screen it will still be stunning.

Just like Speed Racer, Dark City, and all the other films it has been compared to.

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