Director: Christian Rivers / Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson /
Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae & Stephen Lang / Studio: Universal

Summer Movies Bring Winter Trailers . . .

This first week of June has already seen some massive trailers drop – from Steve McQueen’s “Widows” to Sony’s “Into the Spiderverse.” Universal had its say and dropped the second trailer for “Mortal Engines,” the new film from Peter Jackson’s production company Wingnut Films. Based upon the novel by Philip Reeve that is the first in a trilogy (you see where this is going, don’t you?), the film’s new trailer delivers Steampunk tech and couture with Western meets Sci-FI/Fantasy flourishes.

The official synopsis released via the Mortal Engines Homepage reads:

“Thousands of years after civilisation was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) – who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London – finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths, should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.”

Rage Against the Machine

Apparently the city ate all of the black and brown people, leaving one black woman and Asian women amongst a world full of shell-shocked white people. If that isn’t a metaphor for hyper-gentrification and clandestine fear of a black planet social agendas in 21st century mega-cities (Los Angeles, New York, London) then you should go outside more. Amongst the ranks of Wes Anderson, Peter Jackson makes lily white films. The fact that he and his collaborators chose to remake “King Kong” in 2005 make such trends in his projects even more noticeable and problematic. Since inception, even the commercial feature film has been instrumentalized political agendas – from Birth of a Nation to Battle of Algiers, the worldview of the film is represented through the individual choices of its filmmakers. What will this film have to say and will we believe it?

The city devouring machine in “Mortal Engines” is literally the system, the structure – Babylon on treaded wheels. Is it possible to make an honest film whose core theme is class uprising and revolution when the predominant voice, class, and face of the creator is the same as the oppressor? Red pill or blue that at your discretion, but this film looks like it may have missed a great opportunity to comment upon how British imperial and colonial ambitions have shaped the conditions of the both the West and its former colonies in an allegorical sci-fi context. Who better knows the realities of their cities being metaphorically eaten by London than the formerly colonized? Why waste a potentially poignant social allegory when you’ve got Hugo Weaving?

Still, the sets, production design, and steampunk aesthetic all look massive, intricate, and on par with we would expect from WETA. It is a great move to see Jackson on the sreenplay with Boyens and Walsh while Rivers handles the direction. If the film can capture the humanity of the characters such as in “Heavenly Creatures” and reconcile it with the massive set pieces of “Lord of the Rings,” then this film could be a perfect year end surprise. Oscar contender? In the technical categories, definitely, but this literary material does not have the prestige behind it to launch another Jackson/Walsh/Boyens fantasy project to a Best Picture or Director nod. Not today, colonizer. Not in the year of our Bast.

Overall, if “Trigun” meets “Howl’s Moving Castle” by way of “Snowpierecer” seems like your kind of party, December can’t come soon enough.

The film is set for a December 14, occupying the familiar winter territory of Jackson’s previous films since 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

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  • Jon-Carlos Evans is a Berlin based filmmaker, audiovisual artist and writer. He holds a B.A. in Film Production from Webster University-St.Louis and a MFA in Media Arts Production from the City College of New York. Under his musical alias Klaas von Karlos, Evans is also is the founder of experimental-electronic collective ReVerse Bullets and creative director of the GLITCH performance series/music label. As Klaas von Karlos, he is also a member of music projects BIINDS, Naked Sweatshop, and Divan Rouge

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