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I Bet You Didn't See... The Mortal Engines

Contains Spoilers!!!

I was conflicted about this film. I absolutely loved the book and the entire series by Philip Reeve. It’s one of my favourites and I was engrossed in the whole idea and the whole world. It's the cause for me to get involved in reading more Steampunk literature and writing some as well. When I saw a film had been made, I went and bought it. Sadly, while I have no issue in saying that it was a decent film, well-paced and decently written, I found myself being disappointed.


The story of Mortal Engines takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth some 10,000 years in the future. The Earth has been ruined by the “Sixty Minute War” and humanity has had to restart. Some now live in villages, towns and cities on huge tracks, called Traction Cities, that travel around eating and scavenging on each other.

Shrike, my favourite character!

Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), the lead character, is after revenge for the death of her mother, while Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) is just trying to make a life as an apprentice historian. Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) has the ambition to make London the most feared Traction City, while fighting a on-off war against Anti-Tractionists. Throughout the film, a cyborg called Shrike (Stephen Lang) is hunting Hester.

London, on wheels.

Overall, I think the CGI is phenomenal. Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital visual effects company did an outstanding job to make the scale of the traction cities as I expected. The characterisation was done well and mostly true to the book, while the casting of Hugo Weaving as the villain was brilliant (I’m a fan of Weaving). Hester Shaw (Hilmar) was played well with the hatred and twisted mentality being initially clear.

Tom (Sheehan), Anna (Jihae), Hester (Hera Hilmar)

I get the feeling that I was disappointed with the film because of how absorbed into the world of the book I was, and I found the film just a bit too ‘Hollywood’. To me, I felt the Mortal Engines film was too shiny and tidy. Hester isn’t as disfigured in the film as she is in the book, and she is a bit too soft. She has the right motive and hatred for the Tractionists, but she’s not hard enough for what I found in the book.


I also thought that, while the visual impact of the Traction City of London was amazing, it looked too 'new'. In the series (and I am going back to the prequels here, sorry for any spoilers), humanity is rebuilding based of the archaeology that the survivors of the ‘Sixty Minute War’ and their descendants found, so I saw London in thousands of years’ time as looking tatty to us and based on remains found. Traction London had been rebuilt over hundreds of years, and it just looked too shiny and polished. My image from the book showed people looking a little bizarre to us because fashions and styles weren’t understood. ‘Cee-dee’s’ were thought to be jewellery, and people wore them in the books. The film just looked a bit too… modern.

Municipal Darwinism... or Traction Cities eating Traction Villages

There are a few other aspects that are different to the book, but that is a feature of adapting literature into cinema. Things are always going to be changed, but I think it worked this time. I just wish it could have stayed the same.


Hugo, as Thaddeus Valentine

While I have rated the Mortal Engines film as 4 out of 10, that’s purely because I don’t think it lives up to the book. I know a lot of films are like this, but I just can’t bring myself to justify a higher rating. However, I would be interested to know what someone who watches the film before reading the book thinks. I wish I had done that. It might have made the film more enjoyable. I think it could be amazing as a TV series, like Game of Thrones – big budget, great visuals and more time to explore what is an amazing creation from Philip Reeve.


I can't complain about an evil Hugo Weaving though.


Directed by: Christopher Rivers

Screenplay by: Fran Welsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Based on: “Mortal Engines” by Philip Reeve

Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Lang

Released: November 27th, 2018

My Rating: 4/10

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