Mortal Engines was originally a dystopian adventure novel from British author Philip Reeve, published in 2001, the first of the “Mortal Engines quartet”.
Hee novel was adapted into a movie in 2018 by director Christian Rivers, with a screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson. Starring in the movie is Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang.
Rivers spent years as a storyboard artist and a visual effects supervisor for Peter Jackson and its obvious that he’s inherited a good deal of his longtime collaborator’s love for mythic world-building and hyperreal CGI spectacle – the movie looks great. There are plenty of good things about Mortal Engines, it’s very shiny and looks good in all its steampunkiness, the performances are game enough. Yet, Mortal Engines isn’t a film which is particularly exciting. All that remains is a stylistic and visual design contraction well worth seeing if you dig steampunk.
The movie takes place after the “Sixty Minute War” that brought humanity to the brink, and the world’s metropolises have escaped from their locations. In this era of “municipal Darwinism”, “predator cities” rove on wheels and “ingest” smaller ones, assimilating their populations and looting the spoils.
In the opening sequence, London devours a Bavarian mining town called Salthook. In the pursuit, London inevitably conquers the helpless hamlet to plunder its resources and consign its inhabitants to low-level jobs (Municipal Darwinism). It’s an interesting, exciting sequence, and perhaps not so bad a metaphor for late-stage capitalism.
Salthook is a small Bavarian mining town powered by C-20 land engines and could reach 120 MPH. Its most notable cargo was an enormous supply of salt. London was a feared predator in the golden days of Municipal Darwinism and eventually built twenty-two suburbs to carry her excess population and hunt on London‘s behalf. The most famous was Crawley, although there were several more, including Purley Spokes and Tunbridge Wheels.