Universal revved up Mortal Engines, its Peter Jackson-produced aspiring franchise, at New York Comic Con, premiering the fantasy epic’s new trailer and the first 24 minutes of the film.
Afterward, Jackson and longtime collaborators Philippa Boyens and Christian Rivers joined cast members for a panel discussion. Rivers, an Oscar-winner for his visual effects work on Jackson’s King Kong, is making his feature directing debut.
The Media Rights Capital-backed release, slated for December 14, “is another extraordinary exercise in world-building,” said the event’s moderator, Andy Serkis. As a longtime core member of Jackson’s core tribe (since playing the pioneering motion-capture character Gollum), Serkis has nothing to do with this project. But Jackson felt that would give him the perfect moderator perspective.
The footage shown had a propulsive, shadowy feel, showcasing a thrilling chase sequence set in a vast, dark mine. It drew hearty applause at the end, though the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden was only half-full and the event did not have that explosive, frenzied Hall H-style feeling that is a signature of big reveals at San Diego Comic-Con. The turnout may be because the panel was a late addition to the Con lineup, getting firmed up at the end of last week.
While the footage’s apocalytpic flashes recalled Snowpiercer at times, Jackson clarified during the panel that it’s not technically a post-apocalypic world. “The story is set 3,000 years from now,” he said. “So it’s post-post-apocalypic.” He went on to detail the plot mechanics, which hinge on a “60-minute war” that has “cracked the surface of the world. Volcanoes burst out. The war redefines the surface of the world.”
Joking about the current geopolitical climate and the increasing anxiety about nuclear conflict – “the way things are going, it could be Tuesday,” he cracked — Jackson said the story takes place in a wasteland known as the Hunting Ground. In place of what used to be Europe, there are no countries or borders, he said, but “cities rise from the rubble and end up on wheels chasing each other.”
The landscape features “predator cities,” he said, and “smaller, mobile towns,” and the filmmakers have chosen to depict London in the year 5000. In the books, Jackson noted, “you get the feeling that it’s getting closer to it’s ‘use-by’ date.”
Boyens, who co-wrote Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, among other projects, was asked about the film’s title. “What it’s saying is that these cities are, yes, giant engines, but they are teeming with life,” she said, noting that it is lifted from Shakespeare’s Othello. Through “the laws of this world, municipal Darwinism … even these giant cities can fall.”
Jackson said he first read the four books in the series in 2006 or 2007, optioning them immediately. After a five-year detour to do The Hobbit films, he decided to offer Rivers a change to make his directing debut. While he spoke only briefly during the panel, Rivers said the goal of the production was to create “a new story for cinema lovers everywhere.”
Actors on the panel included cast members Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Stephen Lang, Leila George and Jihae. Another actor who plays a pivotal role, Hugo Weaving, was unable to attend but sent his regards via a brief video.’