The Unheard Nerd boys were lucky (literally) to catch an extended preview of Mortal Engines
At this year’s MCM London Comic Con, Will and I were lucky enough to catch a presentation of Universal’s upcoming feature, Mortal Engines.
Events didn’t get off to a great start when we missed the first showing of the day. It was the first item of interest on our itinerary and we got there two minutes late. The whole presentation was taking place inside the cinema truck, a vehicle with an expandable trailer that opens to house around 100 people.
We set our alarms for thirty minutes before the second and final showing of the day and returned later that day to find a long queue. As the start time drew near, the staff moved along the queue taking everyone’s mobile phones. I knew we must be in for something rather special.
As it transpires, Will and I were extremely lucky. I was technically the last person allowed into the truck but as the staff had placed our phones into the same security bag and we were there as a group of two, they decided not to split us up and Will was given a plastic fold-up chair to sit at the back of the cinema.
The lights dimmed and the presentation started with an introduction from the creative team of Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens. Peter is obviously most famous for directing The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series of films. Phillipa is a co-writer and producer on those same films.
The creative pair also co-wrote and produced Mortal Engines along with Peter’s wife, Fran Walsh. They apologised they couldn’t make the appearance in person and informed us we were going to see the first twenty-five minutes of Mortal Engines.
In a nutshell, this first twenty-five minutes sets up the environment, the rules of this new world, the main characters and plot.
WARNING: What follows is a detailed description of the footage that was screened. However, if you’ve read the book, nothing here will be of a surprise to you.
The film starts with the famous Universal logo but as the letters move into place, several large energy explosions can be seen erupting all over the planet with a barren charred landscape left behind.
A voiceover explains that what we are witnessing is the sixty-minute war. A battle that was fought with such powerful weapons that it changed the landscape of the world forever. The survivors decided to uproot their towns and cities and build them onto huge powered transports allowing them to roam the Earth searching for resources.
We open on a young woman with a red scarf covering her lower face who is scanning the landscape with an electronic telescope. We do not know who or what she is looking for.
The film reveals her location, a larger town that sits upon a series of huge wheels and caterpillar tracks. People are bartering and exchanging goods. In the distance, the huge lumbering city of London surges forward like a giant predator.
A beautiful tracking shot reveals the city of London starting with its huge caterpillar tracks, swinging up through the many levels of habitation to reveal St Paul’s cathedral sitting on top. The shot doesn’t stop there, it continues panning around and finally stops in the control room of the city being led by Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving).
Back at the large town, the alarm is given that a huge city is bearing down on them. In a wonderful display of design and CGI, the larger city is revealed to be four smaller cities that had docked together for trading.
Three of the cities start up their coal powered engines and speed away as fast as they can, the remaining city, however, has engine trouble.
The mayor of London enters the control room for a brief visit and displays his contempt at chasing after such a small prize. If captured, the resources gained will only power London for a week.
The game of cat and mouse begins as London bears down ever closer to the small town. The upper-class inhabitants of London race to the edge of their platforms to witness and cheer on the chase that is taking place far below.
The chase sequence is intercut with the introduction of one of our main protagonists, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who works at the Museum of London. This ornate building contains relics of many everyday objects that are normal to us but are strange and confusing to this future civilisation.
The museum’s head curator is annoyed at the chase outside as the buildings are shaking with the vibrations. Many of the historical artefacts are prone to falling off their displays and breaking, this leads into a great visual gag involving Universal’s popular animated franchise, Minions.
A young woman, Katherine (Leila George), visits the museum and Tom is giving the job of escorting her around. They discuss the strange past of humanity before the sixty-minute war and how the world has changed.
There is very little written surviving evidence which leads to Tom voicing his opinion that the ancestors must have lived in what he calls the digital screen age revealing a cabinet filled with broken smartphone and tablet computers.
The exciting chase sequence outside comes to an end with the huge metallic beast of London catching the small town and pulling into its own glowing red bowls.
Tom mentions that he must leave and head to the lower decks to search for any historical artefacts that may be found on the small town that is due to be pulled apart for resources.
Katherine says she’ll help with the use of her first-class transport pass. They run to the nearest building that is labelled as Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. The train they catch looks remarkably like the lower deck of the famous red double-decker buses of present-day London.
What follows is my favourite part of the design that we saw in this sneak preview. The “underground train”, as already mentioned, is the reworked remains of a London bus attached to space amongst the supports of the London Eye structure.
As the London Eye rotates like a Ferris wheel, the bus is lowered into the deep lower depths of London.
The occupants of the small captured town are being ushered into London whilst being searched for anything of value. A speaker announces that everyone will be assigned new jobs and somewhere to live.
Amongst the townsfolk is the young lady we saw at the film’s opening, the woman with the red scarf covering most her face. Upon realising everyone is being searched, she hides a knife blade inside one of her long leather boots.
Tom arrives and heads straight for one of the skips where anything of value is being tossed by the thugs searching the captured townsfolk.
Tom is delighted to find a toaster, one which is in such wonderful condition for its age. His delight in his find is shared by Thaddeus Valentine who has come down from the control room to oversee the welcoming of the townsfolk.
The young lady is also surprised to see Thaddeus who it is revealed to be her father.
This confirmation of names is all the young lady in the red scarf needs to hear and forces her way towards Thaddeus. She pulls her knife from her boot and confronts him. She reveals her name is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) and this attack is revenge for the murder of her mother.
Thaddeus is stabbed and Tom jumps in to stop Hester going for another attack. What follows is an exciting chase sequence through the small captured town that is now being broken apart by huge robotic claws and chainsaws that tower over them.
The chase comes to an end when Hester tries to jump from a balcony into a rubbish chute. However, her plan is thwarted when Tom manages to catch her hand just in time.
Hester looks into Tom’s eyes and asks him to ask Thaddeus about her mother, her scarf has fallen away revealing scars across her face.
Hester wrestles her hand free and falls into the chute.
Thaddeus finally catches up with Tom who fills him in on the details from Hester. Thaddeus says it’s a shame that Tom had learned of these additional details and pushes him into the rubbish chute.
Then the screen went black and the lights of the cinema came up.
That was one of the quickest twenty-five minutes of film I’d watched. I was enjoying what I saw so much that I never realised how much time had passed.
I’ve read the original story that this film is based upon and I know the outcome but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to see the rest of the film.
The world created for this film is a glorious steampunk world filled with details that bring the book to life. Although we only got to see the Mortal Engines of the film, the cities on tracks, I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the world has been visualised including one character in particular whom has only been teased in one of the trailers so far.
Tom is obviously going to be a fish out of water character who’s going to have to learn about life outside of a city. Will he team up with Hester Shaw and what happened between her mother and Thaddeus for it to have such a dramatic outcome?
To find the answers and to just enjoy what looks like a great story that takes part in a brilliantly created world, you’ll have to visit your local cinema later this year.
Thank you to Universal Pictures and MCM Comic Con London for providing this opportunity.
Mortal Engines opens on December 8th in the UK. For your local release date, check IMDb.