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Mortal Engines director Christian Rivers wants the film to be a cross between the Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Mad Max films. Peter Jackson's name continues to serve as the focal point for Mortal Engines' marketing and understandably so; the Lords of the Rings and Hobbit trilogy director is pretty much synonymous with the kind of grandiose epic that Mortal Engines aspires to be. Nevertheless, it was Jackson's longtime VFX collaborator (and first-time director) Rivers who called the shots on the film, drawing from a script that Jackson cowrote with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
The Mortal Engines novels by Philip Reeve take place in a post-apocalyptic future where a cataclysmic event (known as the Sixty Minute War) forever changed earth's geography and left human civilization in ruins. Giant moving cities (aka. traction cities) now roam the planet and battle one another for whatever resources they can find, resulting in some pretty devastating (and literal) city vs. city showdowns. Suffice it to say, the similarities between Mortal Engines' setting and that of the Mad Max films hasn't gone unnoticed by Rivers, Jackson, or any other members of their crew here.
When Screen Rant spoke to Rivers on the Mortal Engines set in Wellington, New Zealand, the director even made a direct comparison between his movie and Mad Max, among other sci-fi/fantasy titles. He further revealed that the Mortal Engines film adaptation changes the ages of the original books' main characters, in order to move it away from its YA source material and closer to something like Star Wars:
We have aged up our protagonists. You know, they're more in the, like, Star Wars protagonist age group. They're not teenagers. They're sort of on that young... that cusp into, you know, what am I going to do with my life?
And so, I think that's been probably the biggest thing that we've done to sort of shift it out of what I'd sort of characterized as YA. Like,when we were sort of looking for partners to make the film, I drew a triangle between Mad Max, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. And I said, this film needs to land in the middle of those three. It won't be any one of those, but it'll - that's a target there.
Robert Sheehan and Hera Hilmar, who plays Mortal Engines' leads Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw, are indeed closer in age to the stars of the modern Star Wars trilogy (see Daisy Ridley, John Boyega) than their counterparts in Reeve's books. The film similarly comes off as a cross between a Mad Max-esque thriller and sweeping fantasy epic in the vein of (naturally) Rivers and Jackson's previous big-budget efforts together. At the same time, though, Mortal Engines clearly doesn't dive in the world of magic the way that the Harry Potter movies and the Fantastic Beasts films do, like Rivers said.
The hope then is that Mortal Engines does indeed land somewhere between its various influences without being overly derivative of any one of them. It could even make for an imaginative combination of the three franchises that Rivers mentioned, similar to how something like last week's Upgrade manages to feel like several films mashed together, yet unique all at once. It's a tricky balancing act for sure, but if done right it could leave audiences wanting to revisit the Mortal Engines universe as soon as the first movie is over.