'Mortal Engines': Even Peter Jackson's reputation couldn't salvage this steampunk mess
Looks like everyone at Universal was banking on Jackson's 'LOTR' success, not really considering that there may be a small chance that it would completely backfire
Peter Jackson's latest mammoth production did not reap the rewards we were all expecting it to, but to be completely honest, 'Mortal Engines' dull box opening doesn't really come as a surprise.
The film, based on Phillip Reeve's books by the same name, 'Mortal Engines' was all hype and no meat and unfortunately, Jackson's name wasn't enough to sell it.
The film was mounted on a big budget like Jackson's 'The Lord Of The Rings' franchise. It was a little more than $100 million in production costs alone and a good couple of millions in marketing. The film has so far been able to make just over $42 million worldwide and it screams one thing - it definitely wasn't what it was hyped to be.
The biggest factor that spelled downfall for the film was its complete lack of a story arc. It jumps from point to point without really building up to it or even explaining why it is happening in the first place. The movie was breathless - like it was trying to rush to get to the end never bothering to show us the nitty-gritty of even one character.
A lot of traveling through different Traction cities and wars that never featured on the books, the film paced way too much. From the book to the movie adaptation, the steampunk adventure got lost in translation. If they had just taken a couple of minutes to just slow down and figure out the arcs it would have been so much better.
Right from the time we see London, there's a definite awe about the city. Before the film released, Universal made a whole series about the artists behind the film. They had assured audiences that they had gone to extreme lengths to make sure that everything on the sets was absolutely authentic. They talked about their team of designers that used blowtorches and dirt to make the post-apocalyptic story come alive on screen. The world of 'Mortal Engines' was meant to be sprawling, to say the least.
The set is said to have had 3,900 extras alone. The film has had 67 sets through its production and each of them have been handmade and handpainted by the best in the industry. To add authenticity, some of them were even made on gimbals and moving bases - just so they could really convey the concept of moving cities. There's no denying that it came through on screen - unfortuantely, that's all that was worth the money.
Another reason that made the film fail was just how different the film was from the books. It is understandable that films will never be as detailed as the books - as seen in 'LOTR' as well as franchises like JK Rowling's 'Harry Potter' or even George RR Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. The are Hollywood-ized to make them fit the big screen. However, 'Mortal Engines' decided to take away the essence of many of its characters, mainly its anti-hero Hester Shaw. Apart from the fact that all of the characters including Hester look much older, her personality, in particular, is pretty shallow in the movie. She has been revamped to suit the persona of the film, for sure and this definitely did not work in the film's favor.
Reeve's books took a certain level of pride to show their scarred heroine. Strong and fierce, Hester's character was centered around the scar on her face - how she got it, who gave it to her and why it reminds her every day that she must avenge her mother's death. In the books, it is a monstrous feature, that made her wonder why Tom Natsworthy loved her in the first place. In fact, it is so gruesome that even her own daughter questions why anyone could love someone so hideous.
We don't see the conflict in Hester's character at all. She knows how to fight, run and eat like a savage but as for her pain, suffering, and insecurities - there are none. She is sure about herself, her face and her mission and the scar is a very small part of her character in the film. It's like the color of her skin or her wild hair - it's just a feature that exists that you notice in passing. She's also been given two fully functional eyes in the movie. There's a lot more conflict and depth for Hester in the books, for sure.
There were, of course, other factors involved that led to the downfall of 'Mortal Engines'. It opened with 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' and Clint Eastwood's 'The Mule'. Both films exceeded expectations. 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' made a staggering $35.4 million - which is the highest opening of all-time in the holiday season of December. Although 'The Mule' made much lesser than 'Mortal Engines' - $17 million - for a film whose budget was half of that of 'Mortal Engines', it isn't too bad. The competition was stiff and it really isn't surprising that Sony Animation's 'Spider-Man' took the cake and ate it too. The 'Spider-Man' franchise has a huge fan following in comparison to 'Mortal Engines' author Phillip Reeve, obviously.
It looks like everyone on board at Universal was banking on Jackson's 'LOTR' success, not really considering that there may be a small chance that it would completely backfire. With the debut collection in North America a meager $7.5 million, it certainly has.