Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is all set to present yet another epic adventure film, Mortal Engines. Only this time, he is not directing it. Instead, he has handed over the reins to his long-time associate, visual effects supervisor, Christian Rivers. Based on Philip Reeve’s book of the same name, Mortal Engines stars Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, and Jihae. The film is co-produced and co-written by Peter Jackson.
Set hundreds of years in the future after civilisation was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, a mysterious young woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), emerges as the only one who can stop London — now a giant, predator city on wheels — from devouring everything in its path. Hester joins forces with Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), an outcast from London, along with Anna Fang (Jihae), a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head. The film is slated for release in India in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on Friday, a week before its US release. Excerpts from a conversation with debutant director Christian Rivers, an Academy Award winner for Best Achievement in Visual Effects:
How did you get the opportunity to direct Mortal Engines?
Originally, Peter Jackson was going to direct it himself, but The Hobbit films came along and he decided to do them instead. At the end of that trilogy, he didn’t want to go into another giant world-building process, so Peter threw it my way — which was incredibly generous of him. It still meant that he could do a lot of things he enjoyed like work on the script, help out with the casting and do a lot of the prep. Peter gave me all the freedom I needed to direct the movie. He wanted to make sure that not only would Mortal Engines be a film he would want to put his name on, but also one that I would be proud of.
Can you tell us a bit about the protagonist Hester Shaw?
She is a sort of broken and damaged hero. Her mother was killed when she was a child, and then she was raised by this emotionless, part-man, part-robot known as Shrike. He has always been her custodian and never harmed her; although, at the same time, he is kind of a monster. Hester is someone who is driven by vengeance and even death in a way. It took us quite some time to find Hester, but we kept searching until Hera (Icelandic actor, Hera Hilmar) appeared. She is wonderful and has this unknown edge about her that fits the character perfectly.
Hester stumbles across Tom Natsworthy, the other lead character of the story. What is his back-story?
Tom is such a loveable character because even though he is someone who has dreamt about something bigger, he is not bitter or twisted about it. He wanted to be an aviator, but then his parents died and he couldn’t afford to make his dreams come true. He isn’t angry about it though. Later, when he meets the powerful Thaddeus Valentine and everything changes.
We chose the young, Irish talent Robert Sheehan to play Tom. The great thing about Robbie is that he is a chameleon. He can mould himself into any look or character.
Tom and Hester don’t get off on their best foot, do they?
That’s right. But the ongoing story will be the love relationship between them. It’s fun to have two people fall in love when initially they are at each other’s throats! So, even though the stakes are high, there is humour there too, which I think is very important. We want the drama to be real and the stakes to be high, but we also want people to enjoy the film.
This film wouldn’t work if you didn’t have the strong antagonist that you do in Thaddeus Valentine, portrayed by the great Hugo Weaving.
Hugo is probably our most recognisable face on screen, and he is a fantastic actor to work with. He is completely commanding as Valentine, who is not this moustache-twirling villain that wants to hurt the world, but someone who has his reasons. He sees that these cities are going to die out, so he plans a way to survive. But he is also utterly ruthless and merciless in how he tries to achieve that goal.
And how would you explain this unique, future world you are depicting?
It’s a civilisation that is actually starting to decline, after being born out of an apocalypse that took place in just hours. It’s almost like comparing our civilisation now to Ancient Rome. So, it’s not dystopian in any way; but a new world that is rich in culture, and hopefully also a new experience for everyone to see.
Was it difficult it to bring that new world to life on the screen?
It was a lot of hard work. We built over 160 sets of all sizes, mainly because I never wanted the actors to be just standing on a piece of green board. Luckily, so many talented craftsmen, artists and designers managed to come forward with the creation you see onscreen.