“Mortal Engines” has come out and brings steampunk back to the surface. While steampunk is a genre that doesn’t often appear on Television or theater screens, it is still relevant, pretty much like ”good old wine”. Steampunk began to develop as a subgenre of science fiction and expanded into other media such as music, movies, video games, fashion, and even DIY zones. It has even offered tips for the unlikely event of a nuclear disaster! It does flirt intensely with Victorian settings, giving them a more futuristic touch nevertheless. The main focus of the genre can be said to be technological evolution and its impact on society.
In cinematography, besides some style choices or visual elements, steam-punk hardly ever reminds us of a movie as we know it, maybe with the exception of Japanese anime, comics, and other “obscure” pop culture media. After all, ‘Mortal Engines’ is based on Philip Reeve’s tetralogy which has been around for over a decade. Judging from the title and the trailer, the film would be about to play the ‘game’ safe, mainly addressing a younger, less-experienced-in-the-genre audience.
So, here we have a Europe as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, after a devastating ‘Sixty Minute War’ through super-weapons. Centuries later, the remains of the human species, packed in colossal mobile cities, roam in wastelands seeking resources and advanced technology from their predecessors, “cannibalizing” other cities, as does the city of London. Whoever remembers ‘Waterworld’ (1995), will fit right in the atmosphere. In this background, we follow Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), in a bitter but simple story of vengeance, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving – Matrix, Lord of the Rings), in his quest to break down, by any material or moral cost, the wall built by those who have rejected the rationale of mobile cities, and Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who has become entangled between the two, trying to find out his identity as a timid historian or a courageous pilot.
Who could have made a better producer than Peter Jackson and ‘the Lord of the Rings’ production team? Christian Rivers, in his debut, showcases directorial skill at its best. As an example, the introductory scene of London trying to literally devour a ‘little Bavarian city’ is truly stunning; Junkie XL’s epic music is a great addition, though it may come off as a bit over the top at times, such as in the ‘super-weapons’ scenes.
Admittedly, one of the biggest challenges of such productions is to decide what will be left out because of time or target-group purposes. On the one hand, this creates discontinuities in the narrative. On the other hand, it gives it a vibe that appeals more to younger audiences as we have already mentioned. Yes, apart from the main characters, the rest are just ”decorative”. Also, the elements that explain and animate the world are given through cameo appearances at times, leaving it to our imagination to guess what led to all the visual and acoustic tropes thrown at us.
Depending on the point of view, this could be one of the film’s good points, though. The political dimensions of the story can easily suck you in as a metaphor for today’s nationalistic Europe. But let’s look for those metaphors in the books, shall we? Because the film itself, despite its predictability (that reminds us of the good ole Star Wars), achieves its goal of first impressions.
This is particularly evident in the scene introducing us to two of the best characters: that is, the outlaw ‘badass’ rebel ‘Anna Fang’ performed by the Korean singer Jihae and the zombie-Terminator ‘Shrike’ acted by a creepy Stephen Lang. This is what you came for, after all, isn’t it?