BIG-BUDGET STEAMPUNK: Hera Hilmar in a scene from  Mortal Engines .
BIG-BUDGET STEAMPUNK: Hera Hilmar in a scene from Mortal Engines .

MOVIE REVIEW: Sci-fi veterans helm first steampunk epic

IN A world where cinemas are full of remakes, sequels and movies that we've all seen before, it's refreshing when something truly original comes to the big screen.

Philips Reeves released his book Mortal Engines back in 2001, the first of four novels set in a dystopian world of scavengers and survivors.

Peter Jackson, the man behind The Lord of the Rings, optioned the rights to the series in 2004, but put it on the shelf when he agreed to make three Hobbit movies.

Now, 14 years later, Jackson and many of the people responsible for the six Middle-Earth films are the engine room behind a movie that fans of steampunk will find irresistible.

Hundreds of years after the world we know was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, a mysterious young woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), emerges as the only one who can stop London.

A scene from the movie Mortal Engines.
A scene from the movie Mortal Engines. Universal Pictures

The English capital is now a giant, predator city on wheels devouring everything in its path.

All the world's surviving cities, towns and villages of various sizes roam the new Earth on wheels, scavenging for whatever resources they can find.

Fiercely driven by the memory of her mother, 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 as they work together to bring down London and its architect Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). who plans to dig up the past and use the weapons that destroyed civilisation to gain an edge in this new world.

Hugo Weaving in a scene from Mortal Engines.
Hugo Weaving in a scene from Mortal Engines. Universal Pictures

Hester also has to contend with a resurrected bounty hunter who won't stop until she is dead. The odds in this dangerous world are against her.

When you have a movie with the likes of Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (who all wrote the scripts for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films), you know you are in safe hands.

Mortal Engines' opening chase scene is an absolute ripper as the giant city on wheels from England bears down on a small village, to be absorbed by the behemoth that rules that wastelands.

Steampunk is described as a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting, and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

In that respect, Mortal Engines nails it, and fans of the genre will go nuts for what will be considered the first big-budget movie in the genre.

Directed by Oscar-winning visual effects artist and long-time Jackson collaborator Christian Rivers, Mortal Engines is good old-fashioned goodies vs baddies romp set in a new world where it is survival of the fittest.

Robert Sheehan, Leifur Sigurdarson and Hera Hilmar in a scene from Mortal Engines.
Robert Sheehan, Leifur Sigurdarson and Hera Hilmar in a scene from Mortal Engines. Universal Pictures

Filmed in Wellington and with effects by Jackson's SFX studio WETA, Mortal Engines is a loud, visual feast for your senses. While the book was aimed at 11 to16-year-olds, it's a story that anyone can enjoy.

Weaving as always, is excellent, stealing the show as the villain just like he did in The Matrix and Captain America.

While the film does sag in the middle as it examines the lead character's back story, the pay-off at the end with a well-staged action-packed finale makes it worth the wait.

Mortal Engines is a perfect popcorn movie for summer. While it offers a darker vision of humanity 1000 years from now, it ends up being an uplifting experience due to its sheer originality.

This is a project full of imagination and ambition. It's unlike anything you've seen before, and based on its unique look, is one that deserves your school holiday movie money. Make a stand against endless sequels that nobody wants, and support a Kiwi-made movie that is far from ordinary.

This is ambitious film-making that only Jackson and his team know how to do well. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Mortal Engines opens in cinemas today.



Stars: Hera Hilmer, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae.

Director: Christian Rivers

Verdict: 3.5 stars