This is Not a YA Tale

While the source novel was written for the young adult crowd, the filmmakers emphasized that they’re not making a young adult movie. This is not Divergent or The Hunger Games. They have bigger things on their mind.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve done [is to] shift it out of what I’d sort of characterized as YA,” Rivers told us. “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. You know, it won’t be any one of those, but that’s a target there.”

Boyens also compared Mortal Engines to a massively popular franchise, but says it reaches for that same turf by trying something completely new:

“This is a new world. It’s an action adventure I think is the best way to describe it because we want it to be one of those films that we grew up with. I can remember when the first Star Wars came out.”

Part of the process of stripping the YA out of Mortal Engines and transforming it into a more mature science fiction epic involved aging up the characters. Tom and Hester are teenagers in the novel, but the film makes them adults.

“They’re more in the, like, Star Wars protagonist age group,” Rivers said. “You know, they’re not teenagers. They’re sort of on that young…you know that cusp – what am I going to do with my life? […] They’re, like, 15 or something in the books and we’ve definitely made them older than that.”

Boyens said the choice to age up the characters came from the characters themselves. As you’d expect, Tom and Hester find themselves in the center of a love story and that story would carry more weight if they weren’t star-crossed teens:

“It’s quite extraordinary epic, heartbreaking but beautiful place that it ends, that that love story of Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy, but this is the beginning of it. And so, that was a trick. That was a trick. And that’s why we aged the characters up. That was one of the reasons to do it.”

And this is all very important to consider, as Jackson explained that this love story is the heart of the movie:

“It’s a love story. It’s an unlikely love story. It’s, you know, about a young woman who doesn’t really think that she will ever find love and she finds it through a very unexpected way in the middle of all this chaotic strange world that we’re in. And I also just like the idea of seeing big cities eat other.”

The World Only Gets Bigger

Of course, Mortal Engines is the first in the series of four books, a fact that was not lost on the filmmakers or visiting press. While most of the crew we spoke with assured us that this is a standalone film, Jackson was more than happy to discuss a potential franchise. After all, they had already used future books in the series to inform this first film:

“We have benefited, obviously, knowing now what’s in the other books in the future. So, there are little subtle things we’re doing that will help us flow into the other. They’re not anything that changes anything much, but it’s just stuff that, because we know what is going to happen in the future with these books in the story we’re able to plant little things here and there that, you know, will be helpful to us…if we should be so lucky to make more films.”

Jackson was also honest about the future books – they’re better than the first book and he’d love to see them adapted:

“This is one movie that I hope is successful enough that we get to do the other stories because the other books are really…I mean, it just gets…you know, this story mushrooms in such unexpected ways in the future books. So, I really hope we get to make those films.”

And while the cast and crew were clearly appreciative of Reeves’ work, one thing was clear: these books were not a sacred text. With the novel fresh in my mind during the set visit, I often experienced whiplash. Major spoilers revealed drastic storytelling changes. Entire locations and characters have been excised and replaced with something new. The third act of the novel seems to have been massively reinvented and concept art implies something bigger and more spectacular than what was on the page.

Don’t call Mortal Engines post-apocalyptic. Don’t call it steampunk. Don’t call it YA. But do call it a science fiction epic created by many of the folks responsible for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They have taken full ownership. And I couldn’t be more excited to see what they cook up.

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