By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Mortal Engines”; Director: Christian Rivers; Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang,Frankie Adams, Colin Salmon, Caren Pistorius and Kee Chan; Rating: ****
There is an interesting trend in the science fiction genre. Over the last few years, we have seen the genre used not only to examine the power of space travel or a post-apocalyptic future, but as a way to address common humanity more than futuristic adventure stories.
Joining films like “Interstellar”, “The Dark Tower”, “Mad Max Road Fury” and “Arrival”, is director Christian Rivers’ ambitious and moving “Mortal Engines”, a film that is about a painfully dangerous and unforgettable adventure story of surprises, set in the third millennium in a dark and utterly original world fuelled by Municipal Darwinism and betrayal.
The narrative begins on an exciting note. On a dark, blustery afternoon while skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster and hungrier cities preying in the Great Hunting Ground, the great traction city of London, spots a small mining town called Salthook and chases it across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea, in order to dismantle (or eat) it, as resource for survival.
While the Lord Mayor of London has a sinister plan, an attempted assassination on Thaddeus Valentine, the Head Historian and adored famous archaeologist of London, brings to fore the masked assassin and Tom Natsworthy a lowly third-class apprentice who gets into her way.
Racing after the fleeing girl, Tom is shocked to see the hideously scarred face behind the mask. And before she would jump down into the waste chute which is considered death, she reveals, “Look at what your Valentine did to me! Ask him! Ask him what he did to Hester Shaw!”
Minutes later, still in disbelief, Tom finds himself tumbling down the same chute and stranded in the Out-Country, a sea of mud scored by the huge caterpillar tracks of cities like the one now steaming off over the horizon. How both, Tom and Hester bond and fend for themselves, forms the crux of the tale.
Hera Hilmar gives a confident and affecting performance as Hester Shaw, the disfigured, fugitive assassin with a personal vendetta against Thaddeus. So does Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy.
The duo is aptly supported by Hugo Weaving as Thaddeus Valentine, Leila George D’Onofrio as Thaddeus’s daughter Katherine, Ronan Raftery as the apprentice engineer Bevis Pod whom Katherine befriends, Stephen Lang as Shrike the last of the undead battalion who raised Hester and Jihae as Anna Fang the pilot and leader of the Anti-Traction League, a resistance group banding against the moving cities devouring Earth’s resources.
The film is technically spectacular with brilliant set pieces and futuristic space crafts designed by Dan Hennah. Simon Raby’s cinematography captures the entire proceeding astutely. The live action drama meshes seamlessly with the graphic and computer generated effects. His imagery is fluid, unlike the choppy blockbuster cinematography that we’re used to seeing in sci-fi. Unfortunately, the 3D effects don’t add any value to the viewing experience.
The visuals are accompanied by Junkie XL’s compositions that are essential to every emotional beat of the film, defining the air of tension in the first half of the film and the moving undercurrents of the final act.
Overall, “Mortal Engines” is an exciting, action-packed and engrossing drama that will keep you hooked till the last frame.