Adapting Mortal Engines for the Screen

Christian Rivers, Peter Jackson, and Philippa Boyens talk adapting Mortal Engines, and how it differs from Lord of the Rings.

Mortal Engines, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Philip Reeve book series has been a long time coming. Having picked up the rights for the Mortal Engines series since before he even planned to simply produce a Hobbit movie or two, Jackson has been eying the project for a long time, alongside his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. In the end, Christian Rivers is taking over the directorial reins—having been a second-unit director on The Hobbit trilogy and a visual effects supervisor on The Lord of the Rings trilogy—but Jackson stayed on to write the picture.

When we were able to catch up with Jackson and Boyens at New York Comic Con, the writers/producers were kind enough to share their thoughts about how the process has changed, or for Jackson, has improved in some ways.

“The script writing process is pretty much the same whether I’m going to direct it or not,” Jackson told us. “You’re trying to adapt these books and make the best possible script you can. We got the rights back in 2006 or ’07, and we were going to make it but then we got interrupted by The Hobbit when Warners suddenly got the rights to that, and which we ended up obviously making three movies back-to-back. And I came out of that thinking I was a bit exhausted, but the rights were going to run out for the Mortal Engines books, and I really wanted to see this film made. So it was actually a fun experience for me, because I got to do everything I really enjoy about films. I got to work on the script, which I really love, got to help on casting and things. But then the poor guy who had to show up and direct it every day was Christian.”

On the casting side of things, all hands involved seem very pleased with their two discoveries for the leads: Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw, a scarred scrapper whose home village was consumed by a movable, feasting London on wheels, and Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy. Intriguingly, somewhat like Frodo before them, each part went through some reworking in the casting process, but in this case by being aged up instead of down. Boyens was also on hand to explain the logic of that choice.

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“What we did do is age the characters up,” Boyens says. “They’re much younger in the books. And we did that on purpose, because maybe, should there be a follow-up… one of the things that I think we knew hopefully might happen is if you go into a sequel, you would be jumping ahead. You’d almost have to recast Hester and Tom. But this way, they’re a little bit older, but not too much older, and they can also move forward with the story if it should happen that way.”

You can watch the full interview segments below. Mortal Engines opens on Dec. 14.

Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!

David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.