Creating the Universe of Mortal Engines

Director Christian Rivers and screenwriter Philippa Boyens explore how they got Mortal Engines onto the screen.

Director Christian Rivers wrote a letter to Peter Jackson more than 26 years ago, asking if he could come and work for him. To Rivers’ surprise, he found himself storyboarding Jackson’s third feature film, Braindead (1992) and has worked on every one of Jackson’s film since as either a storyboard artist, visual effects supervisor, special effects technician or second unit director.

Now Rivers makes his feature directorial debut with Mortal Engines, based on the first of four novels by Philip Reeve in which massive cities on wheels rumble through a blasted apocalyptic landscape of the far future, swallowing up smaller burgs whole as a means of survival. As Rivers tells us below, he was both prepared and yet unprepared for the massive job of bringing this unique world to life — although he always had Jackson in his corner.

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Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, have produced the movie, while Jackson, Walsh and Philippa Boyens — the same team that has scripted all of Jackson’s own films from The Lord of the Rings trilogy to The Hobbit — have adapted Reeve’s book. “One of the things with taking on a book like this is it’s incredibly imaginative,” says Boyens. “But that can create a lot of complications in terms of how much exposition you’re going to drown the audience in.”

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Mortal Engines represents a new genre for the trio, finding them delving into a world of sci-fi and steampunk that’s quite unlike the horror and dark fantasy tales they’ve told before. But as Boyens tells us, she just wanted to see a giant city on wheels. Doesn’t everybody?


Mortal Engines is out in theaters today (December 14).

Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye