Punk Science Fiction began as an offshoot of classic science-fiction which majorly focussed on highly futuristic worlds which were more often than not outrageous in their imagination. The word “punk” has been associated to sci-fi for such a long time that no one really knows where it caught the roots. One might say that its rebellious story-telling coincides with Punk rock which is the more aggressive expression of classic rock. Punk sci-fi, later on, diverged into two very distinctive sub-genres – Cyber Punk and Steam Punk, each having its own futuristic appeal. However, while Cyber Punk was more electronic with giant holographic displays and AI, Steam Punk stuck with old-school technology that huffed and puffed, a mangled remnant of the glorious age of Industrialization. Both of these sub-genres, despite being so characteristically different, do have an underlying common thread in the context that both are usually based in a dystopian world where power-hungry elitists try to tread upon the scroungers in a Marxian class war.
Both of these sub-genres, despite being so characteristically different, do have an underlying common thread in the context that both are usually based in a dystopian world where power-hungry elitists try to tread upon the scroungers in a Marxian class war.
Based on Phillip Reeves’s Mortal Engine Series, Director Christian Rivers and Peter Jackson (as screenwriter) bring together an adaptation that is audacious in its ambition, to begin with. The world has seen something akin to a Nuclear War that has wiped out almost all technology and resources. Whatever was left was brought together into making these gigantic engines that carried entire cities on them. These giant-moving cities hunted down smaller moving-towns and putting them down for their resources. Imagine Howl’s Moving Castle on steroids and you’d get a pretty decent idea. The story revolves around the moving-city of London which has become this giant imperialist machine, engulfing whatever comes in its way. Oh wait, that sounds familiar. Well, in this case, it quite literally romps upon the smaller powerless people and marches on with the single agenda to keep its mortal engines alive.
Thaddeus Valentine, Head of the Guild of Historians has different plans for his city. He is tired of this daily scrounging for resources that barely last them a few days, and longs for a permanent energy source that would make London, the most powerful city on the planet. Being the Head of the museum as well, Valentine has access to old discarded technology of the Ancients as they call the people who lived in the 21st century. Everything seems to be going his way until there is an assassination attempt at him by a young girl with a red scarf covering her face. Although he was saved by Tom Natsworthy, one of the young apprentice historians, he saw her face and knew that his past had come back to haunt him. After a frenzied chase across London Valentine sees the girl jump into an outlet hole and throws Natsworthy after her as the girl had mentioned a name to him. As Valentine marches East which the deadly energy source that he is building, the girl Hester Shaw and Natsworthy embark on a journey to stop him.
There are a lot of diverging storylines in Mortal Engines that do more harm than good to the plot. Besides the central arc, there is another arc where a Resurrected, which is a half-robot, half-zombie, named Strike is after Hester as she had broken a promise. There is yet another character named Ann Fang who is a rebel tractionist who comes from the stable cities of the East and aims to overthrow Valentine. She too joins the duo in their journey to take down London’s engine. However, in this rigmarole, not enough time is given to the characters for us to stay invested in them. But that doesn’t mean that the story is rushed. There is still a lot of stuff happening on screen, which starts getting exhausting after a point. There is a particular point in the film when it feels as if everyone is saying their final dialogues and the credits would start rolling any minute. That’s when a whole new battle sequence is started, where Valentine triggers an attack on the Eastern Wall, all in the last 20 minutes or so. The film which was already getting unwieldy, feels half-hearted as it tries to wrap up every possible arc in the last few minutes.
Peter Jackson builds an exciting world on-screen as only he can. The moving towns and cities are a spectacle to behold, especially if you watch it on IMAX. The camera angles swoop in with cinematic fluidity which is a treat to watch. However, after a point, the zillion explosions become a test of your patience, and you stop caring about what happens to the characters. Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy, and Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw are an interesting duo, and do have potential if sequels are made, as is very likely considering its a series of books. Hugo Weaving as Thaddeus Valentine is a worthy fixture in all of Jackson’s adaptations and does justice to the megalomania that was required of him. Mortal Engines had a lot of good ideas but the world-building took away the focus from the narrative in the end. We hope against hope to see a much more intriguing narrative in the upcoming sequels.