Film Review: Mortal Engines (2018)

Release Date: December 5th, 2018 (Belgium, Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines)
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Frankie Adams

Media Rights Capital, Scholastic Productions, Silvertongue Films, WingNut Films, Universal Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“I was eight years old when my mother died. She loved traveling the world and digging up the past. He used to visit all the time, and then one day everything changed. She’d found something, something he wanted.” – Hester Shaw

Mortal Engines seemed to have a lot of fanfare when it was being made. But once it was about to come out, that fanfare had died down and ultimately, it bombed at the box office.

I did have an interest in this because Peter Jackson was behind it. But once I found out that he wasn’t directing this, my interest died down and I figured I’d see what the public’s consensus was before jumping in, headfirst.

This is a pretty weak film. Now it isn’t bad but it completely lacks the spirit of Jackson’s most famous films: the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Maybe that’s because he didn’t direct it or because the story itself just wasn’t strong enough.

Now the idea behind the story is cool. This is a really neat concept as it is about massive cities that move around and steal the resources of smaller settlements. At least, that’s what the film was sold to me as. This picture really just showcases one city: London. Maybe the sequels would have shown more moving cities, which could have been badass had this film succeeded and its sequels weren’t cancelled.

Moving cities battling other moving cities almost sounds like the makings of a kaiju movie where the giant monsters are the cities themselves. That could have been cool but now we’ll probably never see it, unless someone steals the idea for another film or if there is another attempt at this young adult novel series several years in the future. But really, this would probably work better as a television series.

I thought that the acting was pretty good and Hugo Weaving really owned the scenes he was in. However, Stephen Lang’s performance, as the cyborg Shrike, was actually chilling to the bone. He was the best, most complex character in the film and even though you initially see him as an unstoppable force of evil, the more you learn about him, the more you understand what his motivations are and how there is a tortured human being’s soul buried under his metal shell and wires.

By comparison though, a lot of the other characters besides Weaving and Lang, felt a bit flat.

The special effects were impressive but this is a Peter Jackson produced motion picture with his effects studio Weta providing those effects. That being said, you can expect to be as impressed by the visuals of this film as you were with Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations.

It’s a shame that this wasn’t a better motion picture and that it ultimately flatlined upon arrival because it would have been really cool to see another epic fantasy trilogy by Peter Jackson. Also, the video games could have been incredible. But alas, I guess we’ll have to wait to see Jackson wow us once again. But hopefully, the next big fantasy or sci-fi film he’s a part of will see him once again in the director’s chair.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other YA novel adaptations of recent years: The Maze RunnerDivergent, etc.

TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.