March 11, 2019  (Web Review)

Mortal Engines

Universal, 128 min., PG-13, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $34.99, Mar. 12

Reviewer rating: 1.5/4

Peter Jackson’s long obsession with Philip Reeve’s titular quartet of YA novels set in a dystopian future has spawned a film so goofy and overblown that it comes across as instant camp. In this adaptation of the 2001 first book, Earth is a dying planet as a result of some long-ago cataclysm. All that survives are a bunch of mobile cities that move across the desolate landscape like gigantic tractors, some being predators that gobble up others to feed on their resources and turn their inhabitants into slave workers. The largest predator is London, dominated by scientist Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who is supposedly trying to find a permanent power source for the city but is actually constructing a massive weapon designed to conquer the near-paradisiacal alternative to mobile cities: an enclave behind a huge, well-fortified wall that houses rebels of the Anti-Traction League. Various dissidents join together in a struggle against Valentine, including young archeologist Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), Valentine’s daughter Katherine (Leila George), and a mysterious girl named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), who is being pursued by an even more mysterious figure, a hideous robot called Shrike (Stephen Lang). Eventually a huge battle will erupt over London in a sequence that calls to mind the assault on the Death Star in the original Star Wars. Although meticulously crafted, the ludicrous plot and bland characters (save for Shrike) make this suitable only for aficionados of extravagantly bad movies. Not recommended. [Note: DVD/Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Christian Rivers, “Welcome to London” behind-the-scenes featurettes (27 min. total), and the production segments “In the Air” (5 min.), and “End of the Ancients” (3 min.), as well as one on location (4 min.). Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are character featurettes (22 min.), and bonus DVD and digital copies of the film. Bottom line: a solid extras package for a disappointing YA apocalyptic fantasy film.] (F. Swietek)