It’s been hundreds of years since the Sixty-Minute War poisoned the Earth, and wiped out much of civilization as we know it. In this post-apocalyptic world, it is now the age of great predator cities of the West. These massive, mobilized cities have been re-constructed atop large, wheeled mechanical bases that allow them to move about the land. Under the philosophy of Municipal Darwinism, larger Traction Cities such as London literally ingest smaller settlements for food and fuel. When going through the contents of these swallowed-up cities, dangerous Old Tech—like the fusion inverter cells that ultimately led to the destruction of the world by the Ancients (the people of the 21st century)—is supposed to be disposed of. However, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), a young apprentice historian in the London Museum, has noticed that the museum’s supply of this Old Tech has been steadily disappearing, and he is worried about what it might be used for. Meanwhile, archaeologist and Lord Mayor of London, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), has been working on a powerful weapon in secret for over a decade that is finally nearing completion.
As London roams the countryside, it sets its sights on a small mobilized settlement, and goes full throttle to intercept it. Aboard this settlement is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a young woman with a personal vendetta against Valentine, the man who murdered her mother. She has been plotting her revenge for years, and arranged this opportunity to get close to Valentine. However, once aboard London, Hester’s attempt to murder Valentine is foiled by Tom, she and Tom soon find themselves separated from the moving city. Since these two know the truth about what he is up to, Valentine wants Tom and Hester eliminated, and enlists the help of a Resurrected Man, an undead, mostly-mechanical Terminator-like creature who will stop at nothing to find and eliminate Hester.
Now, mismatched strangers Tom and Hester must learn to work together if they have any chance of surviving and returning to London to stop Valentine. Tom had spent his whole life on the moving city of London, and this is his first venture outside of that world, but he is a smart, resourceful guy. Tom was not happy in his job—he had always dreamed of being a pilot, but he gave up on that when his parents died many years earlier. Meanwhile, at a young age, Hester saw her mother murdered, and was left to fend for herself in the dangerous Outlands. She grew up a feral young woman, who learned to adapt and hone her survival tactics over the years, driven by her desire to get her revenge on Valentine.
Not everyone likes the idea of Traction cities and the way they roam around gobbling up other civilizations. There are those that want to protect the culture and resources of the remaining static cities. This has led to the formation of the Anti-Traction League, headed by cunning, bad-ass pilot and fighter Anna Fang (Jihae). Anna believes that Hester may hold the key to stopping Valentine, and plans to intercept Hester and Tom, to enlist their help in the impending battle against the Traction cities. However, she is unaware that the creature, Shrike (Stephen Lang), is also on his way.
Mortal Engines is based on the first story of the book series of the same name by author Philip Reeve. While the film didn’t have an impressive performance at the box office, I hope that folks discover it on home video. I thoroughly enjoyed this first adventure—it felt like a steampunk Star Wars tale with a touch of Lord of the Rings. The scope of the production is massive, and the filmmakers have done an amazing job of bringing this huge world to life, through impressively detailed sets and tremendous visual effects. Without going into spoilery details, the Star Wars influence can definitely be felt in both the several locations/settlements the characters come across, as well as in the main battle sequence.
The film introduces some really interesting main characters, each with his or her own motivations and goals. Hester is this hurt young woman who is often blinded by her quest for revenge. However, Tom is there as the fresh-faced young man, new to this outside world, who can help ground her a bit, while Anna is this fierce warrior who can help train them for the upcoming battle. Meanwhile, Thaddeus is this evil mad scientist who allows his ambition and thirst for power to overwhelm his ideals. And Shrike, who could have been this one-sided robotic creature, is a well-defined character that you actually end up caring about and have feelings for once his backstory is fully fleshed out.
The story itself is also fully-engrossing, taking viewers on an interesting and exciting journey with lots of twists and turns, encountering unique new worlds, characters and civilizations. I enjoyed the film just as much the second time around watching on this 4K release (though I did miss the 3D effects from my initial theater viewing a bit).
Universal’s 4K Ultra HD release looks and sounds amazing. There is so much going on in every scene, and the 4K picture captures this detailed, picturesque world beautifully, even down to the tiniest details of the London streets, shoppes, and museum artifacts. Faces and textures are also quite detailed, from the scar on Hester’s face, to the sweat on her brow, to the scarf that covers her mouth. The Dolby Vision/HDR also helps to further enhance this stunning presentation with an expanded color palette. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack can be a little too aggressive at times, overpowering the dialogue, but is quite good overall. As the film opens, you really feel the rumble of the gears of the moving city. The track also provides a nice immersive experience, particularly during the film’s big aerial battle sequence.
The 4K Ultra HD release comes packed in standard UHD keepcase with a slipcover, and contains an insert with a code to redeem for a 4K Movies Anywhere digital copy of the film as well as a code for a bonus free digital movie. The 4K disc only includes a subset of the bonus material that’s provided on the Blu-ray disc—just under an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and filmmakers, and a director’s commentary.
4K Ultra HD:
- 2160p / Widescreen 2.39:1
- Dolby Vision / HDR10
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- 1080p / Widescreen 2.39:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Video Service, Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- 4K Digital copy redeemable via Movies Anywhere
- Bonus Digital Movie (Redemption Deadline 9/22/2019)
Additional bonus digital movie redeemable at www.upherewards.com. At the time of this review, the list of available titles includes Hanna, R.L. Stine’s Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend?, Little Fockers, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Fast Five and The Danish Girl, but these change every 4 months or so.
Digital (for redemption deadline, see NBCUcodes.com):
Most of the bonus material can only be found on the Blu-ray disc. Items that are also included on the 4K Ultra HD disc are marked with a *.
- End of the Ancients (3:13)
Tom narrates this tour of the London Museum/discussion of the technology and history of the Ancients.
- Character Series (21:43)
The cast and filmmakers discuss the various characters that make up the world of the film, the actors who portray them, and the physical demands of the roles. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with author Philip Reeve, director Christian Rivers, executive producer/co-writer Philippa Boyens, producer/co-writer Peter Jackson, and stars Hera Hilmar (“Hester Shaw”), Robert Sheehan (“Tom Natsworthy”), Leila George (“Katherine Valentine”), Hugo Weaving (“Thaddeus Valentine”), Jihae (“Anna Fang”), Regé-Jean Page (“Captain Khora”), Frankie Adams (“Yasmina Rashid”), Menik Gooneratne (“Sathya”) & Stephen Lang (“Shrike”). Play All, or select from:
- Hester Shaw (4:41)
- Tom Natsworthy (4:13)
- Anna Fang (4:26)
- Thaddeus Valentine (3:29)
- Shrike (4:53)
- Welcome to London* (26:19)
Star Robert Sheehan provides introductions for this five-part behind-the-scenes look at bringing the traction city of London to life. Includes concept artwork, early animations, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with director Christian Rivers, producer/co-writer Peter Jackson, concept and design artist Nick Keller, visual effects supervisor Ken McGaugh, previsualization supervisor Marco Spitoni, animation supervisor Dennis Yoo, executive producer/co-writer Philippa Boyens, author Philip Reeve, production designer Dan Hennah, art director Brendan Heffernan, set decorating buyer Eliza Meldrum, soft furnishings assistant Hannah Webster, prop maker Tony Drawbridge, assistant art director Tane Griffin, costume props supervisor Ryan Atwood, director of photography Simon Raby, set dresser Aurelian Campbell, and stars Leila George, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar & Colin Salmon (“Chudleigh Pomeroy”). Play All, or select from:
- Building the Beast (5:08)
Designing and creating the behemoth traction city of London.
- Levels of London (5:19)
A look at the various tiers that make up the traction city of London.
- The Smallest Details (4:20)
The costumes, props and set decorations that add a level of uniqueness and authenticity to the world of the film.
- London Museum (5:19)
Creating and populating the museum set.
- Medusa and St. Paul’s (6:11)
Recreating St. Paul’s Cathedral, and turning it into the movie villain’s fortress, complete with an ultimate weapon.
- Building the Beast (5:08)
- In the Air (4:52)
A look at the technology and culture of Airhaven, and how this airbound world came to life. Includes concept artwork, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with producer/co-writer Peter Jackson, director of photography Simon Raby, director Christian Rivers, author Philip Reeve, concept and design artist Nick Keller, production designer Dan Hennah, SPFX supervisor Scott Harens, and stars Hera Hilmar, Jihae & Regé-Jean Page.
- Film New Zealand (3:52)
The cast and filmmakers sing their praises for the New Zealand film industry. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with producer Deborah Forte, director Christian Rivers, director of photography Simon Raby, executive producer/co-writer Philippa Boyens, producer/co-writer Peter Jackson, producer Amanda Walker, and stars Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan, Hera Hilmar, Jihae, Stephen Lang & Colin Salmon.
- Feature Commentary with Director Christian Rivers* (2:08:21)
Director Christian Rivers provides an interesting and informative commentary for the film. He goes into more detail about the characters, world, and story that may have been mentioned in the book series but not explicitly in the film. He also talks about the actors, the technology and techniques used, the sets, and the filming locations. Rivers also shares a lot of behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes, discussing various production decisions and pointing out where and how visual effects were utilized. He mentions some of the 3D effects that were added—it’s a shame the film did not get a US 3D Blu-ray release (though at least there is one that can be imported from the UK, for the 3D fans).
Mortal Engines introduces viewers to an exciting new post-apocalyptic world as it follows a young woman seeking revenge on the man who killed her mother, but develops into a much larger heroic quest. This is a massive production that establishes a unique and detailed world that is stunningly captured on Universal’s 4K Ultra HD release. I don’t understand why the film didn’t fare better at the box office, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that more folks discover it on home video, and that we get more tales set in this universe in the future. This release comes highly recommended as it looks and sounds amazing, and includes a solid selection of bonus material.