After Mortal Engines’ New York Comic Con panel, Justin Cook had the pleasure of speaking to both producer Peter Jackson and director Christian Rivers…
The longtime creative collaboration between Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and longtime VFX and storyboard artist Christian Rivers will be evolving this December, as Rivers’ big-budget directorial debut, Mortal Engines, hits cinemas worldwide. The film, which is an American and New Zealand co-production (the latter country being where the majority of it was shot), takes place thousands of years in the future in what has been described as a “post-post-apocalyptic” dystopia; in the universe, cities have been mobilized (with engines and wheels) and, among other things, devour and take control of smaller cities.
The two began working together on Jackson’s third-ever feature film, the cult-classic horror comedy Dead Alive, where Rivers served as a special effects and storyboard artist, and ever since, from Heavenly Creatures, to King Kong, to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Rivers has lent his talents to just about every Peter Jackson-directed production.
Flickering Myth was in attendance at the Mortal Engines New York Comic Con panel and subsequently had a chance to ask Jackson and Rivers (in separate interviews) about working with each other, bringing an original movie (only being based on a moderately well-known 2001 Philip Reeve book) to theaters in an age where remakes and sequels dominate the space and more. Take a look below…
What’s it like watching Christian Rivers, who you’ve worked with over the course of your films, blossom into a director and now coaching him as a director?
Peter Jackson: The film is as good as it could be, if I directed the film I couldn’t do a better job than what Christian’s done. I’ve got absolutely no complaints, and (jokingly) I got to sleep in every morning and let Christian go off at 7 o’clock in the morning and do all the hard work. I actually really enjoyed producing it because in a way I got to have my cake and eat it too. I co-wrote the script and helped with the design, but when it came to the really hard job of directing on-set, which has never been my favorite thing to do in the world, I didn’t have to go through that experience, and Christian did a brilliant job, so I couldn’t be more happy.
Why do you think it’s important to bring more IPs that people aren’t as familiar with to general moviegoers. [Mortal Engines] is based on a book, but why is it important to bring original properties to people?
Jackson: We read these books a few years ago, and we got the rights to them because we thought they were so fantastic, and they did show a world that we’ve never seen before. I’ve never seen this particular society that Mortal Engines depicts, which is about 3,000 years in our future, I’ve never seen that on film before in the way that we show it, so that really appealed to me. But it’s difficult to release an original film, we open in December and we’re surrounded by franchises everywhere you look, backwards, forwards, all over the place, and we have superheroes and sequels and remakes all surrounding us. So… it’s much harder to promote a film that’s new and original than it is to promote one of a franchise. So I guess the proof will be in the pudding, we’ll just have to wait and see. But I’m very very proud of the movie, so in these situations all that you can do is make the [best] film you can, and if it’s a good movie there should be an audience for it.
You’ve obviously worked with Peter Jackson for a while now, what was it like working with him now being the director, in his [usual] position, and what advice did he give you about the whole directing process?
Christian Rivers: I’ve worked for Peter for a long time, and I’ve always been helping him create his vision, and this was sort of a reversal where Peter and Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] were helping me create my film. Peter’s advice has always been to trust your instincts, trust your gut, but also never settle for anything the film doesn’t deserve. Put the film first, tell the story, try and design a shot that’s the most interesting and efficient way to tell the story: real nuts and bolts stuff. There’s no sort of high theory or film school theory, it’s actually just real practical mindsets in which to get into to approach the work. And then, the rest of it is just go for it. It’s up to you now.
So this film is based on a book, but it’s still an original IP, it’s something that maybe most audience aren’t familiar with. What’s it like bringing a movie like that to cinemas, and is there a whole other concern whether it could bring in a new audience, since it doesn’t have a built in audience like a DC or Marvel movie?
Rivers: Exactly. That’s the catch-22, right? Is that it’s the hardest thing to get a studio on-board with the idea that this isn’t something that anyone’s seen before, but it’s also what they want. They want a new set of stories that have a longevity, and Philip [Reeve] has many other books that he’s written in this world. And it is risky, but I think audiences, they want something new and hopefully that’s what we can give to them.
If there were to be a sequel, would you want to return to the director’s chair? Where would you see yourself in the future of this universe?
Rivers: [Chuckles] Yeah, I’d love to. I’ve fallen in love with this world, I’ve fallen in love with these characters. I love working with the cast, they’re all an amazing bunch of people and most of them come back. But that’d be a discussion to have with Pete [Jackson], (jokingly) he might secretly want to direct the next one.
Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.
Mortal Engines is set to hit cinemas in the UK on December 8th and in the US on December 14th. Rivers directs a cast that includes Hera Hilmar (Da Vinci’s Demons), Stephen Lang (Avatar), Hugo Weaving (The Lord of the Rings), Robbie Sheehan (Fortitude), Ronan Raftery (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Leila George (Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?), Jihae (Mars), Colin Salmon (Limitless), Patrick Malahide (Game of Thrones) and Rege-Jean Page (Roots).