Why Peter Jackson Didn’t Direct Mortal Engines Himself

Peter Jackson has had a major in the development of the new adaptation Mortal Engines, but the one noteworthy role he's not playing is "director." While he is a writer and producer on the blockbuster, Jackson opted to not take the helm of the adventure movie -- handing the reins to filmmaker Christian Rivers and playing a more supportive role. It's a curious choice for the filmmaker, but one he fully explained to us last year while Mortal Engines was in production:

It was probably one of the movies I would've done during the time that The Hobbit was being shot, but I ended up directing that, and it sort of took me out of commission for five years. Coming out of it, we were faced with a situation where the rights to the books, which we've had these rights for probably nearly a decade or so, they were due to expire and we had to move fast.

It was particularly the speed with which Mortal Engines came together after years of development that ultimately prevented Peter Jackson from directing, as apparently he just didn't have the time to make some big choices for the film as he was still working on the Hobbit trilogy. He told us about this last year when I joined a small group of other movie journalists for a quick trip out to Wellington, New Zealand to visit the set of the then-filming movie. It was Jackson's first answer in a roundtable interview, bluntly asked why he didn't direct this movie himself.

Peter Jackson's explanation didn't stop there, however. Clearly time was a factor in his decisions, but he also found himself with other things to consider. One example was his relationship with the aforementioned Christian Rivers -- with whom Jackson has been working going back to the early 1990s. The Oscar winning-director felt he wanted to give his friend his shot at directing something epic, and Mortal Engines became that shot.

The other big element on the table in this whole decision was simply the other projects that Peter Jackson wants to work on. While he is certainly putting a lot of time and resources behind the adaptation of author Philip Reeve's novel, he also has ideas pulling him in other directions, and putting Christian Rivers in charge of Mortal Engines allows him to pursue those other developments. Said Jackson,

Fran [Walsh] and I ended up after five years on The Hobbit with so many other projects that we wanted to write and develop ourselves. And in fact, we went straight into another movie with me directing it. It's like, again, two years out of commission. Whereas with writing the script and as producers, we can write our other scripts, screenplays, and things while Christian does all the hard work. So it's really the two of those combined. But, as a movie, I would be happy to direct this - it's a movie I want to see. It's good to have someone else to do the hard work with.

Peter Jackson hasn't been credited at the helm of a film since 2014's The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, but that streak will soon end. The writer/director has been hard at work on a documentary about World War I that is expected to debut this year, commemorating 100 years since the end of the conflict -- though a firm release date has not yet been announced. Naturally it has our interest piqued, and we will be looking out for more info.

That future is a touch uncertain, but what is not is the arrival of Mortal Engines. The post-post-apocalyptic tale, telling of a world where cities are giant mechanized machines that can consume one another, is set to be one of the last blockbusters of the year, scheduled for release on December 14th. We have a ton more coverage about the movie from our trip to the set coming up, so be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.