One Key Way Mortal Engines Is Changing From The Book, According To Peter Jackson

Mortal Engines is a film that has been in the works since 2009 -- and any movie developing for that long is going to go through some significant changes. Sure, the project is ultimately based on the novel source material by author Philip Reeve, but the feature has evolved like any story in order to make the best adaptation possible. Obsessive fans will surely notice the smaller alterations when the finished product is screened later this year, but it should be recognized there is one key difference that everyone can prepare for now: the main characters are significantly older. Or as producer/writer Peter Jackson puts it,

We've changed the book a bit in places. We've aged it up. The book is written for quite a young audience, to some degree, you know? And I just don't think anybody wants to see another teenage dystopian movie any time soon. So, it's one of the reasons why we've aged it sort of up, and we cast it a bit older. Tom and Hester in the book are younger... We had made it a little bit more adult.

In the books, first published in 2001, heroes Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw are written as teenage protagonists -- but because Hollywood has sufficiently driven teenager-led dystopian fiction into the ground, Mortal Engines decided to make an important change in that arena. Instead, the characters will be portrayed as (for lack of a better term) young adults, making the film more mature than its source material. So when you see the 30-year-old Robert Sheehan and Hera Hilmar playing those roles on the big screen later this year, don't be confused and think they are trying to appear half their age.

I actually learned about this significant change to Mortal Engines around this time last year, as I joined a small group of film journalists to visit the New Zealand set of project when production was still rolling. We had the pleasure of talking with the various members of the cast and crew over the duration of the trip, including a sit down with Peter Jackson. During that roundtable interview, he was asked if Philip Reeve suggested any changes to the material based on ideas he had writing the sequels -- and while Jackson said that wasn't the case, he did talk about some of the big ways the movie is different from the book.

After discussing the significant age changes, Peter Jackson then went on to talk about how the production has worked with Mortal Engines' author -- and he made it sound like Philip Reeve was very much kept in the look. Talking about the relationship, Jackson said,

In some respects it differs from the book in quite a few places, but not really [because Philip Reeve wanted to add something]. Although, Philip came out here, and we always send him script revisions as we do them, and he always seems to be very pleased with them. I think he, having written the four books that he did, he said that he wishes he could go back to the first one again and revise some parts of it - because you certainly see his confidence in the storytelling grows as these four books progress.

Directed by Christian Rivers, Mortal Engines is set in a world that has slowly rebuilt itself after nuclear war, with cities only able to survive by becoming mechanized and mobile -- devouring smaller cities/towns for resources and population growth. The story follows an apprentice historian named Tom (Robert Sheehan) as he gets caught up in an adventure with Hester (Hera Hilmar), a young woman who has learned a dark secret and is on a mission for revenge against one of society's most powerful figures, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving).

We still have a while to wait for the arrival of Mortal Engines, with Universal scheduling it for release on December 14th -- but stay tuned to CinemaBlend between now and then for a whole lot more of our set visit coverage!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.