Set in a post-apocalyptic world and promising an abundance of steampunk-style marvels, the film adaptation of Philip Reeve’s 2001 YA novel Mortal Engines (Scholastic), rolls into theaters on December 14. The book takes place in the aftermath of the “Sixty Minute War,” which resulted in a series of natural disasters on Earth. The world is now occupied by motorized “Traction Cities,” mobile metropolises with engines and wheels. The most powerful of these cities is London, which is divided into factions known as “Guilds.” In accordance with the principles of “municipal Darwinism,” London is a “predator city” that absorbs other cities and communities it encounters. In the novel and film, teenage protagonist Tom Natsworthy is an apprentice historian who crosses paths with Hester Shaw, a teen set on assassinating Thaddeus Valentine, the leader of the Guild of Historians.
The film is directed by Christian Rivers and produced by Peter Jackson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (the three also worked together on the Lord of the Rings screenplays). Starring in the movie is Hera Milmar (Da Vinci’s Demons) as Hester Shaw, Robert Sheehan (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) as Tom Natsworthy, and Hugo Weaving (The Hobbit) as Thaddeus Valentine.
Reeve followed Mortal Engines with three sequels: Predator’s Gold (2003), Infernal Devices (2005), and A Darkling Plain (2006), which collectively form the Mortal Engines Quartet.
In 2009, Reeve returned to the Mortal Engines world with a prequel, Fever Crumb, which takes place in London before it becomes a Traction City. Earlier this year, in anticipation of the film’s release, Scholastic U.S. and Scholastic U.K. unveiled a movie tie-in program for Mortal Engines.
Mortal Engines: Movie Tie-in Edition was published in August. In addition, Scholastic has published new editions of the books in the Mortal Engines Quartet, each with new, original cover art. Finally, this year Reeve published Night Flights: A Mortal Engines Collection, a book of short stories that are focused on Anna Fang, a character who plays prominently in the novels and in the movie.
The process of adapting a book into a movie always involves making changes—and fans are often concerned over whether movies will remain true to the source material. In the case of Mortal Engines, one page-to-screen tweak has ruffled some feathers. In the book, Hester Shaw is attacked and disfigured; readers know her as a girl with a prominent facial scar and only one eye. In the film, while Shaw’s scar is visible, it’s significantly less disfiguring—and she has both eyes. On social media, readers have raised concerns about Shaw’s on-screen representation, suggesting that, by minimizing Shaw’s disfigurement, the film isn’t fully honoring the integrity of her character. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Jackson discussed the decision to show Shaw’s scar in the way the film does. “I think if you literally made the scar how it is in the book, you wouldn’t be able to watch the film with anything other than being totally distracted all the time by the scar. In a way, we had to make the scar… bold enough that it fits her personality—she’s affected by it—but we didn’t want it to just totally overwhelm her character,” he said.
Regarding differences between the novel and film (and without giving any spoilers), Reeve acknowledged that there were some changes, “which I think is probably inevitable—a film doesn’t have the space that a book has for digressions and sub-plots. The film follows roughly the same story as the book, even if things happen in different places and a different order.” He added that many of the visual details in the film do come directly from the book.
While the experience of having a book adapted to film is powerful for any writer, Reeve tried to see the movie through the eyes of a viewer—and not necessarily as the story’s author. And he said he is pleased with the result: “There are sequences which are incredibly close visually to the world I imagined when I was writing it, so I think [that readers will] enjoy seeing that. And the actors are all really good and intelligently cast, so it’s a nice way to spend a bit more time with those characters.” He hopes that readers will “enjoy the film for what it is—a spectacular action movie with an actual heart.”