In a post Harry Potter world, in a post Twilight universe, there’s no denying the power the Young Adult (YA) novel has had on modern moviemaking. They command huge box office and attract a frenzied fan base that has seen studios rushing any semi-decent selling YA series into pre-production. The potential for a safe franchise has led them to rival comic book movies in recent years as the go-to tent pole film. In a five part series we take a look at several YA properties heading for the big screen and consider their prospects. This is Adaptation Fixation – YA Edition.
It’s been real kids, but now it’s time to bring our Adaptation Fixation series to a close. We’ve covered VampireAcademy, The Host, Warm Bodies, Divergent, and what better way to conclude the fifth and final part with Philip Reeves’ spectacular Mortal Engines. The critically acclaimed, best-selling British novel is high-concept fantasy at its best. Dark, adventurous and full of steam-punky goodness, the series of four novels is one that – if it ever makes it to the big screen – would become a cinematic epic. A story that somehow manages to succeed in enthralling kids and adults alike, it invokes the work of genre legends such as Edward Rice Burroughs, J.R.R Tolkien and J.K Rowling. Mortal Engines is, quite simply, the business.
WTF is it?
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the world is a wasteland after a nuclear feud known as the Sixty Minute War. With natural resources all but sapped and Earth plagued by volcanoes, earthquakes and other instability, cities become Traction Cities. The world now exists on the principal of Municipal Darwinsim where cities become massive ‘predators’ and consume smaller, slower cities in order to survive. It’s literally a dog eat dog world. Within the cities there’s also a caste system, with the people on the lower levels cleaning up shit and the people on the top levels living like high society.
Enter Tom Natsworthy, 15-year-old orphan and historian in training. The adventurous tyke gets caught up in dangerous conspiracy when he thwarts an assassination attempt on a heroic adventurer by a hideously disfigured girl named Hester. The pair are knocked from the city of London and, begrudgingly, forced to work together to survive. Soon Tom begins to learn the truth about everything he thought he knew, including adventurer Thaddeus Valentine and his daughter Katherine. Throw in insidious villages, a rebel army, crazy air ships and a Terminator-esque zombie-humanoid and you have one hell of a tale.
Yup, the Prime Minister of New Zealand himself has had the option for the Mortal Engines series for a loooong time and development on the project apparently began in earnest back in 2009 when WETA started designing the predator cities. With all The Hobbit shenanigans that have happened since, no doubt Mortal Engines has been put on the back burner until WETA is out of Middle Earth. Then again, who knows? WETA is a massive institution and with all the attention on the two remaining Hobbit films this could be the perfect time for Jackson and co. to fast track some Mortal Engines work unnoticed. The fact Jackson has the rights and the means behind him should be welcome news to fans of the books as if there’s anyone who can bring something of this scale to the big screen it’s the PM.
There’s no solid cast attached to the project yet, so here are a few recommendations.
Kodi Smit-McPhee IS Tom Natsworthy
For the most part Tom is an incredibly frustrating, righteous little twerp that you just want to slap. And then something happens . . . it’s slow, but the character grows as his eyes are opened to the reality of the world he’s been shielded from and the truths he’s been denied. Smit-McPhee has proved he has the acing chops again and again and again with roles in The Road and Let Me In, most notably. He has the right amount of maturity to appropriate that Disney-kid sheen into a hero you can get behind come the end of the story.
Sophie Turner IS Hester
Sansa Stark yo! Sophie Turner could bring just the right amount of snootiness and venom to the role of Hester, a brave and ferocious young woman who has a scar that mangles her facial features on one side. It’s hinted that she’s attractive, but her bitterness and the physical imperfection of the character overshadow that at first. An awesome heroine, Turner fits the age range and has the skills to do justice to Hester’s story arc.
Ryan Gosling IS Thaddeus Valentine
It’s a stunt piece of casting, but I think it would work. Handsome, heroic, adventurous, Valentine is the adventurer eternal and golden boy of London city. He’s also a villain, but it’s not quite as simple as that. It never really is in the world of Mortal Engines. Gosling can give off the smooth, public persona and seeing it slowly exposed as the disguise for a weak, morally bankrupt individual would be amazing.
Chloe Moretz IS Katherine Valentine
Katherine is a pretty, sweet and intelligent girl with a bunch of heart. It’s testament to the strength of the other characters that she’s one of the less interesting, but Chloe Moretz could do a serviceable job here. Arguably one of the biggest stars of the group, her casting as the ‘first daughter’ of London city would be ideal. Plus, it would also set in to motion a brilliant plot device in the final act. No spoilers. Elle Fanning could also be a good choice.
Russell Crowe IS Shrike
My favourite character. Shrike is a Stalker: a reanimated corpse that is scientifically developed to become somewhat of a cross between Terminators and zombies. They retain very little of their old humanity, but Shrike has strong paternal instincts. He saved and raised Hester when she was nearly killed as a child, and he has struck a deal with some shady people that if he kills her for them they will bring her back as his mechanical daughter. He’s proud of her moments of ingenuity and resourcefulness when she escapes him, he even gives her head starts now and then, but Shrike is relentless and he never stops coming for her. He’s terrifying, but if the portrayal was done right it could be as haunting as Reeves wrote it. A Bane-like take on Shrike, with a combination of props and costuming, would work best so the actor could still have the opportunity to act. Russell Crowe as the grizzled, demented monster just somehow . . . works.
Ellen Wong IS Anna Fang
Best known for playing Knives Chau in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, 28-year old Ellen Wong is the perfect choice to play the Anti-Traction League agent and all round righteous rebel fighter. Fang rescues Tom and Hester multiple times during the story with her handmade airship the Jenny Haniver and everything about her - pilot, fighter, spy - screams STRONG WOMAN. Wong can bring that, as she showed in her meatier moments in Scott Pilgrim and she fits Fan’s age description (late twenties) perfectly. I’d love to see Wong is something better than The Carrie Diaries.
Why it could work
The source material is so God damn good. That’s what it comes down to. Reeves’ characters are rich and complex, the world is unique and terrifying, the story is epic and enthralling. The successful ingredient is sitting right there in the pages of Mortal Engines, all it needs is a filmmaker with the means and madness to tackle it. I’m talking to you Peter Jackson.
Why it could fail
Because the book series is so big, spanning years and generations, it would be easy to get lost or overwhelmed in the details. That’s pretty much the only way it could stumble at this point. Or if McG signed on to direct.
What we hope they include
PREDATOR. CITIES. We saw a taste of what it could look like in Andrew Stanton's unfairly slammed John Carter, but that was just a teaseer of what could come. Imagine London city as a multi-layered mass of industrial wonder as it hurtles along a post-apocalyptic wasteland devouring smaller townships. Think Howl’s MovingCastle on steroids. The detail, the spectacle…it would be EPIC.
Mouth-watering. This tale is colossal and if Peter Jackson and WETA remain onboard it’s hard to see how Phillip Reeves Mortal Engines won’t become the blockbuster we know it’s destined to be.
Release date: No release date set yet.
Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz
Sydney, Australia. Getting her start as a police reporter, her writing on pop culture has appeared in publications such as the New York Post, Guardian, Penthouse, The Daily Mail, Empire Magazine, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, i09, Junkee and many more. Previously seen as a presenter on SBS Viceland’s nightly news program The Feed and as the host of Cleverfan on ABC, she has been a journalist for over 15 years.
Her best-selling debut novel Who's Afraid? was published in 2016, followed by its sequel Who’s Afraid Too? in 2017, which was nominated for Best Horror Novel at the Aurealis Awards in 2018. Who’s Afraid? is being developed for television by the Emmy and BAFTA award-winning Hoodlum Entertainment. Her Young Adult debut, It Came From The Deep, was released globally on October 31, Halloween, 2017 and is a twist on The Little Mermaid meets Creature From The Black Lagoon.
Her fourth book, The Witch Who Courted Death, was released on Halloween, 2018 and nominated for Best Fantasy Novel at the Aurealis Awards in 2019. Her fifth novel set within the share supernatural universe is due for release in October, 2019.