After years of developing the Philip Reeve book series Mortal Engines, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have set the project at MRC and Universal, with their Hobbit VFX protege Christian Rivers making his feature directorial debut. Production will begin next spring in New Zealand. MRC and Universal will co-finance what they hope will spark another potential franchise for Jackson and Walsh, who adapted the script with Philippa Boyens, their writing partner on both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Scholastic published the first book in 2001 and four followed in the sci-fi fantasy series.
It is the first project for Jackson and Walsh at Universal since 2005’s King Kong, and then Jackson followed by creating King Kong: 360 3-D for Universal Studios Hollywood in 2010. Since completing The Hobbit, Jackson has busied himself on running Weta Digital and Stone Street Studios (the Scarlett Johansson film Ghost In The Shell shot there and James Cameron’s Avatar sequels will, also), and helping to design a war museum in Wellington to commemorate the thousands of Kiwis who fought and died during World War I. Jackson and Walsh first got involved in Mortal Engines back in 2009, when it was speculated he might direct. Instead, he has given that task to Rivers, who has a close 25-year association with Jackson that started with Story Board artist. He graduated to visual effects positions on all Jackson’s pictures. On The Hobbit trilogy, he was Splinter Unit Director (Andy Serkis was Second Unit Director and Rivers headed another unit) and most recently Rivers was second unit director on Pete’s Dragon. Rivers won an Oscar in the Best Achievement in Visual Effects category for King Kong. This is the first script collaboration by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens that Jackson hasn’t directed himself.
“Christian is one of my closest collaborators,” says Jackson in a statement. “The combination of emotion and jaw-dropping visuals in Mortal Engines makes this the perfect movie for his move into feature directing. What Christian intends to do with Philip Reeve’s terrific story is going to result in an original and spectacular movie. I wish I could see it tomorrow!”
Reeve’s book has a storyline that sounds a bit like Mad Max: Fury Road; only here, it’s the geography that moves in a post apocalyptic world. It’s a distant future where the cities of earth roam the globe on huge wheels, consuming smaller towns and processing all reusable materials to create power to run the engines that make the cities mobile and able to gobble up more and more of the planet’s dwindling resources. London’s mayor has bigger plans than the domination of a small town and several young people try to stop him. Universal will distribute worldwide. Ken Kamins, longtime manager of Jackson, Walsh and Boyens, brought the book to MRC, which now has another big post apocalyptic franchise to go along with its Sony-based adaptation of the Stephen King novel series The Dark Tower. Zane Weiner, Amanda Walker and Deborah Forte will produce along with Walsh and Jackson, while Kamins will exec produce and Boyens will be co-producer.
Said Rivers: “Mortal Engines is one of those stories that was made for the big screen. A fantastical, futuristic world that has to be seen to be believed. At its heart though, it’s a beautiful love story and a richly complex character driven adventure. To be the director who gets to bring Philip Reeve’s incredible universe to life is a dream come true.”
Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley called the filmmakers “all visionary storytellers with the gift of turning their passion projects into beloved blockbusters for a worldwide audience. The studio is proud of our longstanding relationship with MRC and these tremendous filmmakers, and we are looking forward to collaborating on this cinematic re-imagination of Philip’s bold and fantastical novel.”
The deal was lawyered by Nelson Davis for Jackson’s team, Stan Coleman for Scholastic and the author is repped by Philippa Milnes-Smith at Lucas Alexander Whitley Ltd in the U.K.