EXCLUSIVE: New York Comic Con gets an unusually high jolt of star power on Friday, October 5 when Peter Jackson comes to Gotham to introduce Mortal Engines, the tent pole that Christian Rivers directed and Jackson and his The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit scripting partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens adapted from the Philip Reeve novels. I can reveal that Andy Serkis has been secured as NYCC moderator, and he certainly knows more than most about the artistry behind Weta-style world creation filmmaking. Beyond his groundbreaking onscreen work in LOTR and King Kong, Serkis served as Second Unit director on all three The Hobbit films. Though Rivers makes his feature directorial debut on Mortal Engines, he has been working with Jackson for a quarter century and with Serkis for around 20. Rivers rose up from storyboard artist on the Jackson-directed 1987 film Bad Taste to winning the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for 2005’s King Kong. He also served as Splinter Unit director on The Hobbit films.
So it will be Serkis who interviews Jackson, Walsh, Boyens, Rivers, and the film’s stars, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Stephen Lang, Leila George and Jihae. They will also unveil the first eight minutes of Mortal Engines, and provide the first detailed presentation of the realization of a world in which cities are mobile and gobble up resources of other cities.
“I’ve always found the moderators of these panels to be very good when I’ve been part of them at Comic Con, but we just thought it would give it a slightly different vibe if it was someone in the family,” Jackson told Deadline. “Andy knows me and Christian and Philippa and Fran very well. He’s not involved in the film, so the movie’s fresh for him, but he understands the process, and how we make these films. We thought his questions might be more focused on his understanding of how we do things, rather than a moderator who comes in cold and doesn’t know a thing.”
Serkis told Deadline: “To be reunited with my dear friends and long standing collaborators, Peter, Fran, Philippa and Christian, to celebrate the arrival of their feverishly anticipated, behemoth piece of character driven, world building magic…is beyond thrilling.”
There is symmetry between all of them that isn’t lost on Jackson, who watched Rivers develop and also Serkis, who went on to direct Breathe and the upcoming Netflix films Mowgli and Animal Farm, which he’ll helm next.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to think you’ve had a hand in helping to develop somebody’s career, someone who came on in an acting role and is directing because they’ve been inspired and assisted by us,” Jackson said. “I do think it’s important for filmmakers, especially ones like me who are getting a big gray-haired, to say, you’ve got knowledge and experience from all these years, isn’t it time to start to pass that on to other people? Otherwise, what’s it worth, all those years making films where I’ve learned so much? It’s great to be able to pass on tips and advice to other people.”
That was the same with Rivers.
“Brain Dead was the first time I worked with Christian, and he’s done storyboards on virtually every movie I’ve done since,” Jackson said. “He’s moved way beyond just being a storyboard guy. He won the Oscar for King Kong‘s Visual Effects Direction, and he directed our Splinter Unit, which was our sort of second unit when Andy wasn’t available because of his [Planet of the] Apes films. He stepped up and directed that unit and directed big scenes on The Hobbit. He pretty much directed all of the barrel chase scene on the river in the second Hobbit film, which is a pretty exciting scene. I’ve watched him develop and seen his confidence grow. When we came out of The Hobbit, we had the rights to the Mortal Engines books but they were going to expire quite soon. There was a time pressure. I worked with Fran and Philippa to write the script, but I just didn’t feel like directing another huge film, hard on the heels of three Hobbit films. If I didn’t want to do it, I wanted to make sure it was someone who deserved the chance to direct the film. Christian was the obvious choice.”
So what about this world, whose trailers show city-sized vehicles chowing down on smaller, slower victims, with LOTR‘s Weaving playing an ambitious and ruthless politician? It’s easy to knee jerk a post apocalyptic tag, but it’s something Jackson rejects, because it doesn’t do justice to the series of novels written by Reeve, which Jackson hopes will unlock a new world and drive a new franchise.
“It is hard to compare this with other films,” he said. “I’ve never seen a movie that I can remember with cities on wheels, chasing each other and devouring each other. That was an appeal when I first read those books. I think the Mad Max films are great, but the genre of dystopian, post apocalyptic worlds always seemed so miserable and depressing and not a place you would ever want to be part of. You’re either being tracked down by zombies or gangs. One of the things I quite liked about these books when I first read them is how the author created a post apocalyptic society that is as well functioning as ours. It’s just skewed in a strange way, with cities on wheels chasing one another. Those cities still have shops and theaters and the clothes are nice; there is still a happiness in this world to some degree for a certain part of the population. The world first appealed to me because society is fully functioning and just has reestablished itself in a different way to our current society.”
Universal releases the Universal/MRC produced film smack in the holiday corridor on December 14, so it’s a good time for the marketing to ratchet up now for a big film that tries to be different.
“It’s something that is quite rare, a tent pole film that is based on an original book isn’t isn’t a sequel or an existing franchise, though I hope it’s going to become a franchise, because the books in the series are fantastic and this is the first one,” Jackson said. “It has to compete against other franchises, though, and it’s a strange thing. When I was a kid and you were a kid, all the films we saw were original and fresh, things we hadn’t seen before. These days, when something comes up and isn’t based on characters, worlds or comics that we aren’t familiar with, it seems unusual. Which is sad, to some degree.”
Jackson will unveil at the London Film Festival They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary he directed about the high human price that New Zealand paid in World War I. It has been a love labor for Jackson to make the film for the centennial commemoration of that war, also spearheading The Great War Exhibition, a museum in Wellington. That behind him, Jackson is once again ready to direct a narrative film, next year.
“Christian directing Mortal Engines gave me the time to do this documentary, and so I’ve got a film I’m extremely proud of that’s about to come out,” Jackson said. “I’m sure next year we’ll probably make another film. Fran and I are working on some scripts and ideas. I certainly have no long term desire to not direct. It’s just that, coming off five years on The Hobbit, I had to recharge my batteries a bit. The documentary was a perfect way of doing that, because it involved editing old footage and archival stuff and interviewing veterans. So it wasn’t showing up on a set every day filming, which was a bit less pressure. My batteries are fully recharged now and we’re looking forward to shooting something next year. We have a few different things at the moment.”
Here is a look at the most recent trailer for Mortal Engines: