Mortal Engines’ Peter Jackson On Imagining A New World After An Apocalypse

The era of the teen dystopian thriller may be a few years old, but the threat of an apocalyptic disaster sometimes feels more timely than ever. Mortal Engines (you can read our review here) is about humankind living in a new type of society after surviving a global catastrophe, only to face the same threats that nearly wiped out the planet the first time around.

So, what is it about these kind of stories that resonate with us? We asked Peter Jackson, along with others in the cast and crew of Mortal Engines, to weigh in.

During New York Comic Con, I had a chance to chat with Jackson and others from Mortal Engines. I asked them why audiences identify with stories about humanity surviving, recovering from, or thriving after apocalyptic disasters. You can check out the video above. I’ve also included some of their comments below. Mortal Engines comes out December 14.

Peter Jackson, Co-Writer/Producer:

The thing that’s interesting is that you’ve got a story where we wipe ourselves out in this thing called the Sixty Minute War, but when this film takes place it’s like another 3,000 years have gone by. So, we’re past the wiping-out phase…[and] society has rebuilt itself.

So it’s fun to imagine, and obviously the original novel was very resourceful stuff. Imagining what the world would be like if we had rebuilt ourselves as city-states on wheels and to actually imagine a whole new society, it related to and based on our society.

Philippa Boyens, Co-Writer:

The world [in Mortal Engines] is actually healing, and the problem is that we are going to do it all over again. It’s more about history repeating itself.

I remember [co-writer Fran Walsh] saying to me this wonderful phrase. We were trying to locate…the antagonist in the film. What is this, what is this force that you’re coming up against? And she said, really simply put, “Never give a man who has rampant ambition the codes to the bomb, because he will use them.” And she said that to me and I was like, “Oh my god that’s true, it’s scary.”

Robert Sheehan (Tom Natsworthy):

The media are telling people in pretty direct ways that you should all prepare for an apocalypse because we have two despotic lunatics on either side of the planet—called Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un—who are tweeting and sending messages to each other posturing with their fingers on nuclear buttons. I mean, isn’t it obvious people are all accepting a collective apocalyptic doom now?

Stephen Lang (Shriek):

I think catastrophe is on people’s minds in a way. We feel, possibly, we feel we’re living in—sometimes maybe a slow motion, and sometimes a rapidly moving catastrophe—but I don’t think that that’s uncommon. I think people have always felt that. That way whether it’s tsunamis or a volcano going off, whether it’s invading armies. Whatever it might be, people have always been warding off something.

It’s not necessarily just the condition, it’s how that condition is explored. And this one is done with a lot of heart, a lot of compassion, and a lot of imagination as well. And I think just to know that there is a future is good. Maybe it’s a tough future, and maybe we have to go through a catastrophe before we get to that future, but there is a future and people will continue to do things to make lives for themselves.

Christian Rivers, Director:

There’s a lot of fear in the world about whether we’re going to do right by ourselves. There’s a lot of things going on where we’re sort of seeing crazy decisions being made by the people in power that aren’t sort of helping us or our planet…We wanted this film to be real. There’s no people with superpowers or, you know, magical. It’s the real world, real human nature. And we sort of show that human nature for good and for ill kind of stays the same.