Peter Jackson has proven his talent for bringing sprawling fantasy worlds to life, having been the man to finally bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive Lord of the Rings novels to the screen, not to mention Tolkien’s LOTR precursor The Hobbit. Now Jackson is setting his sights on another darkly fantastical literary world by tackling Mortal Engines, based on author Philip Reeve’s vision of a bizarre post-apocalyptic future where wheeled cities roam around the earth devouring resources and sometimes going to war.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy may have been a brilliant technical achievement, but the films would not have caught on with audiences had the right actors not been chosen for the lead roles. Mortal Engines now has cast a pair of important male roles and Jackson is hoping they’ll be as memorable as Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in LOTR.
According to Variety, Mortal Engines will roll forward with Robbie Sheehan (Fortitude) and Ronan Raftery (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) in the cast. Sheehan reportedly will have a lead role while Raftery will take on a supporting part. Production starts in New Zealand this spring (of course it’s in New Zealand, this is a Peter Jackson movie) with Jackson producing and also co-writing the script (which he’s been working on for awhile) along with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and Christian Rivers directing for Universal. A synopsis of the story:
“Earth’s cities now roam the globe on huge wheels, devouring each other in a struggle over diminishing resources. On one of these massive Traction Cities, Tom Natsworthy has an unexpected encounter with a mysterious young woman from the Outlands, who will change the course of his life forever.”
Robbie Sheehan will be a busy young man for awhile, with Mortal Engines added to his slate in addition to the fantasy film Mortal from The Autopsy of Jane Doe director Andre Ovredal, Dean Devlin’s Bad Samaritan starring David Tennant and the Aussie comedy Three Summers. Two additional films of Sheehan’s, Ari Gold’s Song of Sway Lake and Devlin’s Geostorm, are both in post-production. Ronan Raftery has the Harry Potter prequel Fantasic Beasts under his belt, in addition to the war drama Siege in Jadotville co-starring Jamie Dornan.
If Mortal Engines takes off, Sheehan and Raftery can look forward to appearing in three more movies based on Reeve’s YA series, which also includes the books Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain. Jackson, of course, famously had to take over directing the three Hobbit movies after Guillermo del Toro dropped out, but this time around the filmmaker is getting to really sit back and just write and produce while someone else does the hard work of grinding out footage day-after-day.
Casting the lead in a big-budget fantasy epic is always a tricky affair, but if Sheehan is as good as people seem to think he is — he is getting a lot of work these days — then he should be able to carry the load. Hollywood has cooled on YA properties after lukewarm box office returns for the Divergent series among others, but Mortal Engines sounds like it could be imaginative and visually stunning enough to break the YA curse.