It turns out Peter Jackson got to do some actual filming on Mortal Engines, in addition to serving as the movie's cowriter and producer. Jackson planned to direct Mortal Engines once upon a time and began developing the film back in the late 2000s with his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The project was eventually put on hold while Jackson went off to direct The Hobbit movies and wasn't formally revived until 2016, by which point Jackson had handed Mortal Engines off to Christian Rivers to helm instead.
While Jackson is directing a WWI documentary to commemorate 100 years having passed since the end of the war, he has yet to announce what his fictional narrative follow-up to The Hobbit trilogy will be. It's possible that Jackson will finally direct the second Tintin movie that he and Steven Spielberg (who helmed the first Adventures of Tintin) has been wanting to make for years now, but nothing has been confirmed on that front yet. Similarly, it's been reported that Jackson could serve as a producer on Amazon's in-development Lord of the Rings TV show - assuming he's ready to make the journey back to Middle-earth once again.
In the meantime, Jackson is keeping himself preoccupied assisting Rivers with Mortal Engines and doing whatever he can to help out the first-time director on his big-budget debut. When Screen Rant spoke to Jackson on the Mortal Engines set in New Zealand, he revealed that he's done second unit work on the film, despite not being an official second unit director. He's even gotten to operate the camera manually on the film, which is something he hasn't gotten to do on a project for some time:
I'm not really directing [the 2nd unit]. Glenn Boswell's doing that. But, sometimes he's busy doing flight arrangements and rehearsing stunts, and I just say, look, if you want me to come in, I can come in. And so, I've just been doing odd bits and pieces. Like, just doing it a bit here, a bit there, shoot, let's shoot that. I get told what to do. It's quite good. I mean, Christian gives me a list of things that he wants shot and I can shoot them at some time.
It's actually - you know, it's fun to do - to shoot some of the stuff that if I was a director I wouldn't get to shoot... Plus, I get to use a camera, too, because I haven't been able to do any camera operating for years and I always loved doing that. So, if I ever am doing anything on the second unit, I usually get a third camera. I'm the third camera and I find myself a place to shoot and I get to shoot some stuff. [Which] is fun...
He may not have directed it, but Mortal Engines certainly has the look and feel of a Jackson blockbuster, judging by the trailer footage released so far. That's to be expected though, seeing as Jackson has been closely involved with the film's development since day one. Most of the Mortal Engines production crew have further worked on Jackson's tentpoles in the past, including cinematographer Simon Raby (who handled second unit photography on the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and of course, Rivers himself.
At the same time, as Jackson made all too clear during our set visit, he's not secretly calling the shots on Mortal Engines either. Whether the movie is a failure, a success, or something in between, the credit belongs to Rivers as much or more than it does to Jackson, and rightfully so. Keeping that in mind, it will be interesting to see how much (or how little) Jackson's own cinematic sensibilities are reflected in Rivers' directorial style here.
- Mortal Engines (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018