Early on in Mortal Engines , the forthcoming movie based on Philip Reeve's book, a small Bavarian population gets consumed by the moving metropolis of "London." (The movie, like the book, is set in a future where roving "predator cities" ingest smaller towns for their resources.) As its citizens are forced to resettle in their new home, voices on loudspeakers tell them where to go and what to do. Most of the instructions are commonplace for authoritarian dystopias: stay in line, no weapons are allowed, etc. But then there's this one: "Be aware, children may be temporarily separated from parents."
The line wasn't always there—it wasn't in the book, or the original script. But earlier this year, as the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy led to detentions and child-separations at the southern US border, the loudspeaker announcement found its way in. The movie, says director Christian Rivers, isn't meant to be a "message film," but since it deals with life after a catastrophic war and the ever-repeating cycle of human nature, the line seemed fitting, and adding it amounted to little more than an extra voiceover.
- Angela Watercutter
Ed Catmull's Pixar Retirement Is an Opportunity, Not a Loss
- Adam Rogers
Trump's Plan to Redefine Gender Makes No Scientific Sense
- Graeme McMillan
While You Were Offline: Trump Evoked Game of Thrones to Announce Sanctions
"We thought it was worth making a little comment about that," says Peter Jackson, who produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay, referencing the "horrific" acts of American immigration authorities. "They’ve become the Child Catcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang , really."
That line may be the most politics-focused the film gets, but it's definitely not the only moment in Mortal Engines during which the past haunts the future. The premise is that a "60 Minute War" has ravaged Earth, destroying most of humanity, and their history along with it. The survivors have been left to roam in moving cities, looking for resources. What artifacts they've been able to recover from the 20th and 21st centuries don't offer many clues, other than the fact that people were consumed by TV, computers, and smartphones; the period is referred to in the film as the "Screen Age." (Also, based on large statues of the Minions , survivors think the Despicable Me characters might have been worshipped like gods.) Those things, like the immigration line, "make this futuristic world more relatable," Rivers says.
And audience relatability is important. Mortal Engines hits theaters on December 14, fighting for audience attention against films like Transformers flick Bumblebee and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse . Not being a known franchise, and coming from a book series that doesn't have the following of The Lord of the Rings , it's got an uphill battle. "We're surrounded by franchise films or sequels or whatever— Aquaman and Mary Poppins Returns —and there's all this stuff surrounding us that's got pre-determined audiences," Jackson says. "We're this sort of little orphan film that no one knows anything about."
[#video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=cuL5yXsOAIA ]
- Intricate maps reveal what public transit gets wrong
- A stupid simple wonderful way to make Google Docs
- My dad says he’s a “targeted individual.” Maybe we all are
- PHOTOS: A Blade Runner -esque vision of Tokyo
- Jeff Bezos wants us all to leave Earth—for good
- Hungry for even more deep dives on your next favorite topic? Sign up for the Backchannel newsletter