I have to admit the trailer for this one got me interested. While Steampunk and Dieselpunk are not my preferred Gothic aesthetic, I always appreciate my brothers and sisters in the alternative clothing. Drawing from bygone era’s with a significant fictional embellishment shows a certain passion and commitment that has to be appreciated, even if the mainstream looks down on it or tries to market it and co opt it. The movies trailer hinted at this with gigantic moving cities beyond anything rationally (or physically) being able to be engineered. Without a single image, if I told you that there was a city of a hundred thousand people moving about on tank treads so large that a person could stand between each spoke of the tread and it moves around a post apocalyptic/nature reborn landscape capturing other cities for resources – you have a visual in mind. Immense. Grand in scale and scope and absolutely fantastical. Then I am going to tell you the movie is writen and produced by Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh who gave us the impossible to film Lord of the Rings.
How can this not be amazing to watch?
First, you must understand that this is not an original work, but instead based on a 2001 childrens book by Philip Reeve. Based on the length of the book and the overall content this falls into another YA adaptation in another Hollywood attempt to find their new Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight franchises. That doesn’t stop it from being a passion project for the three writers either, but it must be acknowledged that the studio wouldn’t greenlight something this ambitious unless they think it can sell. The story is barely more complex than I covered in my preamble to the review, with the character beats missing. The world has been ravaged by a hyper-technology war some hundred years from our now, and a thousand years before the movie starts. We have a young girl (of course), Hester, who is trying to assassinate a high ranking member of the city of London, Valentine, who killed her mother. A young man (of course), Tom, intervenes and they both end up outside the city. Hester spends her time trying to return to the city to finish her vendetta, Tom tries to return home, meanwhile our mustache twirling Valentine has a much darker plan with lost technology in his bid for power and resources.
As plots go, it’s basic at its core; which is fine when you have YA material. This is not an insult to YA material, which is specifically designed to be basic and accessible and is a good thing. When translating it to a movie, it can also be a good thing, if done well. I cannot say that this was done well. The plot isn’t really the problem, but the script is. There are no less than a dozen characters we’re expected to emotionally attach to at one point or another and the movie gives most of them at best four or five lines; whilst our main characters are rather dull or unlikable. Even worse, our heroine for the movie is ridiculously inconsistent with her logic and actions to the point I was rolling my eyes half way through the movie. I don’t really expect a lot, but consistency would be nice. You literally have a beat at one point in the movie where she looks at Tom and goes “I would have left you.” Not even five minutes later, she risks her life and anothers more than once to save him. Now I could take it as her trying to be strong and aloof and saying one thing, but believing another; but the movie never gave me reason to believe that she would have saved him. Beyond that there’s script beats where I was able to look to my companion tonight and go “Cue scene…” and it would happen. After the movie she went “even I knew it was coming”. This is being stated by someone who until recently didn’t get to see a lot of movies on the regular. The beats are that telegraphed. Then of course there are the braindead moments and even other higher moments of logic fails that I can’t get into for spoiler reasons but someone, somewhere should have went – this is a stupid decision for the character to make/say/do.
From the actors, they do what they can with the material. Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar plays our heroine and she tries. She really really tries, but it just doesn’t work; but I don’t know that I can blame her. Robert Sheehan, (Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Geostorm) is our Tom and again does his best, but there’s nothing in the direction or script to help him. Hugo Weaving is Valentine and I am not sure if he was aware he was on camera or thought he was in rehearsals still because it just was not good for him; he might have been dead at the time and that would explain a lot. (Note: Hugo Weaving is not dead…this is a joke). Jihae, who I’ve never heard of before, is one of our secondary characters and is far more interesting than any of the mains and I’d like a movie about her please. Leila George (Mother May I Sleep with Danger) is another secondary character, Valentine’s daughter Katherine, who the script and editing did no favours to.
This brings us to our director, Christian Rivers. Rivers worked on the art department as a storyboard artist for all of Jackson’s previous films all the way back to the Frighteners in 96 and Dead Alive in 92; though never credited as such. That concerned me a bit so I had to go find an interview to prove he was real and not a Jackson alias. I admit I am still not sure. He isn’t that good. Sorry but all the performances are barely delivered and that falls on him. The blocking, staging, camera angle choices, weird whip pans, all of it just don’t work. Even JunkieXL on music seemed to be phoning it in with his left overs from Justice League and Catwoman. I know I ripped on Robin Hood a bit a few weeks ago for stealing scenes from other movies shamelessly, but they did it and turned those scenes to an 11. This lifts from some of the Star Wars movies and doesn’t even do anything interesting with it. The editing is…painful. I think there are 15 to 20 minutes on the cutting room floor and you can feel it.
This movie is bad. It is visually interesting, but very very bad. At an annoying level of bad. You may hear of things called Script Doctors who come in and polish scripts. This movie needed a team of trauma surgeons. Someone should have taken a second or third look, but wait the producers were Jackson, Walsh and Boyens so they had the creative control too. Ugh. Ok…so time to bust out a meme.
You gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy and it was magical. Truly changing the face of the fantasy film genre forever. Changing how Hollywood should look at making movies and the importance of well crafted practical effects and the effort put in to make something more than just a movie, but feel like a real lived in world. You reminded us of King Kong, and we forgave you the dinosaur stampede, but let us remember that Beauty Killed the beast and it too was breathtaking. Then, then came the dark times. The Hobbit trilogy where you became obsessed with technology and forgot the practical. You have become what you once fought against. This movie cements your fate, stop now while you still can.
This movie will not satisfy movie goers or fans of the book. It’s a mess.
Should I watch it though?
Go see Spider-Man. Seriously, My friend was entertained because it was visually interesting and I can’t argue that, but the more I discussed it with her, the more annoyed with the movie she became. It’s that kind of movie.
Would you watch it again?
Go see Spider-Man.
Nope. Seriously folks. I said this movie was going to get destroyed by Spider-Man and I felt bad for Peter Jackson…I don’t now. This movie deserves its demise. I do feel bad for the actors and hope their careers aren’t hurt by this.
Anything else to add?
So I didn’t cover this in the review, because it is not objectively about the movie as given. I also don’t typically touch on the adaptation from the book to screen as I haven’t often read the book to compare; but while researching this review I found an interview that honestly makes me even angrier at Jackson than I was after seeing the movie.
In the book Hester is described as having a prominent, grotesque scar across her face that had also taken an eye and severely damaged her nose; to quote:
“Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump, and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as grey and chill as a winter sea.”
This is what we got:
Now, as someone who loves Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister, I know he is not as described in the book facially. This is problematic. I acknowledge this. He also turns out a good performance and still provides representation for a marginalized group.
This change however, less forgivable as this is why it was made from Director Christian Rivers and producer Peter Jackson:
It’s fine in the book for Hester to be described to be ugly, hideous, and have lost a nose ‘cause, even that, you reimagine it in your own mind as, ‘Okay, yeah, she’s ugly, but she’s not really ugly,’” Rivers explained. “Tom falls in love with her… and film is a visual medium. With a book you can take what you want and reimagine it in your head and put together your own picture. But when you put it on film, you are literalizing it. You are making it a literal thing, so it was just finding a balance where we need to believe that Tom and Hester fall in love. And her scar does need to be disfiguring enough that she thinks she’s ugly — it can’t just be a little scratch — and I think we’ve struck a good balance of it.
First off, and I mean this with all professional kindness – Go jump face first into a chipper shredder. Take your ableist BS with you. You are literally saying we couldn’t leave her disfigured as written because then the audience couldn’t buy someone falling in love with her. Have you ever read a book? I mean it seriously. When an author gives you a description, especially one as clear and visceral as Hester’s, you DONT reimagine it to make it more palatable unless you are trash. You imagine what was written and if not clear may think the right eye or the left, but the aesthetic of it remains as a horrifying accident induced scar. Something millions of people have and in this interview you worthless garbage you said they aren’t worthy of love.
Christian Rivers. Go to hell. I’ll give you a map.