There are some film ideas that can only be realized with plenty of visual effects, and judging by its first trailer, Mortal Engines is one of them.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, thousands of years after civilization has been destroyed, humankind has adapted to a new form of living: with gigantic cities-on-wheels (called traction cities) roaming the Earth, scrambling for limited resources and preying upon smaller traction towns.

The film is based on a series of novels by Philip Reeve, but for me, the image of a moving city instantly evokes John Hubley’s animated short Urbanissimo (1967), which brilliantly depicts the spread of urbanization and the strain that it puts on nature and the environment.

Obviously, Mortal Engines is a much darker incarnation of the vision of a moving city. In the film, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) — who hails from a Lower Tier of the traction city of London — finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), with whom he eventually becomes allied.

Weta vfx artist Christian Rivers makes his feature directorial debut on Mortal Engines. A protégé of Peter Jackson, Rivers has storyboarded most of Jackson’s films. Jackson adapted the Mortal Engine books into a screenplay with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and he also serves as one of the film’s producers.

Weta Digital is producing the film’s vfx. Universal Pictures will release Mortal Engines in U.S. theaters on December 14, 2018.

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