Mortal Engines: a Grand Disappointment

Mortal Engines, movie, Peter Jackson, Phlip ReeveIt’s happening again. The movie I have been looking forward to seeing, the movie I hoped would take me into another world, another time, or another reality, the movie for which I had such high hopes—is turning out to be a dud, a Grand Disappointment.

If you like science fiction or fantasy movies, you know what I mean. Sometimes these movies are sequels to a blockbuster cultural icon and sometimes they are brand-new entries that offer the prospect of a successful franchise. Either way, we see trailers—previews with jaw-dropping visuals and special effects—that pique our interest and have us counting the days until they open.

Then the lights go down, popcorn crunches, the film rolls, and the disappointment begins. Fans weep and Rotten Tomatoes squishes all over the film.

The Star Wars Flop

The best example of Grand Disappointments is Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. After the tremendous success of Episodes IV, V, and VI, fans waited 22 years for another movie in the franchise. When the Phantom Menace finally came out, written and directed by George Lucas no less, anticipation ran high. People camped out on the sidewalk to get tickets so they could see it on opening night. (Not me. I’m not that big a fan.)

The doors opened. Fans streamed in. The movie started. Ta-DAH! Ta-Dah. Ta-dah. Thud. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 55% Rotten and fans—the excited, enthusiastic, motivated fans—rated it 55% Liked. The new character of Jar-Jar Binks was held up to universal ridicule and charges of racism. With the long wait over, bitter disappointment ruled the day.

More Grand Disappointments

Jupiter Ascending, Mila Kuniss, Channing Tatum, Sean BeanOther examples of Grand Disappointments abound—science fiction movies that either destroyed a successful franchise or fell on their faces before one could be established,. Some were based on popular novels or graphic novels.

You undoubtedly have your own list, one based on what you have read or seen and liked. Usually the problem lies with the story although the culprit might also be bad science. As I have said before, Hollywood too often falls into the trap of putting all a movie’s production time and money into the special effects. Then they either skimp on the story or turn what should be a gripping narrative into an incomprehensible, irritating mishmash.

The Hype on Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines movies, LondonThe latest example of the Grand Disappointment is Mortal Engines. While I did not read the book by Philip Reeve on which the movie is based, I did watch the trailer several times. It looked excellent. This can be a trap, mind you. The studios often pack the most exciting scenes and the best lines into the trailer to lure you in. Then you watch the movie and realize you’ve been conned. The rest just can’t live up to the advance hype. Having seen the trailer, I have my eye on Aquaman 

Still, it just looked great and I thought it would be terrific. Mortal Engines opens on Friday, December 14 but we probably will pass on seeing it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an advance score of 38% Liked even though 89% of viewers want to see it. The reason? A flaccid story. How can this be when it’s based on a successful book?

Also, what reviewer Cath Clarke called “a relentless assault of CGI (computer-generated graphics) and earsplitting noise.” J. Don Birnam asks, “How could the filmmakers screw up this amazing world so badly?” How, indeed? Once again, visuals trample story like the rolling cities in Mortal Engines flatten small towns. Have they learned nothing? What makes the flop worse is that it was produced by Peter Jackson, creator of the sensational Lord of the Rings trilogy, who co-wrote the screenplay with two others.

And another one bites the dust.

The Grinch Strikes Again

Of all the Christmas movies coming out this season, Mortal Engines was the one I looked forward to most but the Grinch got to it first. I will add Mortal Engines to my list of Grand Disappointments.

But hope lives on. There’s always next year.