Andy Serkis hosted the panel for Mortal Engines at Madison Square Garden during New York Comic Con. After teasing eight minutes of the film being shown, Serkis decided to show the first 25-minutes of Mortal Engines.
A narrator describes in a coarse voice how strong people became stronger and the age of the "great predator cities of the west" arose. A woman with a red mask on analyzes a field. She sees a bizarre machinne headed her way through a binocular. She preps herself, knife in boot, and runs back to her city. There are blacksmiths, chefs, and various townspeople milling about. As she runs through the streets, a horn sounds to alert people of an impending threat. Everyone flees. The entire town folds up like a Transformer. People run along moving floors, walls move, and the city turns into a number of mobile vehicles. A Predator city is approaching. One little fraction of the city is stalled and not getting moving.
The narrator's face is shown. He looks at the city through a golden lens. As it gets closer, its lower level opens like a mouth, revealing a tractor-like devouring weapon inside. The small gaggle of building gets rolling.
People aboard the Predator City, well-dressed and colorful, root for the destruction of the smaller buildings. The leader rules that this small mining town is fleeing. His superior rules it is not worth it to lose such scraps. The Predator City gains on the miners, so they pour salt in their wake to lighten their load. They're moving faster through a field surrounded by small mountains. It's a desert with signs of green life.
The Predator City introduces a doctor who arrives in a museum. The movements are rattling their historic statues: Minions from Despicable Me. In the city, a young man charmingly runs through the people and up stairs.
The miners continue to flee, trying to shoot a gap between the mountains too narrow for the Predator City. As they get closer, the Predator City shoots harpoons into it, and appears to have captured them. Its people erupt in applause.
The miners are pulled into the Predator City's ship.The charming young man shows off some equipment and inventions to young woman. He shows he video of a quantum energy weapon destroying an entire city. After people ignored his warning, he decided to take precautions of his own. He has collected several old weapons which he plans to toss from the side of the ship in the marshlands. A man, however, was watching and saw him say this.
Footage continues with spoilers.
Stephen Lang (Shrike), Jihae (Anna Fang), Leila George (Katherine Valentine) , Robert Sheehan (Tom Matsworthy), Hera Hilma (Hester Shaw), Christian Rives (director), Philippa Boyens (writer), and Peter Jackson (producer) take the stage.
“First of all, it’s an amazing book,” Rives said. “It’s sort of the beginning of their relationship and this journey in this unique world. Mortal Engines itself…it’s about Hester Shaw, who’s a fierce outcast in our world, and she’s sort of driven by the memory of her murdered mother…She glides with Tom Matsworthy, who’s a charming young man, who has a story and lives on London…They go on this great adventure and find a bond together…She has the key to stopping London which is on the verge of becoming an unstoppable dangerous force which is going to destroy the world!”
Jackson explains he got started on this when The Hobbit finished.
"Why he chose this title, it works on so many different levels," Boyens said of the name Mortal Engines. "What it's saying is, these cities are huge engines, but they are teaming with life, and they've almost grown to become an entity in and of itself...It's about the predator-prey situation. Even these giant cities can fall and their carcuses fed upon by the little cities." It also speaks to the character of Shrike. "When he says 'Mortal Engines,' he's speaking about us, about humans."
What was it like to get an opportunity to play Hera Hilma?
"Anyone who ges a chance to look at Hester Shaw...it's like, 'Hell yeah!'" Hilma said. "Shes such an amazing character and multi-dimensional...to have the opportunity as an actress in this world, to play a character that is allowed to be that, all that scale, was just a dream for me. I was totally up for it. I did a tape for it, to begin with, that I did in Iceland. Things happened very quickly. We ended up Skyping which was very surreal."
Why is Tom's role in the film?
"He's an apprentice historian in the London museum," Sheehan said. "As part of that, he's had good upbringing by parents that are no longer in the picture that have given him an unquenchable cheerfulness in a very, very dark world. He was, for me, a beacon of light, positivity. No matter what was thrown at him, he could in a clumsily brave way tackle it and deal with it."
What was the opportunity to play Hera like?
"She's definitely been brought up to respect class and her social standing but in spite of that she has such a huge heart," George said. "What's really cool about her is that we catch her at this really interesting time in any young person's life when they are discovering what the real world and that it's different from what they thought it was growing up and that this is reality. That's really important for young people today. It relates to so many things, not just in the Mortal Engines world...Her journey is one of great strength. We see her go, I think, from a girl to a really strong woman. It's so cool to play a really strong anything."
What is Anna's mission and character like?
"Anna is a symbolic leader of resistance history in any part of the world," Jihae said. "There has to be someone who has to oppose the action of a path of a culture that can't thrive that way for very long. Her main mission is to protect the only actual haven left on Earth which is Shan Guo and stop London from reaching another cataclysmic event on Earth."
Where did Lang get inspiration?
"Once upon a time he was a man named Kit," Lang said. "That man was killed and his body was taken and he was hollowed out so there was really only a chassis left. It was replaced with the technology at the time. He was resurrected as a man called The stalker...He was a warrior. He was a member of the fabled Lazarus Brigade...At this point, where our story starts, he really is a solo bounty hunter. He goes around, he collects heads, and he buys dolls and he opens them up...There's no memory left. The inside of his brain is described as a sleet of static." Shrike has memories of a little girl and he is searching for answers. One day, he comes across Hester Shaw, and he becomes her custodian, raising her "in his own fashion, not even understanding why he's doing it."
What else can Jackson say about the world of Mortal Engines?
"It's set about 3000 years from now. It's in our future. Waht I like to think of it is it's not post-apocalyptic...It's post-post-apocalyptic. The socieites wipe themselves out in the 60-Minute War. We imagine it as a couple hundred years from now...It literally cracks the surface of the globe...It redefines the map of the world and many, many centuries pass which were a pretty nasty time. Eventually, society rebuilds itself and cities rise from the rubble and they end up on wheels chasing each other across these wastelands which were formerly Europe which is now known as the Great Hunting Ground."
"This is a series of books, this is the first one," Jackson said. "I hope if enough people come see this movie, we'll be allowed to make the next story."
A trailer for the film plays for the first time.