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Mortal Engines (4K UHD Blu-ray)

Modern audiences are oddly very weary on giving an opportune chance to any fantasy or science fiction adventure that clearly looks like something new. They may be put off by it being “weird” or unfamiliar while forgetting at one time, Star Wars was also weird and unfamiliar. I’m not saying everything they pass up on is a complete gem, but the opening weekend excitement is either rarely there (Guardians of the Galaxy, but that’s mostly based on brand awareness), barely there (Alita) or nonexistent (Valerian). Mortal Engines was one of 2018’s biggest bombs at the box office and I found little to no one aside from open minded film geeks like myself, craving new fantasy worlds and lore, excited for it. The main turn off for something like this appears to merely be that it isn’t based off anything or the nostalgic return of something familiar. Yet in the meantime, all I hear is the gripe of “There’s nothing original anymore”. WHAT DO YOU WANT? Haha! While I wanted to see Mortal Engines, life wouldn’t allow the time (And I DO normally see stuff like this, as I paid money to see Jupiter Ascending in theaters even), so this will be more first outing and can be yours when it arrives on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray March 12th.

Film 

Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.

We sure failed Mortal Engines this past December. There were a lot of big blockbuster choices out there, but this one deserved much better than its ultimate “box office bomb” fate. Its an adventure film that hits the ground running, relishes in some fine character work and ultimately shows of a scale worthy of the biggest screen imaginable to flex its bravado. In a world where we claim to be starving for new, original fantasy films and adventures, we sure didn’t back that up when it came to Christian Rivers collaboration with Peter Jackson.

From the start of the film we are treat to a thrilling hook of an opener, the likes of which not really seen since 2017’s The Last Jedi. This action sequence plays like its own little short film or vignette. Without really a word spoken (Some random commands are spoken, but its irrelevant), we are not only engaged in a high pace, adrenaline rush of a chase scene, but it also sets up our protagonist and antagonist as well as complete feel for this steampunk future and how it operates on a primitive scale. Its incredibly impressive and a high the film itself comes close to getting back, but I’m not sure if it ever quite smacks us in the face like this. The action, the spectacle, the camera movements, the score the design the effects, all culminate in one of blockbuster cinema’s best sequences of 2018.

While the film only cost reportedly $100 million, it looks like it cost probably double that and then some. It has a tremendous touch when it comes to the computer effects and world building that feel a great marriage of fantasy but also real at the same time, with costuming that really compliments it as well. Hard to put my finger on it, but at the very most, the characters always feel like they are a part of the frame and not a detached green screen material added later type. This movie also feels humongous with breathtaking camera work that truly delivers the sheer scope of the world, cities and vehicles on display in this world of Mortal Engines. Christian Rivers isn’t a known commodity, but on sheer artistic merit, he’s proven himself big time with this film, Jackson’s name on it or not.

Mortal Engines stands out in a see of dystopian future fantasy stories in that it keeps the fresh characters to an easy to follow minimum and slowly welds in the mythology but also builds on some already real world familiarity to make a newcomer a bit more comfortable. In terms of structure, character and story cue, this one seems to be learning the best lessons from the best family/adventure/fantasy films from the 1980s. This feels like an update on them, but with much more care devoted to the material and the ability to take it seriously and still have fun. They really do a terrific job in both world and character building here to have one invest and feel like they have a stake in every turn or conflict. Its not perfect, the film does lull a bit in the middle, but it does overall work quite well.

Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines adaptation surprised me in getting me as invested in the film as soon as the thing took off. Not many films really can do that for me nowadays. Its one of the best original fantasy/adventure films of this modern decade. No, its not some big time classic and I’m aware I’m selling very high on a 3.5/5 rating I’ve given it, but it was severely overlooked. People really should give this a shot and make this a modern cult classic. I’m not upset we won’t see a sequel, Mortal Engines feels a complete story and maybe the only story we need from this world to be told in cinematic form. There are 3 more books to the series, so the adventure can continue on the page if you’d like it. As a film, this one is a complete work start to finish. And its a pretty fresh, thrilling and engaging one at that.

Video 

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: Mortal Engines comes at us with a natural 4K transfer in the presentation. The film was shot in 8K and finished with a 4K digital intermediate. And it looks amazing. This should be the new reference disc for home video enthusiasts. The overall crisp image that seamlessly blends the practical with the digital imagery is at times breathtaking with its vast array of color and usage of HDR. Details come on very strong down the scratch or snag on a character’s apparel. Mortal Engines also has a nice, natural 3D look to it with great attention to depth, helping prop up the scale of the film. Overall this film’s image will sweep you away right from the start.

Depth:  With Jackson’s involvement its no surprise that Mortal Engines has a really nice three dimensional look to it that really shines on this 4K UHD release. Camera movements are confident and the depth of field really gives a great sense of landscape distance between the foreground and background. Even on home video the scale here is something to be wow’d by in just the sheer way they have utilized the camera and CGI. With the 4K UHD disc, it helps with more natural, smooth movements and they blend with the effects naturally.

Black Levels: Blacks are quite impressive here as they hold onto a vast array of detail and really bring forth the shades and wow with the amount of textures and follicles visible in any given sense of lighting. No crushing witnessed during this viewing.

Color Reproduction: The color palette on the film is absolutely gorgeous. There is a wonderfully natural blend of natural, worn or flashy colors. Purples and greens can glow off the screen with beams and lighting. Fabrics on outfits or some of the aircrafts really pop as you see very rich reds. London in the nighttime looks especially beautiful with the array of shades and lights that leap off the screen. Explosions looks like a lovely work of art with great luscious oranges that feel they are lifting off right at you.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones lean on a slightly colder side, consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures like scarring, dirt, wrinkles, make-up, lip texture, freckles, moles and more are clear as day from just about any distance in the given frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: Mortal Engines comes roaring at you with a very awesome, consuming and wildly efficient Atmos track. This balance mix feature plenty of terrific precision, timing and has figured out every little nitch detail that might be lingering in a random environment. All channels are wonderfully utilized and they work together quite effectively as a team to turn your viewing area into the ultimate war zone during the large scale battles seen in the film.

Height: Your ceiling speaker have loads of fun thanks to the inventive, fun and well thought out cinematography on display in the film. You’ll be run over by the London, or feel a aircraft zip by, or may the lightning tower at the end is fizzling above. The track has some fun, but is also quite accurate.

Low Frequency Extension: This adventure really booms as engines are a constant big hum, but you also get blasts, gunfire, crashing, explosions, lightning, energy beams and more that really get your subwoofer working over time as it pounds your room into a great shake.

Surround Sound Presentation: If you couldn’t already guess, the speaker work on the film is outstanding. Movement and rolling action feels a great 360 degrees of excellence as sounds are constantly traveling here. The design on this film must have been a bitch to bring to life, but we are all benefiting from it. Volume placement is very good as well as full realized environments with unique sounds and awareness given to every speaker.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, with really deep attention paid to Hugo Weaving’s voice. No matter the carnage or the quiet night, voices are plenty audible with great detail paid to actors’ diction.

Extras 

Mortal Engines comes with the Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film.

4K UHD

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Christian Rivers

Welcome to London (4K, 26:22) – Hosted by star Robert Sheehan, this 5-part feature takes a look at London in the film and the production on it, layering, different areas of the city and more.

Blu-ray

End of the Ancients (HD, 3:13) – A short featurette, told like an educational piece within the world about the ancients, their demise and the articfacts they have.

Character Series (HD, 21:43) – Quick pieces on the characters in the film with insight from the actor that played them, director Christian Rivers, Peter Jackson and the author of the book its based on. They are focuses on Hester Shaw, Tom Natsworthy, Anna Fang, Thadddeus Valentine and Shrike.

Welcome to London (4K, 26:22)

In the Air (HD, 4:52) – A featurette based on the Ant-Traction League and the city in the sky which they leve and the ships they fly around in. Has the cast, crew, director, author and Peter Jackson’s input on the production design, art and bringing it to life.

Film New Zealand (HD, 3:52) – A fluff piece on how great New Zealand is for movies and the team that worked on the film is.

Summary 

Mortal Engines, sitting with Widows, is one of the best movies American cinema-going audiences slept on in 2018. Guilty myself, after seeing it I am now kicking myself for not seeing this beauty on a gigantic screen. No, the film isn’t some revelation, but damn its good enough and one that has me excited to revisit and intrigued by maybe going and giving the novels a try. It’s 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release however is the king of the crop and quite possibly a new reference image and sound for the year. The image looks outstanding and is quite the jump from the standard Blu-ray and the Atmos track is expert work in terms of effectiveness and precision. The extras on the disc are pretty solid and a nice compliment to the film. Home video enthusiasts, lets right our theatrical multiplex wrongs by giving the film a shot on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray!

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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