Peter Jackson to Adapt Sci-Fi Fantasy 'Mortal Engines'

Peter Jackson and Christian Rivers - Split - Getty-H 2016
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images; Jon Furniss/WireImage
Universal Pictures is teaming with MRC for the project, which Jackson is co-writing and producing but not directing. Instead, a longtime protege will sit in the big chair.

Universal has landed Peter Jackson’s next big fantasy project, the adaptation of Philip Reeve’s science-fiction fantasy book series, Mortal Engines.

Jackson and Fran Walsh, his wife and partner in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, wrote the script with their collaborator Philippa Boyens. Jackson will not sit in the director’s chair for this one, instead handing helming duties to longtime protege Christian Rivers, who will make his feature directorial debut with the fantasy.

Universal, which announced the news Monday, is teaming with frequent partner MRC on the project, co-financing the film together. Universal also will serve as worldwide distributor, with production slated to begin in the spring in New Zealand.

First published by Scholastic in 2001, the four-book series is set in a future world devastated ecologically and technologically and where certain cities such as London are run on engines and mobility, giving them the ability to prey on others for resources. The story centers on a teen named Tom Natsworthy who, along with a young woman from a territory known as the Outlands, uncovers a mystery that could change the world order.

Mortal Engines was followed by Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain.

Jackson fell for the books’ trapping of steampunk, a genre that combines Victorian Age aesthetic and futuristic technologies, with trimmings like airships thrown in. He and Walsh have been quietly working on an adaptation since 2009, when he optioned the rights from Scholastic, and recently his longtime manager, Ken Kamins, brought it to MRC. (Kamins will serve as an executive producer on Mortal Engines.)

“Peter, Fran, Philippa and Christian are all visionary storytellers with the gift of turning their passion projects into beloved blockbusters for a worldwide audience,” Universal Pictures' Donna Langley said in making the announcement.

The movie will be the first time that Walsh, Boyens and Jackson have written a project that Jackson has not directed. Rivers slides into the chair having spent the majority of his 25-year career working closely with Jackson, beginning as a storyboard artist, moving into supervising visual effects and finally serving as splinter unit director on the Hobbit trilogies, where he was involved in many of the action set pieces. He shared a Oscar for his work on Jackson’s 2005 film King Kong, and recently served as second unit director on the remake of Pete’s Dragon.

“Christian is one of my closest collaborators,” said Jackson, “The combination of emotion and jaw-dropping visuals in Mortal Engines makes this the perfect movie for his move into feature directing. What Christian intends to do with Philip Reeve’s terrific story is going to result in an original and spectacular movie. I wish I could see it tomorrow!”

Said Rivers: “Mortal Engines is one of those stories that was made for the big screen. A fantastical, futuristic world that has to be seen to be believed. At its heart though, it’s a beautiful love story and a richly complex character driven adventure. To be the director who gets to bring Philip Reeve’s incredible universe to life is a dream come true.”

Jackson will produce with Walsh, along with Zane Weiner (LOTR, Hobbit trilogies), Amanda Walker (Hobbit) and Scholastic’s Deborah Forte (The Golden Compass, Goosebumps). Boyens will co-produce.

Law firm Nelson Davis repped Walsh, Boyens and Rivers. Reeve is repped by Philippa Milnes-Smith at Lucas Alexander Whitley Ltd. in the U.K.