What is the MEDUSA weapon in Mortal Engines?

Friday, January 7, 2022
medusa being fired from London

BOOK AND FILM SPOILERS BELOW

How does the Medusa weapon work in the Mortal Engines books?

MEDUSA.

In Mortal Engines, MEDUSA was the ancient Old-Tech super weapon that the Mayor of London city, Magnus Chrome tried to use to breach the Shield Wall.

Magnus intended to use the Medusa weapon against the Walk so that he could take London City through to the fertile hunting grounds beyond the wall.

But what exactly is the Medusa and how is it used?

Does it make you turn to stone if you look at it too long?

MEDUSA is a 'ground-based' weapon.

It is stated in the Mortal Engines novel as taking up the whole of the inside of St Paul's Cathedral, where the Guild of Engineers had rebuilt it under complete secrecy.

Philip Reeve described as having a huge, metallic hood shaped 'like a cobra's hood'. It fires a beam of energy (either sourced from outside the real universe, or the cities generators), resembling a "cat-o-nine-tails", at targets up to two hundred miles away.

The firing coordinates are input via a control panel at the base of the firing mechanism.

In the Mortal Engines novel, the Medusa was never actually used as intended.

It was accidentally destroyed by Katherine Valentine who was mortally wounded during her noble attempt to sabotage it. She succeeded somewhat - the Medusa was unable to be fired by Magnus Chrome but it did over heat, blow up and destroy the city of London with it.

The resulting explosion killed most of the thousands of people living in the city, many of them innocent.

Medusa weapon concept art from Mortal Engines
A concept idea: The Engineers prepare Medusa for firing

So where did the MEDUSA  weapon come from?


The weapon was originally deployed in America during the infamous Sixty Minute War, the one which turned planet Earth into a post-apocalyptic wasteland from which the traction cities eventually evolved from. This is not to say the Medusa was the only weapon used that caused the destruction. The satellite systems known as ODIN  also wreaked a fair amount of damage.

Many thousands of years after the great War, London secretly made archeological expeditions to the Dead Continent and gathered the pieces of Medusa from an old Brothal base and re-assembled it inside the St Paul's complex.

In a key plot point which echoed a generation,  Thaddeus Valentine (working for Magnus Chrome)  had years before the events of the book, sort to obtain the computer control system of the Medusa. A fabulously complex item of technology even by the standards of scientists from the pre-war era,

Valentine tracked it to being in the hands of Hester's parents, found them and killed them. During this horrible moment, he also scarred Hester with his sword, both physically and of course mentally.

So what is the plot of Mortal Engines in relation to Medusa?


Katherine Valentine spends most of the first part of Mortal Engines trying to figure out what MEDUSA is. Then, when the city of London is being chased by the city Panzerstadt-Bayreuth the roof of St Paul's Cathedral lifts up and destroys the predator city with a blast of pure energy from the weapon.

The successful use of the weapon serves as proof of concept to Magnus Chrome and it further adds to his resolve to breach the Shield Wall.

Magnus' plans are ultimately foiled when MEDUSA system overloads with energy and explodes, obliterating most of London with it.

The movie version plays out quite different - Medusa is actually fired on the wall before it is destroyed by Tom.

Here's some points on how the book is different from the movie.

Concept art of Medusa being opened above Saint Paul's Cathedral by Jaekyung Jaguar Lee. Medusa firing art design by Peter Yea.

5 ways the Mortal Engine film borrowed from Star Wars

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Star Wars was a key influence on the Mortal Engines movie


When doing promo work for Mortal Engines, director Christian Rivers spoke of how the movie was pitched when they shopped it around the studios.

What does it look like they asked?

Rivers said this:

"I drew a triangle on a piece of paper, and the three points of the triangle were Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Mad Max. It is in our future after an apocalypse. But we don't want it to be all rusty, and f***ing grim and bleak. We wanted to have a technology and a scale that sort of could be Star Wars-esque. But we also wanted it to have a sort of a charm and a sort of cultural character to it that could be like the Harry Potter films."

After seeing the film (here's our glowing review), we think that triangle might have been lopsided in favour of Star Wars because Mortal Engines is quite strong with the Force!

Here are a few key references and plot points that the Peter Jackson production borrowed from George Lucas's films.

SPOILERS

  1. Valentine's big reveal to Hester that he was her father was during a duel where the stakes were life and death is straight from the playbook of The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader reveals he is Luke's dad.
  2. When Tom Natsworthy becomes an 'aviator' and flies into the heart of the engines of London and fires a blast at a key part of the engine, well he would make Lando Calrissian proud because he and Wedge Antilles pulled that move destroying the Death Star II in Return of the Jedi.
  3. The whole, racing against time to destroy London before it fires on Batmunkh Gompa's shield wall is basically the plot of the last third of Star Wars: A New Hope. i.e. Destroy the Death Star before it destroys the Rebel base. Admittedly, Star Wars was inspired by the Gregory Peck film, The Guns of Navarone for this idea. 
  4. The opening chase where London runs down a smaller, fleeing traction city, is a retread copy of the opening of Star Wars when Darth Vader's Star Destroy is chasing Princess Leia's Correllian Corvette, the Tantive IV.
  5. The author of the novel, Philip Reeve freely acknowledges he based Anna Fang on Han Solo

Don't get us wrong, just as George Lucas borrowed from a million movies to make his own sci-fi film, it's fine for Mortal Engines to do the same of Star Wars! All that was missing though was Jabba The Hutt!

While we are at it, check out trivia for The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian and the films that influenced Star Wars.

↠ What is the best order to read the Mortal Engines series of novels?



Should I read the Mortal Engines prequels before or after the orignals?



What Star Wars film did you see first?

Was it The Phantom Menace or A New Hope? Did you follow the order they were released?

For the many it was Star Wars IV, V and IV in that order and then years later the prequels came out and we learned how Anakin became Darth Vader.

If you watch the prequels first you miss out on the epic twist that happens in Empire Strikes Back when you learn of Luke's true parentage.

And that's the issue with the reading order of the 7 Mortal Engine novels (8 counting the Anna Fang short stories book!).

We are talking about Stalker Shrike here and a couple of other plot point surprises.

If you read the prequel series you get the full story of Shrike and how he came to be the Shrike. As you read on to the original novels, there's no big mystery, no awe as you first encounter him with Tom, knives out wanting to do nothing but kill....HESTEERRR SHAWWWWW!

But if you've read the prequels, you know exactly who this abomination is before he even takes his first step towards Tom and that kind of ruins the mystique.

Think of the first time you saw the Star Wars scene when Vader boards the Tantive IV (Leia's ship). If you knew him as the whiny pod racing kid from The Phantom Menace, the effect of his entrance would not have been the same.

But, just as there is with Star Wars, there's a kind of cheat you can do which is similar to the popular Machete Order that some Star War fans recommend.

In terms of Star Wars, it's often suggested that you watch A New Hope and then Empire so that you can enjoy the twist. You can then read the prequels and get the full back story, and then hop back to Return of the Jedi and go from there.

And so you can with Mortal Engines.

Read that first novel first so that you get the main story, exposure to the concepts such as Municipal Darwinism and that you meet the Shrike.

You can then turn the pages of the prequels starting with Reeve's Fever Crumb and then on to A Web of Air and the most excellent Scrivener's Moon.

Once you've knocked those bastards off, you can read the three books that follow Mortal Engines. And they are damn good reads with A Darkling Plain proving an excellent and satisfying end to the saga.

But what do we know?

What is Philip Reeve's take on the reading order of his own novels?

He's actually been asked this before and he's on record as saying:

"It’s up to you, of course, but I’ve always thought they’re best read in the order they were written."

And despite what we have suggested, that's not a bad way to go.

Here's why.

The thing about Philip Reeve is he became a better author as he went on with the Mortal Engines series. As he progressed from one book to the next his stories seemed to flow better and form a more cognizant whole. I personally enjoyed the last two novels more when compared to the first. That said, those novels were 'standing on the shoulders of giants'.

But Reeve's also gives a hint of caution about the prequels:

"It’s a different setting in many ways – there are, for instance, no airships and no mobile cities.

I think the books have a slightly different tone, too – the heroes of the Mortal Engines quartet are always zooming across continents and oceans, but Fever Crumb’s adventures all take place in London or in the island city of Mayda, until Scrivener’s Moon, when Municipal Darwinism finally begins to take off and there is a certain amount of charging about on ramshackle motorised fortresses."

The choice, dear reader, is clearly yours. But when you've done that, it's time to move on to Railhead...

Forms of currency used in Mortal Engines

Brighton Dolphins mentioned by Professor in Predator's Gold which he plugs his own version of Predator's Gold for 25 coins.

How Mortal Engines became the new John Carter of Mars

Monday, August 23, 2021
why mortal engines bombed


Have you seen John Carter of Mars?

Did you see it at the theatre?

We didn't and frankly, we saw it only when it was on Netflix a while back.

And we loved it!

It was a fun movie, with a lot to like. It was great for me as I learned that the books it was based on by Edgar Rice Burrows were a huge influence on the first Star Wars.

Expectations were high yet it underperformed to those expectations. Ultimately Disney had to do a 200 million dollar write down, making it a financial disaster for them.

So that's the legacy of what is really quite an enjoyable film.

Now Player Two has entered the game.

Peter Jackson, mega money spinner for the studios a la Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, got his hands on the rights to Phil Reeve's Mortal Engines novel a decade ago and has quietly bided his time to get it made following the saga he went through making The Hobbit trilogy.

So, now we have the Peter Jackson produced, Christian Rivers directed film made by the same team that made King Kong, Lord of the Rings, The Lovely Bones and The Hobbit plus twenty years of experience doing visual effects for many Hollywood films.

Plenty of Oscar winners amongst them.

What could go wrong?

Well, Mortal Engines tanked just like John Carter did.

So much so, given that it was a high profile effort like Disney that it will become just as infamous.

How did this occur?

There are several things that can go into this answer, most of it subjective.

The first is that starting a new franchise like this is a gamble. With great risk can come great reward and Universal Studios backed Peter Jackson to deliver them buckets of cash.

The risk, in this case, is there was not an already LARGE established and well baked in fan base.

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit had been in popular culture for 50 odd years.

Transformers has been around since the early 80s.

So they will get bums on seats, pretty much no matter what.

You get the idea.

Mortal Engines?

It was a well-received novel which had a smallish but not worldwide fan base. Sure, it did well enough for Reeve to do three excellent sequels but the average Joe and Janette had probably not heard of it.

So convincing people to see a film about a book where a giant city roams a scorched Earth looking to eat other cities is a big task.

So let's hand over to the Marketing department.

One of the reasons the film failed was arguably it was marketed quite poorly. And if that's the case, the blame falls on Universal and not Peter Jackson.

While we praised it publically, the first Mortal Engines trailer was utter garbage. Other than showing how huge and daunting a prospect London is, it just * felt * bad. 

Something was off on it. 

There was a lot of exposition and it felt like it was Hunger Games, Twilight or a Maze Runner Clone.

Movies of which time and the audience have moved on from.

So, many people dismissed it off the bat as a 'teenager' movie.

At the time we felt there was too much focus on Hester and not enough on what we KNEW would be the drawcard, that of Stephan Lang's Shrike. On seeing that character's absence we knew they were holding Shrike back which we figured was a mistake based on what we were seeing.

When the second trailer came, Shrike was there, looking pretty menacing as a zombie-like Terminator.

However, the impact was lost.

Shrike should have been played up big time. The marketing could have been a play on the HUNT FOR HESTER by SHRIKE not some damn generic love story we'd seen before.

If PJ and company had not played it safe with Hester's scar, they made have had another way in. Would people have been curious to see a movie about a hideously scarred character?

hester scar comparison
What could have been and what was...
Maybe?

Either way, the generic Hester (played by a talented but basically no-name actress) was not enough to pull in viewers.

Nor was the extremely talented Robbie Shehan as Tom - check out his turn in The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, the lad can truly act when given the right material. 

Hugo Weaving is a talented actor and has appeared in many a popular film but is he actually a box office draw as a stand-alone actor?

I don't believe so.

Don't get me wrong, he's fantastic and did a great job as Thaddeus Valentine but people don't line up to see Hugo Waving films. They line up to see films he's in...

So basically I'm saying there was a lack of star power present in the marketing to draw the casual moviegoer into seeing the film, especially when they'd been presented a fairly uninspiring first trailer.

Arguably the second also gave away the film's plot... and it also featured some garbage about joining a 'rebellion'.

Hmmm, that sounds familiar...

Was this a Star Wars movie?

Actually, it turned out to be and it seems a lot of people had a problem with this...

Now let's just state at this point we loved the Mortal Engines film. We knew what it was going in so expectations were set.

Casual filmgoers were hooked on the promise of a "Peter Jackson" movie which in many minds probably meant they were supposed to see something as good as District 9 or Return of the King.

Sorry folks, you got ... Mortal Engines with some Star Wars plots thrown in.

And this for some reason upset a lot of people. It was criticized for borrowing ideas from a movie that famously borrowed ideas from many other movies.

Go figure, the film crowd is a fickle thing.

So of the movie? Critics hated it.

They savaged it.

But what of the people who saw the movie as movie goers? 

This is where the film suffers. It's a kind of love it or hate it film. This is based on my following of assessments of the film by people on Twitter for the last two weeks.

Interestingly, a lot of comments was of people who went in cold, with no expectations was they really enjoyed it.

That said, some people simply thought it was a turd.

And that's OK.

This does, however, add up to the movie having a lower positive word of mouth than other critically panned movies have had. Tom Hardy's Venom was trashed by critics yet it did wonders at the box office - fans loved it, so it had good word of mouth - an established fan base sure helped too.

So poor word of mouth will have harmed the movie's chances.

We sure tried our best.


The timing of the film's release was curious 


The release of Mortal Engines in early December seems smart for a Tent Pole Peter Jackson production.

Except it went up against what is probably one of the strongest December release schedules in many a year.

  • Aquaman, with a built in fan base featuring a hugely popular actor.
  • Bumblebee, built in fan base featuring a hugely popular actor.
  • Mary Poppins Returns, with a built in fan base featuring a hugely popular actress.
  • And SPIDER MAN! Something, something... built in fan base, featuring a hugely popular character.

So four films which many people will prefer to see over a film they have never really heard much about.

The studio will have known this, and recognized it 6 months prior to release yet they did nothing. This means they were accepting that the film would fail well before the final cut was done.

Think about that. 

All this adds up to a distinct box office failure which is a shame because, like John Carter, Mortal Engines is a fun film, that many people would likely have enjoyed if they had given it a shot.

Will there be a sequel? Given this film's failure to make bank, we can be fairly confident that the idea is as dead as London's engines.

How Mortal Engines is a cult classic

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

How Mortal Engines can become a cult classic film 


If one can call a movie that had a rumored US 100 million production budget a cult classic, Mortal Engines is destined to become one.

But what is a cult classic?

It can be a film that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society.

It wasn't just passed over once when first released, instead, people keep coming back to it, they celebrate it. 

Think Dune, Rocky Horror Picture Show, the original Mad Max, THX-1138, Eraserhead, The Big Lebowski, The Princess Bride, Barbarella. Blues Brothers, Pulp Fiction, and Plan 9 from Outerspace. Boba Fett was a cult figure in the Star Wars fandom too.

Not only is it that the film has a following, but it might also be that it didn't necessarily have an immediate and accepting audience. There may be an element of subculture appeal.

Steampunk is a subculture, right?

Enter Mortal Engines.

This film will be remembered as a flop for producer Peter Jackson and director Christian Rivers.

Which kind of helps the 'ignored by the world at large' movie thing.

But it will also be remembered for some amazing things contained in the movie.

The batshit insane concept alone is enough for this film to be remembered but the CGI of London was something that had never been done before.

It was a completely original vision that had been rendered to the screen by the Jackson production team.

It will be a cult classic because in many ways it is as corny as any corny film that has been before. It's so earnest it parts the movie doesn't know how hysterically funny it is. But it has its charm and so it works.

It will also likely be a classic because it is forever tied to Peter Jackson so people will likely discover the movies for themselves for years to come.

Time will tell.

↠ What are 'Stalkers' in Mortal Engines?

Monday, April 5, 2021

What are the Stalker Soldiers in Mortal Engines?

CAUTION: EPIC SPOILERS BELOW FOR BOTH BOOK AND FILM


The Stalkers of Mortal Engines are a kind of 'universal soldier' combatant that can be programmed for warfare and assassination.

Stalkers and their variations play various parts in each of Philip Reeve's Quartet of Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain.

What are the origins of the Stalkers?


Stalkers originally were designed as mechanisms for humans to transfer their consciousness from one body to another, thus defeating death. The human mind could literally be saved to hard drive and then transferred into the body of another human.

It was long after the events of 60 Minute War that 'old technology; was adapted to make Stalkers into emotionless monsters to serve at the whim of their masters.

Often referred to as 'Resurrected Men' Stalkers were originally were built by the Nomadic Empires that battled each other across the volcano maze of what was once Europe long before the Traction Cities Era began.

The Nomadic Empires built Stalkers by recovering dead bodies from the battlefields, placing them in laboratories and then bringing them back 'life' by using 'Old Tech' machines that were physically connected to the dead body's nervous system. This practiced continued on unto the Traction City Era.

The bodies were also operated on so internal organs were no longer necessary. The designers also would graft on a metal carapace to the body. Weapons could be implanted into the body and the use of claws was a common feature. 

In the film, Shrike did not have claws, whereas he did in the novel.

The best subjects were taller specimens and they looked a scary sight with their glowing green eyes that all Stalkers had.

Stalkers are generally considered emotionless automatons, only acting at the will of their Masters.

Once a dead human is resurrected as a Stalker, they have no feelings, display no emotions and they will not have any memory of who they were before they died. Any past memories are jumbled messes and lost glimpses of their former life.

In Mortal Engines, the City of London manufactures its own Stalkers.

The London Guild of Engineers builds new Stalkers from dead prison convicts at their experimental prison in the Deep Gut. These particular Stalkers are not considered as refined as the infamous 'Shrike' due to the use of less sophisticated stalker-brains, the devices used in the brains and nerves of Stalkers.

The origins of these Resurrected Men, begin to be explained in the first prequel in the Mortal Engines series, Fever Crumb. Scrivener's Moon expands on the details as well,

shrike grike mortal engines
Shrike was played in the film by Stephen Lang.


What is the Shrike in Mortal Engines?


The 'Shrike' was the first Stalker to be mentioned in the original Mortal Engines book.

His character was under the control of the Mayor of London Traction City, Magnus Chrome. Chrome used the Shrike to find Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy and he was ordered to kill them.

At face value, this seemed a straightforward plot point however it was later revealed that The Shrike had once looked after Hester in a past life.

Due to his emotionally retarded state, his own goal in life was to turn Hester into a Stalker like himself, so they could live together forever.

In terms of memory retention, Shrike appears to be the exception to the rule as was able to recall his past life as 'Kit Solent' shortly before his death at the hands of Tom Natsworthy by sword. Kit Solent's tale and how he became a Stalker of the Lazarus Brigade was covered in the prequel novel, Fever Crumb.

In the film Shrike is played by veteran actor Stephan Lang - you may remember him as the evil general in Avatar.

>> Stuck for yeast when making beer? You can ferment your beer with baker's yeast! <<

Are Stalkers invulnerable?


Stalkers are heavily protected by their armour and but vulnerable to small arms fire and hand-held weaponry.

Due to their 'programming' they do not feel any pain as their nervous systems are rendered. This means they are pretty handy in hand to hand combat as even if their opponent is able to stab them or cause injury, they will not feel it and be able to continue to fight and thus increasing their chances of winning.

In Mortal Engines, Tom Natsworthy did manage to kill the Shrike Stalker with a sword by impaling it through his neck. The Shrike was however suffering from some performance issues as he'd actually been run over by a Traction City!

hester and shrike

But there's a reason Stalkers are known as Resurrected Men....

Anna Fang as a Stalker in the sequel novels


In Mortal Engines, Anna Fang was Tom and Hester's rescuer from the Shrike when he originally caught up with them on Airhaven.

Despite her heroics, Fang was ultimately killed by the dastardly Thaddeus Valentine in a sword fight.

In Predator's Gold it was revealed that a splinter group of the famed Anti Traction League called Green Storm had recovered Fang's body and applied the Stalker Resurrection techniques to it.

Green Storm had intended that the revived Anna Fang would lead them in battle against the remaining Traction Cities.

Eventually, the resurrected Fang stalker would take part in many battles and features in Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain where her character wreaks some pretty spectacular havoc using the ODIN device.

The Shrike concept art from Mortal Engines
Shrike fan art


Extra for Experts (spoilers):
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