Peter Jackson explains the choice for Hester Shaw's scar

Wednesday, June 6, 2018
hester's movie scar face

Why Hollywood toned down Hester Shaw's scar 

You may have noticed the outcry on the release of the full Mortal Engines trailer that Hester Shaw doesn't have a hugely abhorrent scar that crosses her eye as she does in the novel. For the book, this scar is central to the identity of character Hester Shaw.

Author Philip Reeve explains why he went this route in the book as he said in an interview:

"I didn't want it to be a little cosmetic scar - the Hollywood way of dealing with facial disfigurement is always to have somebody who's a bit messed up seen from one angle but is still gorgeous from most others."

He also recently wrote on his blog a piece on his thoughts. He made two key remarks:

"Among the scars which will never heal are my mental scars from having to field 1,000,000 angry comments about Hester’s shortage of physical ones. Actually, I think her scar is surprisingly impressive (it’s been beefed up considerably since I met Hera Hilmar on set last year)."

Classic fans.

And this is the telling bit:

"If I’d been in charge of the movie I would have wanted to extend the scar up across her forehead, and maybe given her an eyepatch – but that’s why I’m never going to be put in charge of a movie.

Beautiful faces are Hollywood’s most precious natural resource, and the studios are very reluctant to let filmmakers muck about with them: they may be in the business of turning money into light, but they want to maximise their chances of eventually turning that light back into money again.

So movie-Hester isn’t ugly, but she’s disfigured enough to believe she’s ugly, and I think Hera’s angry, intense performance will do the rest."

And that seems pretty fair.

There's been so talk on this issue though that a reporter put the issue to producer and writer of the film (and one of New Zealand's finest Hobbits) Peter Jackson:

“There are always going to be fans of the books who are not always going to be in agreement with the decisions we’ve made. The mechanics of the story that we’re telling is that this young woman is scarred and when you first see her, all you’re going to see it the scar,” he said.

"In order to work as a love story, which the film is ultimately about, the storytellers want you to notice the scar less and less by the time the film is over. "The make up artists, therefore, had to create a “delicate balance” as to what is most visually pleasing, while keeping the true essence of the film.

“You are empathising with Hester the character and the scar almost becomes invisible to your eyes. You want that journey for the audience, and if it was too strong, they won’t get to that point at the end”

Director Christian Rivers chipped in too:

“Even though there’s been some criticism for what we’ve done, we know that if she was really hideous and ugly to look at, then a great deal of people who would go to see the film wouldn’t sympathise with her.”

Of the scar itself:

It’s there and it’s in every shot in the film and it’s a deep wound that you just know, ‘F—, that would’ve hurt,'” he said. “It’s not a nice, clean knife streak. She was hit with such force that it cut and tore. There’s always gonna be critics from the literal translation from the books, but it’s an adaptation.”
And that too, seems pretty fair.

The real irony of all of this is that in the second sequel to Mortal Engines, Infernal Devices, Reeve made a joke of Hester's scar in that it would be toned down for a movie!


  1. I'm still in two minds about this. The disfigurement is such a key aspect of the first book, in shaping Hester Shaw's personality, that to 'tone it down' looks like directorial/editorial/[productorial?] cowardice. *Not* downplaying it, therefore, would have won plaudits for the production, and established an iconic role in screen history, if they could pull it off.

    That's the rub, though. On the off chance that the technical side of it worked pefectly, they would still have to find an actor willing to wear all that stuff through a large part of the filming. A compromise during the casting process was almost inevitable.

    If I have one remaining qualm, it is that they picked an actress so damned attractive that she pulls off that lesser scar. To use a crude phrase, you wouldn't kick this Hester out of bed, or even think of it...

    1. I hear what you are saying but I also hear what the director is saying. tyhis film is not being made for fans of the book. It is being made for a broader audience, and therefore has to take into consideration the sensibilities of that broader audience. The result is a compromise on the scar. Remember, movies like this cost millions to make, failing to turn a profit (think "A Wrinkle in Time") could put the kibbosh on future attempts at making these sorts of films. My two cent's worth.

  2. My girlfriend says: This is just another form of 'whitewashing' with a different theme. : ( Regardless of the reason. When art can't reflect and explore the realities and varieties of the real world (some people are really ugly, scarred, disabled, different colours, shapes etc, but still strong and valid, valuable individuals with a right to be represented), nor accurately portray original derivation sources for the same reasons, thus diluting the very heart of a character and their story arc, something is fundamentally wrong. Sigh.

  3. Look at that naked contempt for the audience. Basically saying "We do not trust the audience to empathise with a character who has a visibly disfigured face."


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top