30 years ago Christian Rivers wrote Peter Jackson a fan letter and now he's directing 'Mortal Engines' for him

Tom Butler
Senior Editor

Peter Jackson’s dystopian Mortal Engines arrives in cinemas this weekend, with previews from 8 December ahead of its wide release on 14 December. An adaptation of the Philip Reeve books, Mortal Engines is about a young girl who seeks to uncover the truth behind her mother’s murder, set to the backdrop of giant mobilised cities battling it out in a wasteland.

Although Jackson’s name is on the marketing for the film, the Lord of the Rings maestro isn’t directing this time around. He’s co-written the film with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and he’s producer, but the honour of directing this mega-sized blockbuster fell to first-time filmmaker Christian Rivers.

Rivers will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s devoured the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit behind-the-scenes extras where he served under Jackson, first as visual effects supervisor, then as a second unit director.

Explaining why he felt it was time for his protégé to step up to the plate, Jackson tells Yahoo that he felt that Rivers had paid his dues.

“We have worked with Christian [Rivers] for 25 years,” Jackson explains in our interview above.

“He wrote me my first fan letter when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy after Bad Taste came out, so… 1988? So Christian’s been part of our filmmaking world ever since and he’s really earned his right to direct a film.”

Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) looks out at the giant mobile city of London where she seeks an audience with the man who killed her mother (Universal)

Jackson hired Rivers as a storyboard artist on his 1992 comedy horror Braindead, and has worked on every one of his subsequent films, including 2005’s King Kong for which he won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Rivers moved up to directing on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug where – as second unit director – he shot the film’s standout barrel escape scene.

He took time away from Jackson to shoot second unit of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, before Jackson lured him back with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Peter Jackson asked me if I would direct [Mortal Engines],” Rivers tells us, “so I kinda thought well I’m either going to say ‘yes’ or I should go do something else for a living!”

Christian Rivers in the 78th Academy Awards press room with his Oscar in 2006 (Rex)

“I jumped in the deep end,” he adds, “and the water was deeper and colder and thicker than i’d ever imagined it would be, but I had a good life support crew around me and it was Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens.”

Mortal Engines is an epic movie in every sense of the world, every bit as huge in scope as Jackson’s Middle Earth-set adventures. Having seen the film with a degree of separation from the project Jackson – who admits he was rarely on set – says he thinks Rivers did a better job than ever could have.

“I don’t know how I would have done it better, he’s done a superb job,” Jackson says.

“It’s a great movie.”

Mortal Engines, starring Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang is in U.K. cinemas from 8 December. Watch the trailer below.

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