It would have been fun to talk about how Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” movies are a beautifully artificial fantasy, a tinkerer’s homemade storybook, a larger-than-life tribute to silent cinema and a return to the obsessive world in which Jackson can’t help but live. But those movies are loved by more people than just me! People love to see stories they know already, ideas and aesthetics with which they’re already familiar.
The reason “Mortal Engines” failed despite superficial similarities to Peter Jackson’s adventure yarns and his name in the credits is that this was not a world most moviegoers had visited, and though it’s filled with the kind of action most people would recognize from “Star Wars,” it isn’t “Star Wars.” That’s how it goes now. You can get close, it seems, but without the names you’ve got nothing but a potential future cult movie. I always have high hopes for movies like this because I want desperately for competition to edge out established names and stories. It’s only movies like this, with personality to spare and cockeyed intrusions in established formulae, that offer any credible competition now. I wanted better for “Mortal Engines,” but I’m not surprised America let it down.