Did you drive by a billboard for Mortal Engines and think 'What is that?'
Maybe you saw this headline and looked at the image and had the same question. Maybe you saw the trailer and wondered as well.
The answer is it's a would-be blockbuster from Universal based on a series of adventure novels, directed by Peter Jackson's longtime visual effects supervisor and Oscar winner Christian Rivers.
According to Indiewire, the epic cost Universal a reported 110 million and opened globally to only 42 million. It is, in other words, a pretty big bomb.
This in and of itself is nothing new or unique to making movies. Big swings often lead to big misses. Not only is it part of the game, but it's part of the plan. Even when movies "make" money, they'd really rather be losing them and so they often find ways to report that.
This is called Hollywood accounting.
A loss as big as the one Mortal Engines is headed for is also a nice place to write off some profit somewhere else.
But there is another side to the question you might have asked when you saw advertising material for Mortal Engines. Because the loss here may be far bigger than the loss of dollars, which as we've pointed out isn't so rough for any of the parties involved.
The real loss might be that some serious money was ponied up for some lesser known intellectual property. This wasn't betting on an established brand like Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, or Spiderman. It was betting on something people would see and wonder "what is that?"
The desire to answer that question simply wasn't strong enough.
Every time that happens, for whatever reason, it's a blow against the hope for new creative. Because surely we all don't need to be reminded that before Star Wars was Star Wars, it was something some random person might see an ad for and say "What is that?"
We haven't lost the ability to have our collective curiosity lead the way, just look at Game of Thrones. The mainstream has loved learning more about that world, and discovering the "what is that."
There are many factors at work here, obviously. The IP itself, the crafting of the story, the crafting of the ad campaign.
But whenever a relatively new seeming concept goes down this way, we are all reminded that it's tough for new ideas to come up and thrive in the world, and even if we aren't super interested in them at first glance, we might be doing all our fellow creators a solid by checking them out just on principle.
Because the movies are better when we find ourselves asking "What's that?" more often.