Fans of the "Mortal Engines" books have started a petition to keep heroine Hester's facial disfigurements, instead of the less drastic scarring we see in trailers featuring Hera Hilmar as the character.
The books describe Hester as "a portrait that had been furiously crossed out.... Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump, and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as grey and chill as a winter sea."
The petition states that they don't want Hester to merely have a nasty facial scar, but to be the rare heroic film character with a severe disfigurement:
"Hester Shaw is ugly. She is disfigured, with facial paralysis resulting in a 'permanent sneer, and only a snub of a nose'... I can live with her having two eyes for dramatic effect. What worries me is erasing her scar, and with it, her disability.... Disfigured characters are rare in Hollywood. Disfigured female characters are rarer. And in both cases, they are almost always villains. Hester Shaw is important representation for people with scars and disfigurements, and her journey is important to them."
The disfigured villains they refer to include Dr. Poison in "Wonder Woman," as noted in this Teen Vogue article.
Peter Jackson, who is producing the film, and his protege Christian Rivers, responded to these concerns. Rivers told EW, "I think people just need to see the film and hope they enjoy the film and understand the decisions that we made and why we made them."
Rivers's explanation is not winning him any points with critics so far. He tells EW that if Hester were as disfigured in the book, the hero (Robert Sheehan) would hardly fall in love with her, now would he?
"It’s fine in the book for Hester to be described to be ugly, hideous, and have lost a nose ‘cause, even that, you reimagine it in your own mind as, ‘Okay, yeah, she’s ugly, but she’s not really ugly. Tom falls in love with her… and film is a visual medium. With a book you can take what you want and reimagine it in your head and put together your own picture. But when you put it on film, you are literalizing it. You are making it a literal thing, so it was just finding a balance where we need to believe that Tom and Hester fall in love. And her scar does need to be disfiguring enough that she thinks she’s ugly — it can’t just be a little scratch — and I think we’ve struck a good balance of it."
He says that the scar is still significant: "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. It’s not a nice, clean knife streak..."
Jackson added that they didn't want the scar to "totally overwhelm the character."
Rivers elaborated that audiences would be "put off the film" if it were more true to the books. "They probably wouldn’t want to admit that, but they would [be put off] to the point where Tom and Hester stop bonding. You actually just wouldn’t react [in the same way],"e said. “It’s kind of a PC thing to say, but it is the reality of film being a cinematic medium."
"Mortal Engines" opens in theaters December 14.