At this point, I feel like I’m repeating myself. In a couple recent reviews, I’ve bored you all to death with lil anecdotes about my love of sharks as a kid and my fear of the deep ocean due to NOT KNOWING WHAT THE FUCK IS DOWN THERE! I strongly believe that there are…things…living down there that would boggle our little brains…and possibly kill us, given the chance. One of those potential beasts, going back to my obsessive fascination with sharks as an 8 year old, was the devastatingly awesome Carcharodon Megalodon; a monstrous, whale-shredding ancestor of the modern Great White the length of a city block. Even back in the day, as a wee lad, I knew that we hadn’t seen all there was to see..under the sea…you see? The remote possibility of Nature finding a way (thank you, Dr. Malcolm!), down in the pitch-black, crushing depths was (and is) never far from my paranoid and over-imaginative little mind. In 1997, I came across a new novel by a novice writer named Steven Alten, named ‘Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror’. Being a horror fiction buff and maintaining a sick ‘what if’ frame of mind about the chances of one (or more!) of these scary bastards existing in our time, I scored a copy and gave it a gander. If you’re into ‘Nature Run Amok’ stories like ‘Jaws’, this would be right up your alley. It’s not a perfect story, by any stretch, both in mechanics and content, but as a piece of unnerving horror pulp fiction, it does the trick. One thing that I remember, and liked, was the sense of dread Alten gave the story, on an almost visceral level. The idea of a prehistoric killing machine of massive size being driven insane (by catastrophic pressure change) and embarking on a mass killing spree through the ocean shallows is a legitimately scary one and he makes the most of that scenario. Who the hell knows what kind of an effect pollution and climate change will have on the ocean depths…and what it might force to the surface. The book is also written in a way that makes me think Alten had a future movie deal in mind, and which probably contributed to the film rights being snatched up right away. But after that, it swerved into what’s known as ‘development hell’, where it languished for years, with various upper-tier actors and directors attached at one time or another. But then…at long last…the stars aligned, and 2018 saw an adaptation of Steven Alten’s ‘novel of deep terror’ released at the very tail end of the Summer Blockbuster Season.
‘The Meg’ opens with a cool scene during the deep-sea rescue of survivors from a downed US nuclear submarine, in which rescue pilot ‘Jonas’ (Jason Statham) is forced to leave two fellow divers behind as SOMETHING HUGE attacks the operation, nearly killing everybody. Having narrowly escaped, we catch up 5 years later, as a heavily drinking ‘Jonas’ is called back into the depths from his back-water refuge in Thailand by his old friend ‘Mac’ (Cliff Curtis) and the Chinese commander of the Manna One deep-sea research lab, ‘Zhang’ (Winston Chao), who arrive with news that ‘Jonas’ ex -wife and two colleagues are trapped at an uncharted depth and have possibly been attacked by something like what ‘Jonas’ has been claiming he saw for 5 years. Naturally it turns out that he’s right and they piss off / entice a gigantic 70 foot long Megalodon shark, that begins to stalk it’s way across the ocean toward a heavily populated beach. The race is on…who will win?!…and what will be left of everybody else?!!
This is schlock, pure and simple. At it’s core, it’s not much further ahead than those moronic SyFy / The Asylum pieces of shit like ‘Two-Headed Shark Attack’ and ‘Sharknado’. But then again, the original source material is schlock too…schlock that took itself fairly seriously, which brings me to my first issue. ‘The Meg’ is tonally inconsistent. There are scenes that do a decent job conveying the terror and the stress of the situation, but they’re off-balanced by too many oddly-timed moments of levity. The book, in my opinion and from what I remember, is pure horror / adventure, where the movie is closer to lightly comedic adventure movie territory, that just happens to feature giant sharks. When I first heard about the possibility of a film adaptation of the first book ( of which there’s now 9!), my sick ass got excited by the possibility of an unapologetically R-Rated take on the material. It’s a horror novel…make it a horror movie! I’m already a chicken-shit, when it comes to the deep ocean, but I wanted to be scared / entertained a little more; vicariously through a grim and bloody telling of the tale of the crazed dino-shark that kills everything in its path. I didn’t get that here. I also didn’t get much in the way of good acting. Most of the cast was somewhat passable, with actors like Rainn Wilson and Ruby Rose showing up to play along, but there was two Asian characters that irritated the hell out of me. Chinese actress Bingbing Li plays ‘Suyin’, the supposed love interest for Statham’s character, and she is absolutely terrible! It may be an ‘English as a Second Language’ type of thing, but nothing about her character worked for me. Stilted performances, idiotic dialogue and zero chemistry with Statham doomed her role. Her character also has a kid, this sugary-sweet little girl who is just…there…for some reason. They both grated on my nerves and I know this won’t be a popular opinion…but I wanted The Meg to eat them both! But being a PG-13 Rated flick…there was no chance of that. Which sucks, as I recently read an interview with director Jon Turteltaub (‘National Treasure’) where he talks about all the gory and violent death scenes that WERE FILMED, but ended up on the cutting room floor, to make sure to secure the family-friendlyish rating to get more paying asses in theatre seats. Money talks, folks! They’ve made some serious deviations to the story, but they would’ve been easier to overlook if they’d kept more of the bloody ‘shredded meat’ tone of the book. Something else that I found annoying about this movie was the in-your-faceness of the Chinese involvement in the film’s production. In recent years, Hollywood has come to realize that China, with it’s massive population, generates a vast chunk of their income and has therefore hopped into bed with the Chinese market, tailoring films to Chinese audiences and more importantly, state-sponsored investors. I’m all for global community and accepting other cultures, but the Chinese, these days, are not a force to be blindly trusted. This is not a racist thing…it’s an ‘observing their performance on the world stage’ sort of thing. They’re shrewd, calculating and determined. Oh…and Communist, which is a system of government that history has simply shown rarely yields anything truly positive, for the country and those under it’s influence. This is not aimed at the average Chinese citizen, but it is aimed at the self-serving and far-reaching Chinese government, who seem to be bending Hollywood over a little and having American movies tweaked specifically to adhere to a rigid and often unreasonable code of censorship for the Chinese people. But those people have money…and they like American movies…so the US studios just take it. I don’t recall there being any Chinese influence in the book (granted, I’ve only read the first 3…and a while ago), but there WAS a Japanese component. But in this adaptation, China plays a dominant role, right up to the densely-populated beach smorgasbord in the 3rd Act, which just happens to be a specifically Chinese tourist beach. Let’s see, what else bugged me…there were also some stupid lapses in logic on the part of some characters. The one that jumps to mind is a sequence in which a helicopter is trying to depth charge The Meg at night (Mistake #1), hovering low enough that each explosion is showering the chopper in water and, in one case and for poorly-timed comedic effect, guts. Explosions like what they show hitting the aircraft would knock it into the ocean. Just illogical, lazy writing…and that wasn’t the only scene guilty of ‘stupid’.
Now, glancing back on my scribbles, you’d think I hated ‘The Meg’. I didn’t. I honestly had a good time with it. Hell, it’s Jason muthafuckin Statham fighting a gigantic dino-shark! You really don’t need too much else. It’s just that the areas where the movie fell short were several and really obvious to me. But I thought the opening rescue scene was cool, the underwater lab (while a bit too ‘Star Trek’y for my taste) was an interesting (if underused) setting, the CG on the shark was often pretty good (not perfect), and there were a couple of genuinely tense moments. I saw it in 3D and while the presentation wasn’t as cool as it could’ve been (they rarely are), I think it did add to the experience. Even though I consider Turteltaub to be a ‘journeyman’ director, there was some very nice cinematography on display, especially in the first Act. But, like most of his other films I’ve seen, there’s no real flair or individuality to the overall style. He turns up, he directs, he earns a pay-cheque…but doesn’t put his ‘stamp’ on his work like directors of Ridley Scott’s or James Cameron’s ilk do.
In a nutshell, ‘The Meg’ is not the adaptation that I was hoping for, but for a mindless Summer popcorn flick, it MOSTLY did the trick (once I shut my phone AND my brain off when it started). I really would’ve preferred they’d attacked the material from more of a gory Horror angle, with less regard for the rating and more for the preservation of the source material’s original grim tone, but for what we got…it could’ve been far worse, as quality goes. It’s a ridiculous Man Against Deadly Nature story, populated by one-dimensional stereotype cut-outs who do many stupid things that get several of them killed, while they spout dumb, on-the-nose dialogue and fight a nasty CG monster fish both on the surface and far beneath. Or, in layman’s terms…it’s ‘Jason muthafuckin Statham fighting a giant dino-shark!’ If that’s all you need…you’ll be well served by this flick. Given the schlocky nature and mostly pedestrian presentation, I think you could be forgiven for giving ‘The Meg’ a pass in the theatre. But if you happen to catch it on a quiet tipsy Friday or a bored (or stoned) Sunday afternoon on Netflix…it’s a fun time-waster.
*I can’t see myself going out of my way to check this one out again, but Turteltaub’s talk of scenes of shark-induced violence and gore being trimmed out of the Theatrical Version give me hope for an Unrated Extended Cut on Blu ray…I freely admit that curiosity WILL get the better of me.