My favorite summer novel to reread each year is Steve Alten's Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. It's the perfect book to take out on a beach or poolside, something light and fun, but easy to set aside when it's time to hit the water. I brought it with me to Florida every year, reading it while my parents water walked around the community pool.
Now, just because I read it every summer does not mean I think it's well written. Far from it. Every character seems to have walked off the pages of a catalog filled with cliched personalities, the subplots are silly (especially the evil wife trying to drive her husband, the hero of the story, insane to make a divorce more acceptable to her viewers) and the budding romance between main character Jonas Taylor and the very young Terry Tanaka makes no sense outside of a male fantasy.
Instead, in the movie, she walks in on him wearing a towel.
But when the giant prehistoric shark appears, the novel becomes a lot of fun. And the ending... Well, we'll get to that.
After being in development hell since 1997, the story arrived on the big screen last year as The Meg, a Chinese-American co-production. And, while it's nice to see another killer shark movie make it into theaters, the film missed the mark, making it a so-so CGI fest with no real thrills or cheesy fun.
The story starts as Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) and his crew are performing a deep sea rescue on a disabled submarine. As the rescue progresses, Jonas realized the sub is being attacked by an extremely large predator, causing him to sacrifice two of his crew to save the survivors. His reasonable action leads to one of the survivors, Dr. Heller, to claim he was suffering from pressure induced psychcosis. Jonas quits and heads to Thailand, where his main occupation seems to be heavy drinking.
Five years later, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) leads an attempt to dive below the assumed depth of the Mariana Trench, theorizing the "bottom" is a thermocline of hydrogen sulfide. Launching from a research facility build by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), the submarine, piloted by Jonas' ex- wife Lori (Jessica McNamee), discovers a new ecosystem before it is attacked by a large inhabitant of the region and is disabled.
As Jonas is one of the only pilots to successfully perform a rescue effort at such depths, Zhang and James "Mac" Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) fly to Thailand to convince Jonas to attempt a rescue. He agrees, after learning Lori is involved, but Zhang's daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) takes off on a potential suicide attempt to tow the sub back to the surface. Once he arrives, Jonas meets Suyin's daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai), and (as expected) the two form a bond. Meiying tells Jonas her mother is single, recovering from a bad marriage (how convenient) and he promised to bring her back. Diving at dangerous speeds, despite the warnings of Dr. Heller, who is a staff member on the station, Jonas arrives as Suyin's submersible is attack by a giant squid, only to be "rescued" by a megalodon, which begins attacking anything with a light source.
Sure, she's a cute movie kid.
But it's kind of creepy how she's trying to set her mom up
with a total stranger she calls "crazy."
Jonas rescues most of the members of the sub, but one member stays behind to draw the predator's attention. As expected, Jonas is accused of abandoning the rescue too early, but a megalodon traveled through a thermal vent created by Jonas' escape and is now attacking boats. Jonas and the crew track down and kill the predator, only to discover a second giant shark also came up through the vent.
And, as expected, mayhem ensues.
It's nice how all the inner tubes are brightly colored,
to help the meg find it's prey.
Alas, that's when the problems ensue as well.
Okay, the cast is fine for an giant shark action flick. Jonas and Suyin's romance feels less forced (but not by much) than the novel, but only because she's a divorced single mother and not a 20-something lounging on a research ship in a bikini. The script is full of nice moments of heroism, sacrifice and dickishness, and the actor's do a fine job with what they have. But the script plays things too straight and misses the chance to deliver some cheesy fun and spooky thrills.
Let's talk about the lack of cheesy fun first. While Wilson has some humorous lines early on, such goofiness is abandoned once the shark action starts. I didn't expect a full out cheese fest similar to some of the Syfy shark movies, but dealing with a giant, prehistoric shark should allow the screenwriters to indulge in some fun concerning the premise. While the film has some humorous homages to the granddaddy of shark films, Jaws, the actors are forced to play it too straight, to the film's detriment.
And the script doesn't even try to be scary. For example, the shot from the poster is creepy. Person floating on an inner tube,unaware of the GIANT shark about to swallow her. That would have been an intense moment in the film, but it never shows up. You do see the shark swimming underneath a beach-load of people in the final act, as it finds a populated coastal town on which to snack. But all the attacks happen at the speed of CGI, which means it happens too fast to see little more than an impression of the shark's mayhem. It's all high speed jump scares, no little moments that creep up on you.
And the CGI gives the film a very unrealistic sense. Statham is in the water with a GIANT SHARK, yet he somehow is never swallowed by the creature. Sure, the film has some "reasonable" explanation why he avoids being shark kibble, but it just never look believable.
Oh sure, a boat's winch is going to keep you alive.
Better to have a big hook tied to you,
as you're little more than a shark lure pulled through the water.
The film also doesn't even try to explain why the meg is hunting humans, little more than a tiny morsel for the giant beast. It makes more sense for the shark to be hunting whales (which it does early on), which would make a more satisfying meal for the energy exerted. Instead, the film focuses on the creature chomping down humans, whether in a cluster or singularly. The script could have had some fun explaining how the meg is now acting more like a baleen whale, opening wide and swallowing hordes of swimmer whole. Instead, all we get is the shark thrashing about, trying to chomp down on puny prey that would be little more than an appetizer.
And seriously, the giant shark is swimming away from a helicopter?
Mega Shark took out a passenger plane, and this shark is
afraid of a chopper?
The film is further hampered by the PG-13 rating. Okay, I'm on record saying that I don't think a rating determines how good or scary a movie is, as plenty of PG and PG-13 deliver on the thrills and chills. But The Meg is more bloodless than most of the made-for-Syfy shark movies, which lessens the impact of the attacks. And it leads to my main complaint concerning the adaptation, as it ignores the ending of the novel for a more CGI-action conclusion. So, SPOILERS ahead for the novel, not the film.
In the novel, Jonas saves the day by driving a submersible down the throat of the meg, exiting the vehicle while in the shark's stomach and claws around the human filled content of the creature's GI tract. He cuts his way out of the stomach and reaches the shark's heart, slashing it apart and saving the day before exiting the shark's mouth via the submersible's exit pod.
Sure, that would have most likely pushed the rating into R territory, but it's better than the film's ending. It makes more sense than Statham enacting an outrageous moment from a Fast and Furious sequel.
CGI makes everyone Superman.
Even if the moment defies physics and believability.
End of SPOILERS.
In fact, Statham complained to Collider about the film's neutering at the hands of the studio, who wanted the film to reach the widest audience possible. It's not a bad decision, given the film's budget, but the film is just too tame to appeal to an audience who've watched blood-soaked shark movies on cable (you can read Statham's concerns about the rating here).
The Meg does have some fun moments. But given the insane escapes from the maw of the shark made capable by CGI, the lack of the script having any fun with the basic concept, and the absence of any bloody violence, the film just falls flat. To say a feature film released in theaters pales compared to the monster shark movies flooding cable channels should sum up how this film fails.
Oh, wait, this thing is attracted to light?
Someone cut off the damn power NOW!