I’ve been itching to see The Meg since the advertising campaign kicked into high gear in April. I read the book when it was first published, several years ago and the trailers seemed to indicate something of a lighter tone being taken than that of the source material. In fact, the trailers seemed to be playing up a comedic aspect, which I wasn’t sure would’ve worked from what I remember of the book. But as the trailers were played at the multiplex practically every time I’ve been there – and I’ve been there often – the lure of the film, whatever tone they were taking, became irresistible.
I like a shark movie, though oddly enough, I’ve never seen any of the Sharknado films. There’s cheese and there’s cheese. I prefer mine not be THAT ripe. But over the past couple of years, I’ve especially enjoyed The Shallows and 47 Meters Down, so I guess there’s an emerging trend for a summer shark movie on theatrical release. Having said that, both those movies had a sense of realism that just doesn’t exist in The Meg. Though the megalodon was indeed a real creature before extinction beckoned over 2 million years ago, it was unrivalled in the ocean as a predator. It was the largest shark that ever existed, measuring approximately 75 feet long. A true monster in every sense of the word.
The film also gleefully ignores any scientific reality that might slow down or hinder the telling of this particular tall tale. Thus, divers are able to plunge straight down to the bottom depths of the Mariana Trench which is the deepest known part of any ocean on Earth, then penetrate a layer of frozen gas which we have previously recorded as the trench floor, and plunge down even deeper. They’re also able to happily surface straight up without having to slowly depressurise without suffering fatal decompression. Even the sheer weight of water down there isn’t a problem for them, as it simply doesn’t get a mention. In reality, every diver in the first third of the film would be dead and every submersible would be crushed like eggs. Despite the fact that sunlight wouldn’t penetrate that deep, everything down in the trench is a lovely shade of bright blue. Almost as blue as the vivid Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series, where no matter how deep the Seaview dove, everything was clear and blue. There never was a need for that spotlight on the ship’s nose. Interestingly, the megalodon itself was an albino in the book, due to the lack of light, in the film – it’s coloured like a great white.
As far as action movies about sharks go, Jaws is still head, shoulders and fin above just about every other shark movie ever made. The Meg isn’t in its league, but truthfully, I don’t think it was ever meant to be. It’s less jaws, more Jaws meets Deep Blue Sea with a touch of the 1961 monster movie Gorgo. (If you haven’t seen Gorgo, or The Meg – don’t look that reference up, it’s a spoiler.)
The Meg isn’t a comedy by any means, but an action adventure sci-fi monster movie with its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. The film seems to have been made with a full awareness that it is at its core a good, old fashioned B-movie creature feature with an A-movie budget.
Like Deep Blue Sea, it all kicks off on a remote deep-sea research facility, where a submersible is testing out the theory that the bottom of the Mariana Trench isn’t really the bottom – it can be penetrated (quite easily, it seems) as it’s a layer of semi solid gas, and underneath that, there’s a whole new ecosystem. The submersible is attacked by something large, and is left helpless and damaged with its crew of three on board, thus prompting a rescue mission.
The only man for the job is Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a discredited rescue diver who claims to have encountered something large and mysterious on a previous mission when he was attempting to rescue the crew of a nuclear sub. Basically, Taylor has encountered the Meg before and nobody believed him. As one of the sunken ship’s crew is his ex-wife, Taylor has no option but to reluctantly agree to come out of retirement and take this mission.
Naturally, as the layer of frozen gas between the ocean and the world below is temporarily ruptured as the subs go in and out, the megalodon comes through to the open sea before the rupture seals itself and there the problems really begin.
Statham, it has to be said, isn’t the world’s greatest actor- but what he does in films like this, The Expendables and the latter Fast & Furious films, he does well. This is the first movie I’ve seen him in where his role doesn’t pivot around his martial arts skills. But appearances of the seventy-five feet long shark mean that he gets ample opportunities to take his shirt off and swim around like a superhero in a wetsuit – even seemingly achieving superhuman speeds. But, if you’re going in to the movie prepared to accept a prehistoric shark on the loose, you’ll have no problem swallowing Statham’s underwater prowess equalling Aquaman’s.
But in among Statham’s steely gaze and set jaw action scenes, there are some well-constructed scenes which will make you feel a bit uneasy. Particularly, the scene where the shark comes slowly into view through a Perspex wall, and you realise that it’s there, watching and waiting.
I’m not a particular fan or advocate of 3D, but I made a special effort to see The Meg in that format. I’m of the opinion that 3D works best in either scenes set in space, or underwater. To me, the best 3D film experience I ever had was Gravity, and the one regret I have about not seeing a film in its original red and blue 3D process was Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954 -six years before I was born). I would’ve loved to have seen that at the cinema. But The Meg largely bears out my theory of underwater sequences lending themselves very well to 3D, particularly in use of depth of field, and the sudden appearance of a megalodon with its mouth wide open work very well for a jolt, and the crowd scenes where the shark has a virtual all you can eat buffet are really effective.
Yes, it’s ridiculous in parts – it’s a big, dumb summer blockbuster popcorn movie. It’s not a National Geographic documentary, it’s a fantasy. A harmless diversion, mindless entertainment with cheesy eighties action movie dialogue delivered deadpan and great special effects. Accept that and you’ll have a great time. I certainly did.
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