Bravo, Warner Brothers. You hear that? That’s me clapping. I’m applauding you. What for? Well, for The Meg, obviously. Come again? Oh, no, haha. I’m not applauding you because I loved it. Hell no! The sound of my fist meat lazily slapping together is called sarcasm. With a capital S. I’m not just congratulating you for fooling us all with clever marketing and the promise of a fun horror adventure that has little to none of either. I’m also commending you on how impressively you’ve managed to completely mangle the adaptation of a truly horrific horror novel…
…Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) and written by Jon & Erich Hoeber (Battleship), The Meg is based off of author Steve Alten’s novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. The film is about a team of scientists exploring the Mariana Trench. When some of their crew become trapped, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a professional deep sea rescuer, is sent in to save them, only to accidentally unleash a Megalodon, a giant, 70ft shark long thought to be extinct. Now, it’s up to Jonas and his team to stop it.
Before I get into everything that is wrong with The Meg, let’s drop our anchors for a second and have a quick history lesson on the development of this movie. Alten’s book was published in 1997. Almost immediately, the rights were bought up, but trapped in that abyss known as development hell. Then, New Line Cinema got a hold of the rights, and announced a film version to be released in 2008, with names like Guillermo Del Toro attached at one point, only to be cancelled in 2007. Then in 2015, Alten had the rights back, and said a film version of Meg was once again coming. In 2016, some of you horror fiends may remember that Eli Roth (Hostel) was announced as director of the film. But wouldn’t you know it, the studio and Eli had creative differences, and he left the project. Not long after, Turteltaub was announced to direct. So, to sum up, The Meg has been in development for about twenty years, and went down a line of directors from an imaginative genius in Del Toro, to a man who easily could’ve captured the grisly nature of the novel in Roth, to a guy who has spent his career directing nothing but family friendly films in Turteltaub, and a pair of writers that wrote one of the most expensive bombs ever in Battleship. Got all of that?
The Meg and its history of “creative differences” with talent is the perfect example of how so much of Hollywood horror has become nothing but an uninspired cash grab. Even though I’m not a huge fan of most of Roth’s work, as a fan of the book, I actually found him to be a great choice, because he’s a guy who gets horror, and gore, two components which comprise a great deal of Alten’s book. To give you an example, one scene in particular describes a surfer that accidentally surfs his way right into the open jaws of the Meg, finding himself trapped in darkness and seeing nothing but a giant tongue pushing him towards rows of gnashing teeth that eventually tear him to shreds. The image is extremely frightening, and there are many like it in the book. Built around those images is a fun, exciting adventure story about a group of scientists chasing a Meg through the ocean. Believe it or not, a story can be horrific and gory, and still be a thrilling adventure as well. Apparently though, the studio didn’t see it that way. At least we all saw this coming. It’s pretty bad when you have both Turteltaub and Statham coming out the week of the film’s release and saying the final product isn’t what they signed up for. They wanted to make a bloody, action packed horror film, but the studio had other ideas. It’s almost as if Turteltaub and Statham were trying to say something, like, I don’t know, maybe don’t blame us for this giant turd floating in the summer blockbuster pool?
Statham does his best to cover up the MANY flaws of the film by being his regular, badass self, but for the most part, he is unsuccessful. Statham is great as Jonas, (he’s really great in everything though), and he swims as hard as he can and punches as many sharks in the face as possible, but it’s not enough to sell us on the ultimately dull action. There were too many people making poor decisions on this film, and he couldn’t punch his way through all of them. The rest of the cast delivers average to good performances, particularly Bingbing Li as Statham’s “love interest”, Suyin, and her daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai), who is just freaking adorable. Everyone else is as charming as can be with so little to work with, but that’s a big part of the problem, is that there is hardly any sort of relationship built between anyone. Even Jonas’s ex-wife, Lori, (Jessica McNamee), just seems as if she is there as a plot device to bring Jonas to the Mariana Trench, whereas in the book, she was a cold, ruthless woman, cheating on Jonas and doing everything she could to get in his way. Here, she’s in the film for all of five minutes it seems like, spending most of that time either injured or cheering Jonas to go after Suyin, another relationship which is as undercooked as raw sushi.
This is all in the family friendly theme that The Meg seems hell-bent on employing. No, we can’t have any conflict with characters. Everyone has to be REAL nice to each other, or the kids will be upset. And don’t show anyone get eaten. We’re going to pretend they’re napping in the shark’s belly. Don’t come at me with how family friendly movies like Finding Nemo are great. I fucking LOVE Finding Nemo! But what I don’t like, is when it’s obvious that a film adapted off of one of the grisliest novels I have read in the past year, has clearly been neutered to fit a PG-13 rating. It’s one thing when a horror film sets out to be PG-13. Fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, PG-13 does not inherently mean bad in the horror genre. Hell, Jaws was PG! But when a film that was shot to be R is FORCED into a PG-13 rating by a studio that doesn’t give a shit about the director’s vision, or the actor’s, or anyone who signed up to make something else, you can feel it in your guts. All throughout The Meg, there is a sense of something greater, the terrifying adventure that could’ve been. Instead, the film hardly allows more horror or blood than the chum floating in the water, which is a pretty apt comparison for the film itself.
And this is where I really get confused with The Meg. See, if you’re not going to go the full horror route, and if you’re not going to use some of that budget for some great practical effects, and instead apply it towards awful looking CGI sharks and shark guts, then what the hell is the point? The Meg feels as if it is ten years too late, barely a step up from previous Syfy channel-esque shark films like Megalodon (2002) or even the Mega Shark series from Asylum. Granted, The Meg has impressive set design and Jason Statham, which is an improvement, but is it enough to justify the 130 million plus production budget? The Meg had an opportunity to take what those films had done, apply real horror to them, along with adventure, and do something special for the shark horror genre. Instead, The Meg becomes nothing more than a bloated Syfy channel shark film
All negativity aside, IF you’re looking for just a brainless thrill ride that you can take the kids too, then there are worse films out there than The Meg. The horror may be severely lacking, and the studio may have been one megalodon sized headache for Turteltaub and his team, but the film isn’t by any means boring. There are some laughs, and some hilariously absurd moments of Statham showing off his brass pair of balls by swimming out towards a giant shark with nothing but a harpoon gun and his fist. Not to mention, the ending may be worth the price of admission alone of how laughably ludicrous it is.
As much as it may sound like it, I don’t hate The Meg. But I can’t say I like it very much, either. The Meg is nothing but a dumb, CGI shark-fest on the big screen, so for those that are watching their budget, save yourself the shark-sized bite that seeing the film would take out of your wallet, and apply it towards better things, like Alten’s book. Because, as is usually the case, the book is leagues better than the movie.
The Meg is now playing in theaters.
By Matt Konopka
What did you think of "The Meg"? Leave your thoughts below!