Monday , 24 September 2018

The Meg makes other sharks weak – review

Man’s seemingly endless fascination with the dentally-dense denizens of the deep known as sharks is showing no sign of abatement. Discovery Channel just aired their enormously popular Shark Week, celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the SyFy Network is set to air its 5th, and supposedly final Sharknado movie. Amidst the occasional real-life shark attack which always gives sharks unwanted attention, there’s the ever-increasing concern over the practice of shark finning (more on that later) which is reducing the numbers of these ocean predators to dangerously low levels. Now, the greatest shark to ever swim the seas, the prehistoric beast called Megalodon, has finally hit the big screen with the appropriately titled, The Meg.

Our fishy tale concerns a research group exploring a newly discovered deeper section of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. When the submersible carrying three scientists is attacked by some unidentifiable, yet immense creature, and is unable to return to the surface, it is decided there is only one man experienced enough to launch a mission to save the trapped crew, rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham).  Now Taylor had encountered a mysterious gigantic beast himself a few years prior that resulted in some deaths, though without any physical proof, no one believed his story. Now with a chance to redeem himself, it is soon learned that the massive creature in question is actually a long thought to be extinct shark species known as Megalodon. This particular behemoth is whale-sized and would dwarf the great white shark by comparison. Concerned that this mega-shark would quickly destroy the natural food chain of the oceans, along with snacking on any swimmers, divers or fisherman that got in its way, the team sets out to destroy the beast before it can inflict any more damage, and, God forbid, reach the coastline where a smorgasbord awaits.

That’s a 70-footer.” “75, 80 tons of him.”

What sets The Meg apart from other killer shark movies, of which there are many, so many that it is a sub-genre of horror film worthy of an entire compendium (see Shark Movie Mania in NJ Horror Con and Film Fest)is the sheer size of  its protagonist, the megalodon. Whereas the great white shark can reach a length of about 20 feet, the megalodon in The Meg taps out at a robust 75 feet. (The size of actual megalodons, based on fossilized teeth, range in estimates from 50 to as high as 80 feet in length.) Also of note is that the last evidence of megalodons among fossilized records is 2.6 million years ago, which would predate the dawn of man by several hundred thousand years – so close. While it is was initially believed that the megalodon, which would have enjoyed warmer waters, died out when the oceans cooled off, it is now more widely accepted that the giant shark was less a victim of climate change and more likely became vulnerable when their preferred prey became less abundant. Also, the megalodon’s immense size may have led to its downfall, making it difficult to compete with the likes of smaller, faster predatory sea creatures, like the great white shark and killer whale. Now for those who might like to think that megalodon survives to this day, it is realistically impossible. The amount of sizable prey needed to feed these behemoths – and for a species to survive, there needs to be far more than one individual – just doesn’t exist, and if megalodons were cutting a swath through whale populations today, certainly the aftermath of such carnage would be clearly evident. OK, back to the movie – this is a movie review, after all.

Leading the charge against the mighty megalodon is action star Jason Statham (the Transporter and Expendables films). He is more than capable for the job, and probably the next best thing to Dwayne Johnson, who’s tackled giant mutant animals of the terrestrial kind, as well as a giant burning building himself the past few months. Statham, a competitive diver before he turned to acting, makes for a credible lead which isn’t easy when you’re taking on a 75-foot underwater leviathan. A number of familiar faces round out the rest of the cast. There’s Rainn Wilson (The Office‘s Dwight), whose Morris is funding the expedition and adds some comic relief. Cliff Curtis, as crew member, Mac, was last seen as Travis on Fear the Walking Dead. Chinese actress, Bingbing Li, as an oceanographer, is known to worldwide audiences for her roles in Transformers: Age of Extinction, and in Resident Evil: Retribution as Ada Wong. Robert Taylor, as Dr. Heller, is an Australian actor you may know for his leading role as the no-nonsense sheriff in Longmire. Another Aussie, tattooed Ruby Rose, playing crew member, Jaxx, has recently been seen in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and John Wick: Chapter 2, and was just tapped to leather up for her portrayal of Batwoman in the upcoming DC television series.

Steering this ship and its eclectic cast is Jon Turtletaub, whose previous pinnacle of success was directing the enormously entertaining Nicolas Cage-starring National Treasure movies. With The Meg, Turtletaub is able to deftly move from larger-than-life action sequences to heartfelt scenes of  pain and loss. It’s interesting to note that at one point horror auteur, Eli Roth, was set to helm The Meg. While Turtletaub does an excellent job, tasked with bringing the film in with a PG-13 rating to maximize audience bite, one can’t help but wonder what Roth would have done with the project, perhaps bringing in a more blood-soaked tale, ala the Piranha remake or any of his previous gorefests. While Warner Bros. can’t be faulted for wanting a tamer summertime blockbuster, it should be remembered that R-rated films, from the Deadpools to the Conjurings, and from Get Out to Logan to It, have fared incredibly well at the box office of late.

For those who aren’t aware, The Meg is based on a best-selling novel from 1997 by Steve Alten, entitled, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. It was successful enough to spawn a number of sequels, from which storylines could be used for any further film follow-ups. That it took Meg over 20 years to go from the page to the big screen is a story unto itself. Studios from Disney to New Line had at one point the rights to the novel, with filmmakers from Guillermo del Toro to Jan De Bont to the aforementioned Roth all attached to the project in one way or another. Certainly budget concerns, and timing (Warner Bros. released their Deep Blue Sea in 1999), led to delays and changes over the years. Perhaps it was all for the best, as CGI twenty years ago was not where it is today for the majority of filmmakers. While the f/x in The Meg are satisfying enough, they aren’t groundbreaking by any means. It’s worth noting that a killer opening sequence from the novel where a megalodon attacks a Tyrannosaurus rex is left out of the movie. While costs of such a scenario would undoubtedly be high, maybe the producers felt the scene would be too akin to one near the end of 2015’s Jurassic World where a mosasaurus takes down the formidable Indominus rex. The book’s wildly outrageous ending, which most likely would have pushed the film’s rating up to R, has also been gutted (pun very much intended). Still, what’s left is a fun, entertaining, action-packed summertime giant monster movie, which we could all use more of. Extra credit to screenwriters, Dean Georgaris, and Jon and Erich Hoeber, for finally managing to translate the novel to big screen form, and using just enough science to make it all seem feasible.

As mentioned earlier, and brought up in our previous reviews for The Shallows and 47 Meters Down, shark numbers have dropped precipitously in recent years, primarily due to overfishing. The horrendous practice known as shark finning, thoughtfully discussed in the movie, where sharks are caught and their fins cut off, with the sharks then thrown back into the ocean and left to suffer a painful death, has greatly taken its toll on populations of these fish that are so important to maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. Now why is such a cruel and barbaric fishing technique being employed to the point where as many as a hundred million sharks are killed this way every year? Shark appendages, it turns out, make for a delicacy known as shark fin soup, a popular and pricey item in many Asian countries and cultures. The rest of the shark isn’t needed, so it’s tossed away like garbage. One wonders if the consumers of such soup are even the slightest bit aware of the damage they are causing, or if they do, then they must not care. We as a species must not exploit other species to the point of unsustainable numbers which could lead to extinction. And for those species that we do harvest for consumption, we must do so in a humane manner that still manages to keep their numbers at healthy levels. When we begin losing too many species, it can only ultimately lead to our own demise as well. Needless to say, if you care about the oceans and the planet, avoid slurping on shark fin soup at all costs, and boycott those establishments that serve such a despicable dish.

On that note, instead of frequenting such thoughtless restaurants, opt for some popcorn or nachos instead, and sit back for the wild ride that is The Meg. Before we come up for air, though, we’d be completely amiss if we didn’t mention the grandaddy of all shark movies, Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood-busting blockbuster, Jaws. With all the killer shark movies which continue to be served up to audiences, none will ever beat the king. Or is it queen? Not sure if the shark in Jaws was male or female. While the megalodon in The Meg dwarfs the great white in Jaws, it can’t compare when it comes to terror, suspense and adventure. Nor the triumvirate of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. That said, The Meg works well on its own. And while the Jaws franchise ended with the sadly forgettable Jaws: The Revenge in 1987, maybe a new shark franchise has been born, with Jason Statham leading the way.

— review by Brian de Castro

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