Remember the last time Warner Bros. took a huge gamble on a big-budget shark movie called Deep Blue Sea back in 1999? That movie was a decent hit in the international box office, chomping over US$160 million worldwide against a US$82 million budget.
Flash forward to 2018, the studio attempts to go big with another high-profile shark movie and the result is The Meg, which has been long in development for over two decades. Interestingly enough, Warner Bros. wasn’t the first studio that originally initiated the movie project. Disney was the one that optioned Steve Alten’s 1997 Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror novel in the first place but the project fell through. Directors like Guillermo Del Toro and Jan De Bont were previously mentioned to spearhead the project before Hostel director Eli Roth took over instead when Warner Bros. acquired the rights to the novel in 2015. At one point, The Meg was going to be Roth’s biggest project to date but chose to back out over creative differences.
Instead, it’s hard to believe that Jon Turteltaub ended up calling the shots for the movie. We are talking about the same director who gave us the ill-fated Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which also happened to be his last big-budget movie back in 2010. Which is why I went in with low expectations. I even suspect the marketing team behind The Meg wasn’t exactly confident with their own product. How else can you explain the misguided marketing campaign as if the movie is going the would-be Sharknado-like campy direction?
Sure, the movie did include some banters along with other lightweight moments here and there. But after watching the movie in its entirety, The Meg is actually more of a straightforward shark movie. And in some ways, I’m glad the filmmakers didn’t go “the big-budget Sharknado” movie route.
The movie, which took three screenwriters — Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber — to adapt Steve Alten’s novel, is basically the kind of generic plot that we used to see in the ’90s. We have Jason Statham playing the main tough guy here with Li Bingbing as the obligatory love interest, who also happens to be fiercely independent. Not to be left out is the must-have comic relief in the form of Page Kennedy playing one of the crew members as DJ. And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without at least an a-hole character, who turns out to be Rainn Wilson playing the selfish financial backer for the Mana One underwater research facility. Elsewhere, I’m relieved that Shuya Sophia Cai’s Meiying role as Li Bingbing’s Suyin’s little daughter role doesn’t turn out to be a stereotypical annoying child after all.
Whereas the story and characters are mostly perfunctory, Turteltaub doesn’t forget to fulfil the major selling point of this movie: watching a giant, 70-foot prehistoric megalodon shark wreaking havoc. He does deliver that promise, even though he takes a considerable amount of time to get there.
The earlier sequence that detailed mostly on the elaborate rescue mission is hampered by Tom Stern’s murky underwater cinematography. You can imagine how torturous it looks when I watched this movie on the IMAX screen.
But the movie manages to regain its footing once Statham’s Jonas Taylor and the rest of the crew begin hunting the shark. This is where the fun starts, and I’m glad Turteltaub makes good use of the movie’s huge US$150 million budget to deliver all the exciting shark action in a guilty-pleasure kind of way. That Statham vs. Megalodon Shark? It sure as hell possess some thrilling moments, complete with Harry Gregson-Williams’ rousing score that makes me feel like I’m transported back to the 1990s summer-blockbuster cinematic experience.
The Meg isn’t obviously meant to be a high art and Turteltaub understands a movie like this has to be a big, dumb fun to make it work. Although it suffers from a few glaring flaws, at least the movie doesn’t turn out as bad as I thought.