The Meg (2018)

2019 #77
Jon Turteltaub | 113 mins | download (HD+3D) | 2.39:1 | USA & China / English & Mandarin | 12 / PG-13

The Meg

Jason Statham vs. a giant prehistoric shark — what more do you need to know?

Okay, well, despite the obvious pulp-blockbuster nature of this premise, it’s actually based on a novel, which was originally published in 1997 and so I guess arrived in a wave of post-Jurassic Park interest in man vs. prehistoric creatures thrillers. Well, Jurassic Park and the other obvious comparison, Jaws, were also both adapted from novels, so perhaps it’s not so weird after all. I’d never heard of the book before, but apparently it has a dedicated fanbase (there are multiple sequels), who were disappointed with this film because it makes some radical changes to the source material. Clearly, I’m not the right person to make that comparison.

Judged as a film in its own right, then, I thought it was a ton of fun. You know what you’re getting into with that pitch, and doubly so if you’ve watched the trailer. This isn’t some thought-provoking docu-drama about “what if we really discovered a prehistoric creature still lived?” This isn’t even Jaws, a relatively grounded adventure movie about normal people defeating a larger-than-average killer shark. This is a movie about a super-high-tech underwater research facility that accidentally unleashes a prehistoric monster and then all the scientists and submariners and whatnot on board have to track it down and stop it. This is a move about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark.

Stath vs shark

All of that said, some people have criticised the movie for not being quite as daft or out there as they wanted from a B-movie-inspired effects spectacular. I guess that’s a real “your mileage will vary” situation. Personally, I had a lot of fun with it. It keeps things more grounded than the utter batshit craziness of, say, Sharknado, but it’s clearly still allowing itself to have fun with the situations and concepts. It also doesn’t feel too samey, which considering there are only so many ways to interact with a giant shark is some kind of achievement.

Other criticisms I’ve read include that it’s too slow to get going, focusing on undersea rescues rather than getting straight to Stath-on-shark action. Again, this was something I actually liked about the film — that it allowed at least some time to build the Meg up as a mysterious unseen force (and, in the grand scheme of things, not that much time — this isn’t Jaws). It also gave the film a certain scope and scale. It’s not like this shark rocks up and they defeat it in an afternoon — the plot spread out over a couple of days, at least. I don’t know, there’s just something I like about that pacing.

Also, the film is a Chinese co-production, and so features many major and minor Chinese characters, and the climax is set in the vicinity of a Chinese beach. I’ve seen people criticise this aspect of the film because… um… Yeah, not liking that aspect smacks of racism, let’s be honest. I’m not saying everyone who dislikes The Meg is a racist — that would be stupid — but some reviews I’ve seen come with this slightly weird sense that part of the reason they dislike it is because it’s 50% (if that) a Chinese blockbuster.

Who fancies Chinese for dinner?

At the end of the day, I come back to what I said at the start: it’s a movie about a giant prehistoric shark being unleashed and attacking humans, and Jason Statham has to fight it. That’s all. It delivered on that in spades for me and I had a great time with it. And I guess tied to that pulpiness, if you have the option and enjoy the effect, I thought it looked fantastic in 3D.

4 out of 5

The Meg is available on Sky Cinema from today.

Jaws (1975)

The 100 Films Guide to…

See it before you go swimming.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 124 minutes
BBFC: A (1975) | PG (1987) | 12A (2012)
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 20th June 1975 (USA)
UK Release: 26th December 1975
Budget: $7-12 million (sources vary)
Worldwide Gross: $470.6 million

Stars
Roy Scheider (The French Connection, All That Jazz)
Robert Shaw (From Russia with Love, The Sting)
Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poseidon)
Lorraine Gary (Jaws 2, 1941)

Director
Steven Spielberg (The Sugarland Express, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)

Screenwriters
Peter Benchley (The Deep, The Island)
Carl Gottlieb (Jaws 2, The Jerk)

Based on
Jaws, a novel by Peter Benchley.


The Story
As the seaside resort of Amity Island prepares for the lucrative 4th of July weekend, a series of violent shark attacks threaten the lives of residents and holidaymakers alike.

Our Heroes
Police chief Martin Brody is the one lumped with having to work out how to stop a man-eating shark, battling both small-town politics as well as the underwater predator. Eventually he’s aided by Matt Hooper, a young shark expert, and Quint, a salty old shark hunter.

Our Villain
A 25ft great white shark, with a taste for human flesh.

Best Supporting Character
Amity’s Mayor just wants what’s best for his town and its people — which, in this case, is having the beaches open for July 4th, whether people might get eaten or not.

Memorable Quote
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” — Brody

Memorable Scene
A group of young people sit on the beach at night drinking. The eyes of a boy and girl meet. They race off towards the sea, stripping as they go. She gets into the water first, while he’s too drunk to get his clothes off. She messes around in the ocean while he passes out on the sand. Then, she notices something underneath the water — something that grabs her — and… well, it doesn’t end well.

Memorable Music
John Williams’ famous, simple main theme is the definitive musical interpretation of approaching terror. When Spielberg first heard it, he thought it was a joke. Later, he said it was half of what made the film so successful.

Making of
Three mechanical sharks were built for the film, but no one thought to test them in water before taking them on location. They kept malfunctioning, causing a constant headache throughout production — because of them and other issues of shooting at sea, the film’s 55-day schedule ended up taking 159 days, and the $3.5 million budget ballooned to as much as $12 million. On the bright side, Spielberg had to work out how to shoot material around the unavailability of the sharks, which led to him taking a Hitchcockian approach of showing the ‘monster’ as little as possible, which was ultimately a benefit to the film’s effectiveness.

Next time…
Jaws was the highest grossing film of all time, so naturally there were a series of cash-grab sequels. As far as I was aware they were universally condemned, so I’d never paid them any heed, but I recently read a review that made me think I should give them a go. It said Jaws 2 wasn’t actually all that bad, Jaws 3-D was trashy fun, and Jaws: The Revenge… well, in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. Incidentally, the last one is the film of which star Michael Caine famously said, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Awards
3 Oscars (Editing, Sound, Original Dramatic Score)
1 Oscar nomination (Picture)
1 BAFTA (Music (also for The Towering Inferno))
6 BAFTA nominations (Film, Director, Actor (Richard Dreyfuss), Screenplay, Editing, Sound)
1 Grammy (Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special)

Verdict

It’s easy to start discussing Jaws in terms of it being the first summer blockbuster, or its troubled production, or the effect it had on audiences’ desire to go swimming. But divorced from all that, as a film in its own right, it’s a thrilling adventure movie — a man vs. a shark, when it comes down to it. It’s so packed with memorable shots and moments — be they horrific shark attacks, improvised one-liners, or precisely calibrated jump scares — that it’s no wonder it made Spielberg’s name. Personally, I feel the pace flags a bit once the three men get on a boat and go shark hunting, which slightly holds me back from completely loving it. Quibbles aside, it’s still a classic of suspense.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

2016 #138
Renny Harlin | 101 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Deep Blue SeaDeep Blue Sea is Terence Davies’ adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play about the wife of a judge getting caught in a self-destructive love affair with an RAF pilot.

No, wait, sorry — that’s The Deep Blue Sea. The non-definitive-article version is a sci-fi action-thriller about a research facility that’s created hyper-intelligent sharks which escape and try to kill the scientists. So pretty similar movies then, really. This one was thoroughly slated on its initial release, so I spent a good long while completely ignoring it, but at some point in the last few years it seems to have become a guilty pleasure favourite for many. Does it merit this reappraisal?

There is definitely a level of “so bad it’s good” about it. It’s definitely not a good movie in the traditional sense, but it is fun; and unlike, say, Armageddon, it’s clearly not taking itself too seriously. Nicely, it gets by without the constant winks-and-nods at the audience you get in today’s deliberately-trashy genre movies, which is, bizarrely, a more mature way to handle this kind of material.

Plus, it’s from that tipping point in modern film history between practical effects and CGI, so there are some nice stunts and life-size animatronic sharks, but also some weak computer graphics. That said, because director Renny Harlin limits the CG to underwater sequences, some of the sins are covered. Or put another way: it’s not great, but it still looks better than Sharknado. (That might seem like damning with faint praise, but this is 1999 we’re talking about — still two years before The Mummy Returns and its CG The Rock abomination that someone thought was OK to release in a big-budget summer tentpole.)I'm sure he just want to be friends

Ultimately, it’s a hard movie to rate. On the one hand, it’s not particularly good; on the other, with a mix of not taking itself too seriously and a few so-bad-it’s-good moments, it becomes a fun watch. I err towards generosity because, while it’s not a ‘quality’ movie, it is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

3 out of 5

West Side Story (1961)

2007 #53
Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins | 146 mins | DVD | PG

West Side Story“Everything’s free in America,” goes the famous line; but this film is probably more accurately summed up in its following line: “For a small fee in America”.

For, surprisingly, underneath the song and dance numbers (some impressive, some embarrassing), the Shakespearian romance story, and the vibrant and beautiful cinematography, beats the heart of a gritty, political, social drama about gangs, racism, immigration, and more — issues that seem as pertinent today as ever.

It’s a brilliant film, which falls short of full marks only thanks to some of those weaker song & dance bits (and I might be being a tad unfair there).

4 out of 5