Few films have had quite the journey to the big screen as ‘The Meg’. I remember first hearing about it in my very early teens in the early days of film news websites, looking at startling concept art of human figures dwarfed by a giant shark. Over the next few decades, it went through various hands and concepts, but ‘The Meg’ seemed like a film destined to remain unmade, one whose legend was probably greater than any film could be. Well, it’s 2018, and that giant prehistoric shark has made it to the screen - so I settled in to see if it could possibly live up to that arresting concept image.
Did it? Well, yes and no. Based on the book by Steve Alten, ‘The Meg’ sees an international group of scientists unwittingly unleash a megalodon, a prehistoric shark of mammoth proportions, from its deep-sea lair. With the giant killing machine on the loose, they are caught in a race against time before the megalodon finds human prey.
It’s a pretty atypical story, and that also speaks for its execution. ‘The Meg’ is the kind of film that could have gone many ways, from a nail-biting and vicious action adventure to a crappy high-camp guilty pleasure to just plain terrible. What we get though lands somewhere in the middle. There’s no question that the laboured dialogue often lands with a thud, but the narrative is actually a tight little construction, focusing mostly on the group of scientists led by diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham, 'The Fate of the Furious', ‘Spy’) rather than opening up to a much larger canvas. This means more space for character development, and while none of the characters are particularly memorable, they’re a little fuller than you’d expect from this kind of film.
It also means it moves at a very considered pace and rarely overstays its welcome, earning its suitably preposterous big-budget finale. Director Jon Turteltaub (‘Last Vegas’, 'National Treasure' franchise) isn’t known for being a particularly imaginative filmmaker, but even though he’s essentially doing a colour-by-numbers job, the picture he’s colouring in is at least a sturdy format. There are genuine jumps, a lovely mid-film surprise and plenty of crazy shark action, which is really what we came for. The megalodon itself is a really solid creation, albeit one hampered by limited CGI resources. It’s big and ferocious, but not played as a monster, rather an animal exploring its new environment and eating as much of it as it can. The greatest pity about ‘The Meg’ is really how unmemorable the imagery is. None of the horrific grandeur of those concept images remains, neither anything matching the film’s playful and gorgeous publicity campaign. Apart from a few money shots, there’s nothing visually distinct about ‘The Meg’, which feels like a missed opportunity and could have really lifted the film.
The cast don’t have a lot to work with, but they actually do a pretty good job. The role of Jonas does a good job reminding us just how charismatic Jason Stratham can be, and while no one is calling him a great actor, he at least knows exactly what film he’s in. Chinese star Li Bingbing (‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’) also has a lot of charisma as scientist Suyin, demonstrating a star quality that attests to her stardom in China. The supporting cast all do a good job, including Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis and Jessica McNamee, and Rainn Wilson fills out the almost-antagonist role while circumnavigating most of that caricature’s crappy traits. Hell, even Ruby Rose (‘Pitch Perfect 3’, ‘xXx: Return Of Xander Cage’) earns her place in this group.
There are genuine jumps, a lovely mid-film surprise and plenty of crazy shark action, which is really what we came for.
I’m not going to try and convince you that ‘The Meg’ is a great movie. There’s nothing original about it, either in its concept or execution, and it sure as hell could have used a more imaginative and ballsy approach. But you know what? I still had a lot of fun watching it. Much like the monster at the centre of it, ‘The Meg’ feels like a fossil from another time, a throwback to the 90s style of action/adventure films that I would have eaten up ravenously as a kid. It also wins extra points from a surprisingly on-point ‘Jaws’ reference. So don’t expect ‘The Meg’ to rock the boat or leave a mark, but if you’re after a few hours mindless entertainment, this might be the fish for you.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘The Meg’ is a visually slick film, and that is reflected in the 2160p 2.39:1 presentation, upscaled to 4K from a 2K DI. There’s an ultra-digital sheen to the image that does come out quite nice in 4K, but most notable is how vibrant the colours are with the HDR and how bright the image is. Again, it’s not the most visually interesting film, but the 4K resolution does serve the film well. The Dolby Atmos TrueHD 7.1 track is also pretty good, though dialogue isn’t as well balanced with the sound design and music. When it hits its stride though, it’s a pretty thrilling track with some nice moments of base. Be warned: Warner Bros has once again set the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track as default, so you’ll need to change to Atmos yourself before you start.
All extra material is included on the 1080p Blu-ray disc, and if you were hoping for a banger documentary about the full production history of ‘The Meg’, you (like me) will be sorely disappointed. What we have instead are two relatively perfunctory making-of featurettes that include some interesting tidbits, but nothing that special. ‘Chomp on This: The Making of The Meg’ (12:09) is a standard look at the making of the film, with interviews with Turteltaub, the producers and members of the cast and crew (though nothing from Statham or the writing team), while all discussion of the megalodon itself is saved for ‘Creating the Beast’ (10:25), which covers the design of the ancient creature. There’s also a short promo for the New Zealand Film Commission (1:53) with the cast and crew. There’s nothing really of note here (and Turteltaub does come across as a tad obnoxious), but like the film, it’s all pretty watchable.