Meg, The (2018)

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Meg, The (2018)
Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing,  Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis,  Winston Chao, Shuya Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose.
Director: John Turtletaub
Nutshell: Deep Sea researchers unleash a monster unlike any seen by humanity. Grab your popcorn, switch your brain off – summertime is here.

Meg, a best-selling novel from the early 90s has been awaiting a cinematic adaption for ages and finally it arrived, delivered by Warner Brother to a massive screen count the world over. The weekend business has ensured a sequel will soon be in the works as the cash counters have been ringing solidly in most territories with the greatest rush being witnessed in China where a cool $50 million was banked in the opening weekend alone.

The film has had a somewhat troubled, stop-start production and initially Eli Roth who has earned himself a reputation as a major player on the horror scene was announced as the director amidst much delight from the horror crowd. It seemed that finally the world would get to see a truly scary shark film with tones of horror never witnessed before in the shark movie genre. Sadly, months into the shoot, Roth was fired from the film for primarily financial reasons. The film has undergone script rewrites and a change of director as well as an onboard financial partner whose investment in the project forced another major change in the initial script which moved further and further away from the novel than ever before.

It appears very much as though the film has been shaped solely by financial considerations and those considerations have meant serious alternations to the original script and a mutated version of the best-seller upon which this film is supposedly based.

As a result of the financial investment from Chinese partners, the films setting has been changed from the coast of California to the beaches of Asia! Actors from China have been roped in to play key roles in the film and internationally recognized by the junta (if not by the critics) Jason Statham has been roped in for the heroics. John Turtletaub replaced Eli Roth as the director and soon all hope that this would be a horror film with a decent body count and gore factor went flying out the window as the film was subsequently marketed as a “silly, no-brainer, Popcorn summertime piffle” kind of monster movie rather than any stab at horror territory. There is hardly a drop of blood witnessed in the film throughout!

Enough of the productions issues. The film itself is set on a research center worth billions that is trying to penetrate the lower depths of the ocean where nobody has ever been before. When their shuttle makes it down to the depths into a surreal world unseen by mankind all seems dreamlike and wonderful and then the terror begins as the shuttle is pounded mercilessly by an unseen monster.

Soon, the researchers are under siege by the unseen enemy and an SOS goes out to a “rogue” veteran diver who is the man to turn to when the chips are down, or so it seems. And so Jason Statham is into the action with the task of saving the day and hundreds of lives as well.

The Meg begins its assault on the research center and there are numerous situations where vessels are being chased by the rampaging Meg or being rattled in its jaws or being slammed around like a rag doll relentlessly. A bunch of near misses, close shaves, nearly eaten but not quite come and go in rapid succession but none of the scenes stays in memory for being particularly effective.

Yes, the Meg itself looks mighty impressive but really at a cost of $130 million that is the very least an audience could have expected. There is the usual bumpy ride until the “slamming” conclusion which should leave most people who lined up with low expectations fairly satisfied. Those who wanted scares and some gore will go home disappointed and wondering how the film would have shaped in the hands of Eli Roth instead of Turtletaub. How the film would have been had Chinese investors not hastened another dramatic script change to accommodate the highly lucrative “Chinese market”.

It appears as though these decisions have borne results for Warner Brother as the film has bitten into a hefty $50 million in the opening weekend in China alone! China has now become a market on a level with the United States. Its as though Hollywood has discovered an entire new planet to exploit and Megs success is going to signal a plethora of such joint productions in the near future. Though it may be great business, sadly this doesn’t translate to great cinema.

Unlike the classic shark movies that have sequences and scenes that are memorable, Meg has no such scenes and if you have seen the first trailer, you would already have witnessed the best scenes from the film already. There is no tension, no build up to a scare…in fact the film plays like action movie with comic undertones with a monster as the villain. Spielberg’s Jaws has so many standout moments and even the much-maligned Deep Blue Sea has its moments that are burned into the memory forever but Meg has no such moments at all. There is not a single sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat or chewing your nails. Its all a bit sterile and predictable. Nods to Jaws are there, rather obviously with the dog being called Pippen as opposed to Pippet as well as the Alex Kintner scene reprised rather hammily.  Statham is perfectly inoffensive but rest including the obligatory “cute child” is pretty awful.

The film also suffers from some uneven pacing at a running time of above 2 hours is about 20 to 30 minutes overcooked. Still, it holds together….just about…..and winds its way to a reasonably crowd pleasing climax, but not one that will have audiences cheering and clapping and cussing in shock, awe and delight as they ought to be.

Alexandre Aja’s cheeky and very silly Piranha remake was made at a fraction of the cost of Meg and is exponentially a better film that Meg is. Still, a shark film is a shark film and every summer should have at least one! And for the moment, Meg will be enough to keep the appetite whetted for better days ahead. In local terminology, Meg could well be classified as “time pass” but little else.  Not scary enough and not dumb enough either , had to quickly rewatch The Shallows to recuperate, far superior shark fare.

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N.B.  Alas the Arena Cinema in Bahria Town (Islamabad) which is arguably the best locally for sound and projection suffers horribly for its unfortunate policy of allowing families laden with infants inside the cinema.  Infants who scream, shout and bawl as they will and others who have kids who don’t realize that they aren’t in their own living rooms and that others may not want to hear their conversations throughout the movie.  Having said that, try watching a horror movie in Times Square and listen to the fabulous running commentary that accompany the movie including those who must dish out advice to actors on screen “look behind you MF’cker”….or the eloquent “Run Nigga, run!”……”sheeeeeyittt, that MF’cker be dead!” or “bitch getcho Black Ass outta there”.   Give me Times Square banter over bawling infants anyday.