The crushing disappointment of ‘The Meg’

This was boring. How could this have been boring? It was about a giant shark and Jason Statham.

From the shockingly unwatchable to ridiculously good, the Sharkometer series dissects every shark movie according to the GOAT Jaws.

The Meg by Jon Turteltaub, 2018
Starring Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Sophia Cai, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Robert Taylor, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Masi Oka
Budget: $130–178 million USD
Box office: $527.8 million USD

Number of times previously watched: 1

Each shark movie, while writing and researching it, has revealed a special part of itself and launched me into strange and fascinating deep dives.

Sharknado called for the exploration of camp: what is camp, how do we view camp in different ways, does camp make a movie good or bad? Perhaps one would find it strange to examine Sharknado through the lens of Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp — but that is what the movie demanded, dammit!

Deep Blue Sea necessitated a closer look at the concept of the “good-bad movie,” the parameters of a “guilty pleasure movie,” and our deep-seated film insecurities on top of delving into the world of religion, Frankenstein, and the greatest death scenes of all time.

And, Jaws revealed so much of itself that it became the inspiration and rubric for this entire series. Jaws goes deep. It has levels. They all do! Our fear of and obsession with sharks make these movies filled with transcending layers, personal symbols, and weird tangents and fixations. They may be flawed, but dammit, they at least have the substance for an intense, esoteric conversation.

Which brings us to our latest Sharkometer entry, The Meg.

To say I was excited about The Meg is the understatement of the century — I have the framed conversation on my desk to prove it.

There hadn’t been a big-budget, splashy shark thriller since, really, Deep Blue Sea, (yes. I hear you. The Shallows had a huge star, but its $25 million budget is microscopic compared to The Meg’s $130+ million budget). I thought it would be Deep Blue Sea meets Jason Statham and Megalodon —lots of money on the screen, great action, ridiculous plot, big shark, fun! Its release date even aligned with my birthday — true love!

Here’s what happened though. First, I was unable to see it right away, which caused my over-excitement to bubble over into hesitation in its two distinct forms: anxiety and cynicism. A cruel cocktail that makes one lower their expectations and doubt their mind. And second, I finally saw the movie, perched on a weird long couch (movie theatres are strange now) and just sat there and then left.

Now I hear you thinking “how the fuck else do you watch a movie?” Well I like to think of movie watching as an interactive and participatory event, regardless of the setting. In short, I yell at the screen and talk throughout the movie. Afterwards, I pretend to need “a few minutes to digest” which is a lie because I need no time and am only embarrassed at my need to start talking about it right away (also I don’t want to spoil movies for others in line). That urgency and action is revved up by like 1,000% for a shark movie.

So to sit silently in a theatre followed by a discussion of how to get home is absolutely unheard of for me, but leads me to the not-so-shocking and hesitant conclusion that The Meg is just not that good, and in fact, it is pretty dull.

There. I’ve admitted it to myself now. I did not enjoy The Meg. It’s absolutely devastating and infuriating. How can a giant shark movie with Jason Statham not be at least entertaining?! How?! Why did I get my hopes up?! Damn you Personal Best for teaching me it’s okay to raise your expectations and be disappointed! I do not feel fulfilled!

But we have a job to do here on the Sharkometer, so I pushed on and decided it best to work out my disappointment and frustration here, eager to see what The Meg would reveal to me.

And then… I just sat there. I tried to do my usual system — write down initial thoughts, research and tag articles, etc — but kept getting stuck. I broke my rule and read some analyses before I had fully formed my thoughts just to take the temperature and grasp for inspiration (it seems I’m not alone in my assertions). I barely wanted to read them though. It was all so boring and I didn’t care. I haven’t even listened to the How Did This Get Made podcast episode of it!

I decided to dig deeper into weird trivia and fact sheets to try to scrounge up something — some hidden meaning, something, anything, to pique the curiosity in my tangential brain. But it was all for naught and amounted to the one true fact that The Meg isn’t just boring, it’s uninspired.

Loving shark movies is a cruel mistress. Those who do it are doomed to a never-ending sea of miscalculated and poorly conceived attempts that frequently lack sincerity and seriousness. And then, when you get a gem, it is *chef’s kiss*

The Meg ain’t it because it doesn’t know what it is — a Jason Statham action movie? The long-awaited Megalodon movie? Jaws rising? — and then it is watered down by attrition and asinine decisions no doubt championed by the studio and/or production company.

Production companies are really good at taking movies and making them terrible because they care about money, not art or audience. They have no emotional or historical connection to the material. They’re in the lowest hanging fruit game, and unfortunately, “giant shark movie with Jason Statham” is about the lowest fruit you can get.

The story about the long, complicated Hollywood production process of The Meg is covered in-depth by Andrew Husband for Den of Geek and is a great read, and the subsequent quotes it yields from Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (1997) writer Steve Alten are b.a.n.a.n.a.s. They include such gems as “They stuck wings on the shark,” the moniker “Jaws for a new generation,” and “[I] would have thought we would have had a billion-dollar franchise by now.” More specifically, it discusses how Alten sold his book to a film studio before it was even finished — despite being not that good — because the recent success of Jurassic Park put studios in a frenzy (it’s why we have movies like Congo).

The movie flailed for decades, being passed from Guillermo Del Torro to Jan De Bont, and ultimately ended up in Eli Roth’s lap in 2015 after, you guessed it, Jurassic World re-excited studios about creatures features. It all serves to highlight that film companies are more interested in exploiting the perceived low-hanging fruit than recognizing and figuring out why audiences enjoy it.

It fits the ongoing pattern of movies now being mostly either pre-existing intellectual property (which, ok) or franchised to shit (ugh) or both (boring). The Meg is or will be all of those things, the latter two of which really seem to drain the life out of movies. And while this pattern initially works in general for action movies or disaster movies and for stars like Statham and The Rock specifically, what the production process failed to see is that people like shark movies not because they’re shitty action movies or Statham-mobiles, but because they’re about sharks.

And. it. all. comes. back. to. this. Sharks. And the joy of sharks.

How can we derive any shark-related feelings from a shark movie that doesn’t care about sharks? We’re not scared of the shark. We’re not rooting for the shark. We’re not really anything. Sure, The Meg made a ton of money, but who cares? It won’t last. I would have seen it a million times in theatres if it was good or fun or anything. Instead, I’m sure as hell not seeing any sequels because I, and assume many others, have no allegiance to this movie or any enduring feelings — nobody is busy creating The Meg fandom. As Eric Kohn said, “sharks deserve better than this.”

So we’re going to do things a little differently this time: each category in the Sharkometer has my one-sentence gut reaction for The Meg. Then, we’re going to close the computer, palate cleanse with Deep Blue Sea and hope The Meg sequel never happens or pulls a Jurassic Park III and is actually fun and great and has pterodactyls (seriously. Don’t sleep on Jurassic Park III.)

  1. Divine Intervention
    They passed on Guillermo Del Toro, Jan de Bont, and then Eli Roth. No. People have to let Guillermo Del Toro make the movies he wants.
  2. Hitchcockian Flare
    Could be a metaphor for climate change or unearthing forgotten monsters?
    Remember that band Marianas Trench? I wonder what they’re up to.
  3. Filming
    Pedestrian.
  4. Editing
    I’m shocked this is sub-2 hours. Shocked.
  5. Humour
    I can’t imagine the forced and painfully overdone Jaws jokes were in the novel.
  6. Lack of CGI
    Megalodon didn’t look as bad as expected. Watching Jason Statham punch a great white was embarrassing and offensive though.
  7. WILDCARD
    Jason Statham is able to uplift every movie he is in, or at least make a fuck-ton of money trying.

Final Thoughts

Exploitable cache.

Let me know your thoughts on The Meg but only if they’re the same as mine.

Next up: Blake Lively in the impressive ‘The Shallows’

For a complete list of Sharkometer movies, swim here.

References and Recommended Readings

Support and shout outs linked throughout and some pre- and post-rant additional reading linked below.

How Did This Get Made The Meg episode (you need to listen to this for Nicole Buyer and only Nicole Buyer).
The Meg Is More Stath Than Shark [Review] by Joey Keogh
The Funniest, Meanest Reviews For Jason Statham’s Mega-Shark Movie ‘The Meg’
Reimagining the Megalodon, the World’s Most Terrifying Sea Creature by Arik Gabbai
The Long Battle to Make The Meg by Andrew Husband
From Jaws to The Shallows: how Hollywood demonises sharks by Rebecca Hawkes
Kimberly Clark’s Anti-Hauls

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