Monday, August 13, 2018

The Meg

Strongly tempted to pair this one with The Island for a "Chinese movies about danger in the middle of the ocean" post, but it's really not Chinese enough, despite the setting, a fair chunk of the cast, and the fact that it certainly seems like a fair chunk of the money came from there. It is, at any rate, probably a better attempt at appealing to "the world market" than most movies clearly made with the intent of making a splash on both the American and Chinese box office charts, and it seems to have done all right by that measurement. Tough week to open in China, too, between The Island coming out and that remake of Brewster's Millions presumably going strong.

I'm mildly amused by the slight name change from the original novel Meg, and I kind of wonder if it's a reflection of how we browse different media. In a bookstore or library, Meg is going to not just be in a horror or sci-fi section, but even the spine is going to have a giant shark on it, so you know what to expect. Someone just standing at the box office of the local AMC, though, has no context, and might very well assume that "Meg" is some indie drama about a young woman discovering her own independence. "The Meg" is clearly talking about a thing or an idea that isn't necessarily a common term, so a blind buy at least has you in the general ballpark.

I must also admit, I'm mildly disappointed that there weren't more 3D shows for this one - almost none of the premium screens were 3D and most of the 3D shows there were happened at off-peak-hours. Yeah, it's clearly a conversion job, but underwater stuff makes for good use of depth, and there are a few other nifty uses. Not necessarily worth paying extra for, but worth the upgrade if you've got A-List.

The Meg

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #4 (first-run, RealD DCP)

Folks have been trying to make Steve Alten's novel Meg into a movie since it came out twenty years ago, and you kind of have to wonder what took so long, because it doesn't seem that complicated - there's no piece of it that doesn't come from basically every B-movie about a sea monster ever made, and it's not like you've got to create a whole new monster. Every special effects house probably already has a shark model in their files, after all. That The Meg is kind of an assembly-line monster movie is okay - it's fun to apply the latest technology to these old standards every few years - but what exactly got this stuck in development hell?

It starts, give or take a flashback, with a theory Professor Zhang (Winston Chao) believes that the bottom of the Philippine Trench is actually much deeper than it appears, and that the previously mapped bottom is actually a thermocline layer whose abrupt change in temperature reflects radar and sonar, and he's convinced a tech billionaire (Rainn Wilson) to pay for an underwater research lab. The good news is that he's right; the bad news is that the first submersible sent down gets damaged. Zhang and the station's chief of operations (Cliff Curtis) are able to marine-rescue expert Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) out of retirement - though Zhang's marine biologist daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) attempts to mount a rescue first - but all those vehicles punching through the thermocline has created a hole that the previously-unseen life in that isolated environment can swim through. Like, say, a megalodon, a sixty-foot shark thought to be extinct for two million years with an insatiable appetite and no predators in today's ocean.

Though the giant shark is obviously the main attraction, the filmmakers pull a nifty trick in that the first act, before "The Meg" even shows up, is kind of the most fun. It introduces a nice ensemble of smart, capable people who can bounce off each other without it all seeming snippy or making light of a situation, right down to Statham not actually winking at the camera as Jonas recites the expected way for a situation to play out. More importantly, director Jon Turteltaub and three credited screenwriters have ample opportunity to go the "this stuff was hidden from us for a reason!" route, but they almost never do, and there's real delight found in exploration and adventure: The submersible crew (Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and Masi Oka) are upbeat, the undersea landscape looks cool (although it could use a few more obviously bizarre species), and there's great fun to be had in both the flashy equipment Morris's money has paid for and the decidedly manual techniques Jonas uses to get past a damaged hatch. There's even a couple good action sequences, and you don't see the megalodon until the climax of the that leg's last one..

Full review at EFC.

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