The year was 1974 and a young twenty one year old was fiercely pitching his capabilities to producers at Universal Studios about bringing Peter Benchley’s smash hit book named Jaws to the big screen. This ambitious young man was none other than the legendary Steven Spielberg. Producers Dick Zanuck and Dave Brown had gone around looking for established Directors who could adapt the story into a feature film. However, after a fierce battle with Warner bros. for the rights to the story, and a few deals that didn’t materialize, Jaws was reluctantly handed over to an “inexperienced” Spielberg. Zanuck and Brown had very different plans for how the film was to be made. They had already visualized a large water tank where puppeteers could use a shark to attack a miniature boat. Maybe they would stitch together scenes from the National Geographic Archives to make it seem real. Spielberg vehemently refused to use a tank and instead proposed that they head out to the open sea. That was a scary prospect for the producers as no one had done something like that before. They would have to rig equipment on a boat and carry the whole crew off shore. If they were not being careful, the budget could shoot out of their control. On top of that, Spielberg said that he didn’t want to use stuffed Sharks in the film. Instead, they would be using specially created mechanical Sharks that would look and feel real. After a heated debate that went on for weeks, Spielberg finally convinced the duo and had Art-director Joe Alves create three sharks for the film, each programmed to move in a specific way. Each one of those sharks would have a crew of over a dozen people controlling it.
However, the struggle was far from over. From the very first day, the film ran into seemingly insurmountable production issues. When the Sharks were placed in the water they didn’t work. The crew would go out to the location every day with the script hoping that their scene would be shot today but after hours of re-takes, they would come back home dejected. The delay of three months had now become a delay of six months. The young Spielberg became a nervous wreck, writing and rewriting the script to make it more conducive to the shooting conditions. He would barely sleep and would often wake up in the morning with cold sweats. The problems were so dire that it became an inside joke among the crew where they started calling the movie – “Flaws”. It was fortunate that they never gave up. They quickly learned from their mistakes and one fine day, the Sharks worked and the rest we know is history! Jaws became the first ever “summer blockbuster” and changed the way how Hollywood made and marketed its films, forever.
The young Spielberg became a nervous wreck, writing and rewriting the script to make it more conducive to the shooting conditions. He would barely sleep and would often wake up in the morning with cold sweats. The problems were so dire that it became an inside joke among the crew where they started calling the movie – “Flaws”.
It blows my mind that Jaws came out over four decades ago. Even after all that time, it holds up remarkably well and the reason for that is not the mechanical Sharks. Despite the stressful hiccups throughout the shoot, Spielberg had grasped the essence of the film and wove his story around it. Jaws was not about a Great White Shark on a feeding frenzy. It was about fear and how people coped with it. And that’s where lies my problem with The Meg. John Turtletaub’s film has been touted as an homage to Jaws, right from its promotional posters to a particular beach-scene which was so iconic to its forty-year-old counterpart. The story is about an ancient predator called the Megalodon that finds its way to the surface when a group of oceanologists is conducting deep-sea research. A scouting crew that is sent out to map the sea-floor is attacked by the gigantic monster and is trapped. The Research team sends for Jason Statham who is the only person who had encountered this thing and lived to tell tales. The team is somehow rescued but the Meg, as they fondly call it, has now found a new territory much nearer to the surface. The deep-sea monster had now entered the human world.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those movie purists who scoffs at everything. The premise at the outset does sound interesting, exciting even. Imagine replacing the Great White in Jaws with a 20-meter long Shark. Sounds like a no-brainer right ? Turtletaub gets his CGI team to build a menacing Shark alright but that’s where it ends. Every single character in the entire cast, including Statham, is poorly written. Right from the opening sequence where Statham first encounters the Meg, you get to see cringe-worthy reactions where he keeps on repeating – “What ?” every few minutes with an expression that is overly dramatic and almost laughable. As we proceed further into the movie, we are introduced to Rainn Wilson who plays the Billionaire who is sponsoring the whole shebang. If you didn’t know Wilson’s amazing work in the hit series The Office, you would want to bash his face in. His character was the only one that seemed to follow a certain arc. Even so, it was so dastardly written that his very appearance gets just plain annoying and you stop caring what that character does later. There is also an utterly unnecessary love arc between Statham and Li Bingbing, who had lost her husband in the rescue operation earlier. In a ridiculous scene just a day after the incident, Bingbing is seen sneaking a peek at a naked Statham as he comes out of the shower.
Turtletaub’s intentions were pretty clear from the get-go. He wanted to make a film that lay somewhere between Jaws and Sharknado. He knew that audiences that found Sharknado nonsensical would throw money at a film that made just a tad more sense than that. The Meg has been placed at that very sweet spot – you have a story where even the characters are aware that they are just filling in where the Meg isn’t. You wanted a feeding frenzy, you got it. You wanted crazy-ass Shark stunts, you got it. Turtletaub basically turns Spielberg’s nuanced screenplay into an indecent dance of death that is as far away from reality as possible even though Sharks do exist and are very much a threat now as they were millions of years ago. Well, everyone likes a cheap thrill from time to time but at least have the decency not to call it an homage to Jaws.