Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sea-monster time again in Jon Turteltaub's updated shark movie, THE MEG

THE MEG turns out to be an abbreviated version of the Megalodon, a now extinct and maybe 60-foot-long shark species that lived a couple of million years ago. It comes back, of course, from below the Mariana Trench, in the new sea-monster movie named after it and which offers a surprising amount of thrills, chills and good, silly fun. As directed by Jon Turteltaub (shown below), from a screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (from the novel by Steve Alten), the movie has a rather charming, "lived-in" look about it.

Though it's full of hi-tech lab equipment and underwater wonders, there remains a homemade quality about everything from the plot and dialog to the visuals and special effects. Instead of working against the movie, however, these all add to its charm and relative low-key effectiveness.

All that -- together with the good international cast assembled to bring the movie to life -- makes The Meg an enjoyable end-of-summer monster-movie romp, as we sit around entertaining ourselves while climate change creeps up destructively all around us. (As I can best recall, there's nary a mention of this is the film. But then, why spoil our fun?)

That cast includes Jason Statham, above, looking as fit as ever, if a tad older these days. There's one delicious scene in which one of the movie's heroines, played by China's Li Bingbing (below), enters Statham's room as our hero is clad only in his after-shower towel. Try as she might, she can't seem to take her eyes off his incredible form, and the movie delivers a very nice "objectification-of-the-male-body" moment.

The Meg also does a pretty fair job of presenting its pseudo-science in a form that goes down relatively easily. The beginning is full of semi-savvy information provided us so that we can understand what's going on as we tag along with our crew, exploring the deepest part of the ocean with funding provided by one the world's billionaires (played with the right amount of smarm-and-then-charm, along with his usual good humor, by Rainn Wilson).

The nice supporting cast includes Page Kennedy (at far left, above), Ruby Rose (next left), and Cliff Curtis (far right), all of whom turn in smart/specific performances. And a good word must be said for the adorable young actress, Shuya Sophia Cai (below with Statham), who plays wittily and expressively the daughter of Ms Li. Once the movie turns its attention to the Meg's attacking the frolickers at a nearby beach (including, yes, a cute little dog), we get the usual silly fun, some decimation and of course very little actual bloodshed (to uphold the film's family-friendly rating).

The movie's pacing is generally good, though ten minutes could easily have been cut to tighten things up a bit. The final word we see on screen (prior to the end credits roll) is a hilarious and simultaneous nod to both French art films and scary shark movies. It ends The Meg with a most appropriate hoot. Whoever came up with this witty idea deserves special thanks.

Thanks, however, are nowhere due to either Warner Brothers (who is distributing the movie) or the Cinemark theater chain, where last night's press-and-invited-general-audience preview took place in Boynton Beach, Florida. The movie was somehow wrongly and very stupidly projected onto the screen in a ratio in which the top, bottom and both sides of the screen were so cut off that we in the audience could not read any (or very little of) the explanatory visual information telling us where in the world the scene is taking place or what year it might be. And then, when a foreign language is being spoken in several scenes, literally all of the subtitles were also unable to be read.

I know this is Flori-duh, but, really: At a press and public preview screening? Doesn't anyone check these things in advance? Earlier in the day I attended a press-only screening of the Papillon remake which started, yes, one-and-one-half hours late at a local Regal cinema -- because, again, no one at Regal had bothered doing the work that needed to be done in advance. Is it any wonder, despite the inroads made via the maybe-soon-to-be-late-and-lamented MoviePass, that audiences continue to forsake movie theaters for home viewing?

Meanwhile, The Meg -- running 113 minutes and projected, I hope, a hell of a lot better where you'll see it than where we saw it -- hits theaters nationwide on Friday, August 10. Click here to find those nearest you.

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