43 years after 'Jaws', there's a new shark in Hollywood

Frankie Taggart, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 31 2018 05:57 AM

A scene from 'The Meg'. Handout

LOS ANGELES -- In the 43 years since "Jaws" scared a generation of cinemagoers out of the water and took a $470 million bite out of the box office, few shark movies have made much of a splash.

The increasingly poor sequels to Steven Spielberg's 1975 masterpiece launched their own era of corny aquatic monster movies, from The Asylum's "Sharknado" series to more sober but uninspiring releases like "Deep Blue Sea" and "The Shallows."

"The Meg" lunges out of the deep in US and Chinese theaters on August 10 (August 8 in the Philippines) with the aim of giving the genre back its teeth with a two-million-year-old megalodon five times the size of a great white.

"When you're a kid, you think there's a monster under your bed or in your closet, and monsters haunt us. They're there in our darkest dreams," one of the movie's stars, American actor Rainn Wilson, told AFP.

"They are in the Jungian shadow part of ourselves. Humanity's in some dark times right now and I think the monster movies and post-apocalyptic monsters reflect that."

Based on the best-selling novel "MEG" by Steve Alten, Jon Turteltaub's movie stars Jason Statham ("The Fate of the Furious," "The Expendables") and Chinese actress Li Bingbing ("Transformers: Age of Extinction").

A deep-sea submersible -- part of an international undersea observation program -- has been attacked by a massive creature and lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean with its crew trapped inside.

Former deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is drawn out of self-imposed exile by a visionary Chinese oceanographer, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), against the wishes of his daughter, Suyin (Li), who thinks she can rescue the crew on her own. 

'Indelible impression'

But it will take their combined efforts to save the crew, and the ocean itself, from this seemingly unstoppable threat -- a prehistoric 75-foot shark known as the megalodon.

Wilson -- best known as creepy salesman Dwight in NBC's "The Office" -- remembers being around 12 years old when he first saw "Jaws."

"I had never seen a movie like that before. I remember it really made an indelible impression -- it did on a lot of people," he said during a press preview for the movie in Los Angeles on Saturday. "The filmmaking was just so beautiful and visceral and it was absolutely terrifying."

For Masi Oka, who plays one of the crew members stranded in the sub, a good monster movie is enjoyable precisely because the audience feels safe as the carnage unfolds onscreen.

"I think if you were watching this while you were out on the sea, it would be a very different story, it would feel more real," said the former star of CBS cop show "Hawaii Five-O."

"Jaws" is famous for the problems Spielberg had getting his shark model Bruce -- named for his accountant -- to work in the salty water.

The Meg and all of the other aquatic life seen in the film were brought to life via state-of-the-art CGI, starting with extensive research on the beast's appearance. 

Terrifying but... graceful

The idea was to create something that looked massive and terrifying but, at the same time, very graceful in the water.

Oka, a former visual effects artist who worked on the "Star Wars" prequels as well as "Mission to Mars," "Terminator 3" and many other huge blockbusters, said the technology has improved beyond recognition.

"Filmmakers are no longer limited by what you can do, it's what you can think of," he said.

As with many recent blockbusters -- including "The Great Wall," "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "Furious 7," "Skyscraper" and "Pacific Rim 2" -- "The Meg" has significant Chinese funding, and much of the movie takes place in the Middle Kingdom. 

The Hauraki Gulf in northern New Zealand doubled as China's Pacific coast and much of the shoot took place in huge tanks at the Kumeu Film Studios in Auckland. 

But the production moved to China's Hainan Island for extensive sections of the movie and the beachside city of Sanya provided the setting for a climactic attack involving thousands of extras. 

"China is an amazing place -- vibrant, colorful and bright. The script called for a densely populated beach, and that's Sanya Bay," Turteltaub said.

"It's not lacking for people, which was heaven for a giant shark movie." 

© Agence France-Presse

"The Meg" dives into Philippine cinemas nationwide on August 8.