Fans of author Steve Alten’s 1997 novel Meg– in which a 20-metre prehistoric shark, the megalodon, is discovered lurking in the Marianas Trench off the coast of China – have been waiting a long time to see a screen adaptation.
Originally intended to go into production in 1997, the film version, like its monstrous predator, found itself stuck in limbo for the next two decades, until Warner Bros. announced it would make the film in 2015, with director Eli Roth onboard.
Roth would leave the project the following year, however, replaced by Jon Turteltaub – best known for helming Cool Running and the National Treasure films. Jason Statham also signed on to play the lead role of deep-sea rescue specialist Jonas Taylor (certainly an ideal foil for the oversized shark!), and The Meg was ready to be unleashed.
Turteltaub saw The Meg as an opportunity to venture into new territory as a filmmaker.
“I had never done a big monster movie – certainly not a giant shark movie – so I thought, “Ok, this is going to be a challenge… so let’s do it,” he says.
“We love the prehistoric world and the mysteries it holds,” he continues, “but what if we discovered that this ancient animal was alive today? If this gigantic beast was suddenly unleashed and roaming the oceans, nothing would be safe in the water – not whales, not sharks, not humans. And how much would our entire ecosystem be thrown off balance?”
He also saw the film as a piece of pure entertainment that would capture the imagination of a global audience.
“Nothing means more to me than entertaining audiences, and I’ve never thought it more than on The Meg. My mantra on that was, “Is this fun? Is this a delight? Is this interesting?”
The answer is of course all three, and Turteltaub was determined to maintain a sense of fun and adventure on the set, despite the challenges of shooting on the open ocean.
“I’m bored if I’m not trying to be funny,” he admits. “I always try to keep a sense of humor, at least with the cast. I want to bring out their creativity and humor and let them know that the set is a place where they’re not being judged. If everyone’s having a good time, then they’re probably feeling looser and more creative.
“That’s not always the case. There are actors who like things to be serious and miserable. But even when I’ve directed dramas, the set is light. Frankly, the camera is rolling for not much more than twenty or thirty minutes each day, and during the other eleven and a half hours you might as well be enjoying yourself.”
On working with the Stath, the director laughs that as well as bringing “tremendous abs” to the role of Jonas Taylor, he also brought a sense of dignity.
“You believe every word that comes out of his mouth, so Jason is the way to make a megalodon believable,” he explains. “He also has a great sense of humour that lies just beneath all that strength. Jason brings everything that comes with being the star of your movie, but he can also turn it upside down when necessary and have fun with it.”
Surrounding the British action star is a truly international cast – including China’s Bingbing Li, American Rainn Wilson, Kiwi Cliff Curtis, and Australia’s own Ruby Rose – which Turteltaub says is reflective of the film’s setting.
“The Meg takes place mostly in the ocean, which is as international as a setting can be – except, perhaps, for outer space. Our characters reflect the fact that there are smart and brave people all over the world with extraordinary gifts, who have a great sense of humour, and who fall in love. I thought, ‘Let’s bring them all together to solve a global problem.’”
With location filming taking place in New Zealand and China, Turteltaub notes that the ocean is a mean place to make a movie. “It’s constantly moving and changing and doesn’t let you control it. Boats don’t stay in one place. The weather is always changing. All these things add up to people getting seasick and cinematographers complaining about the light.”
However, he does add that working on the ocean imparted a very real sense of being in the film he was making.
“For a director, that turns all of this into an exciting adventure. You lose an element of control, but you gain so much authenticity and pleasure from making the movie.”
Turteltaub hopes that audiences will also buy into this adventurous spirit when they see The Meg. “I want them to gasp and laugh. But on a deeper level, I want them to appreciate the experience that we worked so hard to bring them. I’ve made movies where I wanted audiences to leave thinking esoteric thoughts or experiencing deep feelings. With The Meg I just want them to say, ‘That was freaking awesome!’”