Movie Review: The Meg

Let’s talk about The Meg, the movie based on Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.

First, I was excited about this movie from the time I heard about it. Despite my misgivings regarding Alten’s political discussions on his author page – something I *highly* discourage -, The Meg Trilogy is some of his finest work, and his only series I’ve found so far where he doesn’t go off the deep end with Book 2. (In the Meg series, he waits until Book 4 for that, but even then it could be sold as setting up a new trilogy – that he has yet to continue – over truly “going off the deep end”.) The scene with the young girl I immediately knew was never in the book, but the rest of the early promotion stuff looked pretty close. The casting of Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor was about as close to spot on as I think you can get at the moment with well known lead actors, and I was happy about it. The particular experience at the theater closest to my house was ruined by a large group of people immediately behind me who could not stop talking throughout the movie, including cracking jokes during what were meant to be some of the more serious and terrifying moments. One example: When the Meg first shows up at the underwater hallway where the girl is playing alone in the trailer, it is clearly meant as a terrifying moment of the movie. And the people behind me loudly said “Hello, I’m Bruce”, from Finding Nemo. Hilarious, actually, but took me completely out of the terrifying aspect of that scene.

Now, as a generic late summer shark attack movie, Meg is perfectly fine. Kind of an updated Jaws, really. If you like this type of movie, you’ll like this one. If you despise this type of movie, you’ll despise this one, and if you’re ambivalent about them… well, you might actually like this one.

HOWEVER, with this specific title, I’m looking for a specific tale. One that I read numerous times after my aunt gave me a copy not long after it came out in paperback, thinking I might like it. While I waited a few years (the cover was fairly bland at the time), I did eventually read it… and every book in the series that would come later. Multiple times. And it turns out while watching this movie that I actually remembered more details than I thought I did, what with my last re-read of this trilogy being roughly a decade (and several hundred, maybe even low thousands, books ago). And at a spoiler free level, I’ll say this: For those in my position, you’re better off approaching this movie as fans of Star Trek: The Original Series have to approach the latest Star Trek movies: You’re going to get the same basic tale, but it is going to be completely repackaged and this repackaging seems to possibly preclude some side plots.

Here’s the trailer for the movie. WARNING: WE BE TALKING SPOILERS BELOW THE TRAILER.


The first difference is actually in the very first scene – Jonas Taylor’s background, when he first encounters the Megalodon. In the book, Jonas is in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench, piloting a research vessel. He sees the Meg through the glass, gets spooked, and triggers an emergency ascent that kills the two other people in the vessel. Dr. Heller is on the surface ship monitoring everyone. In the movie, they are somewhere *not* the Challenger Deep when a small submarine is stranded on a shelf below 11000 meters deep. Jonas and a small team are dispatched to rescue the stranded submariners, and get several of them aboard the rescue vessel – including Dr. Heller, who had been in the stranded vessel. The Meg begins striking the stranded submarine, and Jonas has to abandon it with several people, including his two teammates, inside in order to save everyone else. The same dynamic results in both versions – Heller labels Jonas as crazy, and Jonas never dives again before the events that will bring him back into contact with the Meg.

If I remember the books correctly, Jonas meets Mac in the psychiatric hospital in this period of his life. In the movie, Mac is in charge of the research station that next encounters the Meg.

Next, the impetus for the rest of the story in the books is a Japanese family named Tanaka and their research institution, the Tanaka Oceanographic Institute in Monterrey, California laying a cable in the Challenger Deep that suddenly gets ripped apart. They contact Jonas as the only person familiar with that depth that can possibly repair their cable. In the movie, it is a Chinese family that works for a billionaire who has allowed them to build a floating research platform off the East Asian coast. They have a theory that the bottom of the ocean isn’t actually the bottom, but a sonar reflective thermocline layer. They send a manned sub down to investigate it, piloted by Jonas’ ex-wife. The sub makes it through the thermocline layer and gets attacked by the Meg and stranded… and Jonas is the only person that has the experience to rescue them.

In the book, Jonas’s rescue sub is connected via cable to the surface ship above and places a cable on the unit he is trying to repair. When the Meg attacks at depth, it winds up getting caught in the cable, slicing it open as it is drug back to the surface – and allowing another Meg to survive the cold depths that had had it trapped for millions of years by following in the trapped Meg’s blood. In the movie, the ascent through the thermocline of Jonas’ rescue sub allows a hole that allows some of the trapped heat to escape… and the Meg to rise right along with it.

In the book, Jonas and the Tanakas get back to the Tanaka Institute before they eventually hear reports of mysterious ship disappearances throughout the Pacific that are mysteriously heading towards them and the San Diego coast. In the movie, the scene with the girl in the trailer happens, and then nearby ships immediately start sending out rescue beacons… only to have completely been destroyed by the time the team can get to them.

In the books, one of the Tanakas dies. In the movie, it is a different, far more critical for the subsequent books, Tanaka that dies.

In the book, the climactic scenes happen off the San Diego coast, while in the movie they happen at one of the most crowded beaches in Asia.

In the books, the Meg that survives to be the primary antagonist of the first book is pregnant and gives birth to three pups, one of which becomes the primary antagonist for the next two books. In the movie, the surviving Meg isn’t pregnant at all.

And one of the goriest scenes in the book isn’t there at all, replaced by a far less bad-ass (but far more PG-13 friendly) sequence. Here, I speak of the scene where Jonas actually manages to kill the Meg. In the book, he actually gets swallowed, lands in its stomach, escapes his sub, and uses a fossilized Meg tooth he carried with him everywhere to literally cut the heart out of the beast, killing it. In the movie, he uses the wing the Meg damaged in an attack during the battle to slice the Meg open along its stomach and encourage hundreds of area sharks to attack it, killing it in a feeding frenzy.

And I’m sure I missed some differences and glossed over others, but you get the idea. This movie is VERY different from the book, so if you’re truly a book purist you are really not going to like this movie claiming to be The Meg. But as I said from the start, as a late summer shark movie without that particular name, it actually works well.