“Man versus Meg isn’t a fight. It’s a slaughter.”
A 75-foot-long prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon seeks revenge in the science fiction action thriller The Meg, an exhilarating adventure that director Jon Turteltaub says “takes you into a world you have imagined but have never seen. And that is exactly what’s fun and exciting about movies.”
Global action star Jason Statham, who leads an international cast in the sci-fi thriller, adds, “I think this is the ultimate popcorn film. It gives you what people go to the cinema for: entertainment, suspense, action, and even a few laughs—all of the things audiences want from a big moviegoing experience.”
Turteltaub directed the film from a screenplay by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber, based on the best-selling novel MEG by Steve Alten.
A deep-sea submersible—part of an international undersea observation program—has been attacked by a massive creature and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean…with its crew trapped inside. With time running out, former deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason 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 Bingbing), who thinks she can rescue the crew on her own. But it will take their combined efforts to save the crew, and the ocean itself,from this seemingly unstoppable threat—a prehistoric 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon. Thought to be extinct, the Meg turns out to be very much alive…and on the hunt.
Five years before, Jonas had encountered this same terrifying creature, but no one had believed him. Now, teamed with Suyin, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life to return to the ocean depths…bringing him face to face once more with the apex predator of all time.
“The Meg” is short for Megalodon, an enormous shark believed to have been extinct for more than two million years.
“We love the prehistoric world and the mysteries it holds,” Turteltaub remarks. “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?”
“I have always had a fascination with the underwater world and have been scuba diving for almost 20 years,” says Statham. “The oceans are so vast, and, rationally, I think most people have a fear of what’s down there and automatically assume the worst, especially about sharks. Sharks are one thing that take no prisoners. A great white would put the fear of God into any swimmer, so you can only imagine what something three or four times that size would do to you. You wouldn’t want that chasing you down.”
In the film, Statham plays Jonas Taylor, an undersea rescue diver who was the best of the best before a terrifying brush with a massive creature powerful enough to crush the hull of a nuclear submarine. The traumatic attack took the lives of two friends and put Jonas into voluntary drydock: for five years, he has given up diving for drinking…until fate forces his hand. The emergence of a Megalodon at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is threatening the lives of a crew from Mana One, an oceanic research institute off the coast of China. Jonas could be their last and only hope.
Turteltaub offers, “Jonas is the only one with the experience and expertise to rescue them, but he’s given up on life. They bring him back in, very reluctantly, but they find out they are facing more than they bargained for.”
“The Meg” is based on the best-selling novel MEG by Steve Alten, which first caught the attention of producer Belle Avery.
Avery recalls, “I read the book and immediately saw the potential for an action-filled adventure with global appeal because sharks are such a popular thing in our culture. This story deals with a creature we’ve never seen before, but, then again, so much of our oceans remains to be discovered. Can you absolutely say with certainty that Megalodons don’t exist? I don’t know if you can,” she smiles.
The global nature of the story also presented Avery with an opportunity to expand on her work in the flourishing Chinese film industry. “I had already been consulting for years in China,” she explains, “but my biggest priority was making sure we had the right partner for this project. When I met Jiang Wei at Gravity Pictures and showed him the seven-inch Meg tooth, he immediately got it. He knew we could make this an organic, synergistic coproduction, which is the only thing I was interested in doing, and the only thing Gravity was interested in doing.
“Setting the research center in the Pacific and bringing in the characters of Dr. Zhang and his daughter, Suyin, to head it, was a hugely important element,” Avery continues. “And one of the largest dive centers in the world is in Tianjin, so it made perfect sense narratively.”
Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura adds, “Our partners at Gravity Pictures were fantastic collaborators. That was invaluable since we were not only working with them on the production side but would also be shooting a portion of ‘The Meg’ in China. It was a true joint effort.”
One of China’s most popular leading ladies, Li Bingbing, who stars as Suyin, states, “Film is one of the best ways to breach the gap of two different cultures. There is great value in Eastern and Western audiences having a better understanding of each other, so this kind of cooperation is a win-win for everyone.”
Screenwriters Dean Georgaris and brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber teamed up to adapt Alten’s book for the screen. Jon Hoeber details, “We’d previously been working on our own drafts of the script, but then Lorenzo suggested we write together, combining the best aspects of each, which is exactly what we did.”
Georgaris, who had originally received the novel from Avery, says, “As a writer, any time you are dealing with a primal fear or fascination, including sharks, monsters, or, as in this case, both, you get the chance to do two things in combination: you get to create some jolts and thrills, and you also get to infuse some moments of comic relief. One of the things Jon, Erich and I wanted to do was to take the thrills seriously, but also let our characters—and hopefully the audience—have a little fun, too. After all, it’s a 75-foot Megalodon; you want to see it destroy as many things as possible.”
Georgaris began his writing career with the screenplay for the hit action adventure “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” starring Angelina Jolie and Gerard Butler. He went on to write the screenplays for John Woo’s action drama “Paycheck” and Jonathan Demme’s remake of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
In addition, Georgaris produced the horror thriller The Crazies, and executive produced the comedy “What Happens in Vegas.” He more recently served as executive producer on Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed film adaptation of “Life of Pi,” which received a total of 129 award nominations and 82 award wins, including four Oscars and one Golden Globe.
“We all know the giant shark is going to eat a bunch of people,” adds Erich Hoeber. “We’re waiting for it. But even though the stakes are life and death, we definitely tried to give the audience a little wink here and there along the way on this wild ride.”
Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber have worked in a wide array of genres and formats during their 20-year stint in Hollywood. First gaining traction with the 1998 Sundance hit Montana, the team began a prolific run in features, television, and graphic novels.
They have since written the screenplays for such films as Red, and the sequel, Red 2.
The brothers are currently prepping their original comedy “My Spy,” as well as a live-action adaptation of the beloved Manga Naruto.
Producer Colin Wilson says, “Dean, Jon and Erich took the original source material that Steve Alten created, which was rich with ideas, and wrote a screenplay that captured just the right balance of suspense, action, humor and diverse characters. And in Jon Turteltaub’s hands, it was like lightning in a bottle. He was the perfect director for this film.”
When Turteltaub was sent the script, he says a major draw for him was the fact that “it was new territory for me. I had never done a big monster movie—certainly not a giant shark movie—so I thought, ‘Okay, this is going to be a challenge…so let’s do it!’”
In tackling the project, Turteltaub notes, “We were aware that Steve Alten’s book—actually the whole book series—has a big following, and while there are always changes that have to be made in adapting a book into a film, we wanted to make sure those fans, and movie fans, got what they wanted.”
Avery says, “Jon was able to juggle all the demands of filming on and in the water and dealing with a lot of complex visual effects, while still giving every actor the individual attention they needed. That’s something he does brilliantly. It was amazing watching him work with the cast, especially given that there was a bit of a language barrier for a few of them.”
Bingbing attests, “One thing Jon would do that I appreciated: just before he said ‘Action,’ he would throw me a new line. He never worried that English is not my first language. He’d say, ‘You can do it, Bingbing, no problem.’ Jon trusted me, and I trusted him. He is very creative and smart and so nice; he treated everyone on the set with respect. He is an amazing director and I loved working with him so much.”
Filming on “The Meg” was accomplished entirely on location in New Zealand and China and in the waters off the coasts of both countries.
The creation of the title character in “The Meg” began with extensive research. Turteltaub notes, “One thing I love about my job is that on every movie I become a pseudo-expert on something. I began doing research into Megalodons and sharks because the more you draw people in with what is true, the more frightening things are.”
The skeleton of a Megalodon—just as in sharks today—was formed of cartilage rather than bone, so very little remains of them except teeth and some fossil vertebrae. VFX supervisor Adrian de Wet offers, “There is a formula to extrapolate the size of the creature based on the teeth, but there are different theories about what they actually looked like when they swam the oceans. We started by looking at what scientists, archeologists and paleontologists speculate about them and took that as our starting point. But we had some fun coming up with our Meg design and went through a number of iterations before we arrived at the final look. We tried to make it appear massive and terrifying and awesome, but at the same time very graceful in the water. Most importantly, the Meg is not just a larger version of a great white.”
Apart from the obvious size disparity, some of the notable differences between the Meg and today’s sharks were in the skin and in the number of gills. Turteltaub clarifies, “We gave our Meg more gills than a shark would have because we conjectured that in the oxygen-poor environment at the bottom of the ocean, it might have evolved extra gills.”
For the skin, de Wet describes, “We went for an uneven brown coloration with a gnarly texture. It has been in a few battles with other animals, so we added a lot of scratches and scars and the dorsal fin has nicks and tears in it. There are even barnacles that have attached themselves to the Meg over the years.”
The Meg’s most fearsome feature, by far, is its bite. “Its mouth is huge and there are hundreds of teeth,” de Wet says. “They are arranged in rows, are razor sharp and serrated for tearing flesh. Once its prey goes into the Meg’s mouth, it’s not getting out.”
As they finalized the Meg’s appearance, de Wet collaborated with the VFX houses Scanline, Double Negative and Sony Imageworks to breathe life into the character.
“The Meg is enormous, but it has also spent millions of years evolving into a hydrodynamic killing machine, so it’s very agile and fast,” de Wet comments. “It has quite a flexible body and with a big swish of its tail, it can get up to speeds approaching that of a small speedboat. We studied the biomechanics of sharks quite closely and did computer tests of swim cycles and how the Meg would achieve forward motion. It took a great deal of R&D to get the muscles to look correct under the skin as the Meg moves.”
For specific sequences, physical models of the Meg’s head and tail were also constructed. However, since the actors would generally be using their imaginations, the filmmakers came up with a clever visual reference to help them picture the beast’s size in its entirety. Di Bonaventura recalls, “We lined up shipping crates between 70 and 90 feet in length, and then drew the Meg on the side of the containers. When you can actually see the size, it’s overwhelming. You realize we’re like sardines in comparison. It would take a lot of us to make a satisfying meal,” he grins.
In addition to the Meg, the VFX teams were also responsible for generating the entire undersea world of the film, including the topology of the ocean floor and the spectrum of strange beings discovered below the thermocline. “We began with actual extant species and then took a little poetic license,” de Wet allows. “Some of them are hybridizations of other species that we blended together because the idea there is it’s a piece of the Earth that’s been cut off and never seen before.”
With water being the Meg’s natural habitat, water effects naturally followed. “If you’ve got an enormous creature breaching through the water, there is a great amount of spray and particulate being thrown everywhere, which mostly had to be rendered in CG,” de Wet confirms. “Fortunately for us, we had some of the best people in the world who are renowned for doing water effects.”
“I was knocked out by the visual effects,” says Turteltaub. “It’s not just moving pixels around the screen—they create drama and story in a multidimensional way that makes the audience stop thinking of these creatures as animated at all. It’s brilliant, what they do.”
Jon Turteltaub reflects, “The goal was to deliver the thrills and the fun, but we also want to tease people’s imaginations. As the movie suggests, there are unexplored areas of the ocean that we can’t get to and something terrifying might be down there.
“And,” he concludes, “it would probably be really good if it stayed down there.”