This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for, and we’re not just talking about Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. For over 40 years, his masterpiece Jaws, which saw man pitted against nature in the form of a 25ft swimming, killing machine, has been the greatest shark movie for all time.
When the film was released, the response was unprecedented. Not only did the film become the world’s first summer blockbuster, but shark-mania swept the globe creating everything from cheap rip offs (Orca! It’s Jaws with a killer whale!) to ice-cream flavors (Jawberry, Finilla).
Jaws author Peter Benchley later stated he regretted how the film’s success forever villainized sharks and 40 years on, that influence is still being felt.
In the wake of Jaws, sharks became the perfect cinematic villain. Sleek, silent, uncompromising, and packed with teeth, they embody many of our primordial fears. They have no complex motive or grand plan, they just want to eat us.
However, once the Jaws franchise was run into the ground with the risible Jaws 3 and Jaws The Revenge, there was still a demand for shark movies. While the menu stayed the same (nubile teens and unsuspecting public officials), the once terrifying killers of the deep descended into parody – and there are two main culprits: Roger Corman and The Asylum (and their Sy-Fy partners-in-crime).
Mega-sharks and Sharknados
Thanks to the popularity of Corman’s Sharktopus and The Asylum’s Mega-Shark series, sharks must no longer be able to just swim and eat, they must fly and lay devastation to entire cities. In the case of Ghost Shark, they can even come back from the dead!
The result? An entire genre of ridiculous shark movies that turn nature’s premier killing machine into awfully rendered CGI abominations. Mega Shark Vs. Mecha Shark, Two-Headed Shark Attack, Dinoshark, Sharks In Venice, Sand Sharks, Shark Avalanche – these aren’t the result of a cheese-induced nightmare after a screening of Deep Blue Sea, these are actual movie titles.
Whereas sharks once represented the evil within us all or the wrath of mother nature, now they’re just cannon fodder, often being blown up with shotguns or gutted with chainsaws.
What’s worse is that the image of sharks in movies hasn’t done anything for their reputation in the real world where 100 million are killed annually.
However, despite The Asylum and Sy-Fy creating new shark films every month, things could be about to change as The Meg looks to take a massive chomp out of the summer.
Pleased to eat you
While recent ‘serious’ shark dramas like The Shallows and 47 Meters Down have had mixed receptions and modest success, it is still ironically the mania around films like Sharknado that have shown studios that there is an audience for shark films. The question is what direction to go in? Camp like Deep Blue Sea? Or serious like Jaws?
By casting Jason Statham, putting Bobby Darin’s Beyond The Sea over the trailer and slapping the tag-line “Pleased to eat you” on the poster, Warner Brothers have made their intentions clear with their eagerly-anticipated 2018 blockbuster The Meg – it’s going to be pure camp entertainment! However, it has taken decades for directors and studios to decide how to best put the prehistoric shark on the big screen.
Steven Alten’s book Meg was first published in 1997 and back then the rights were snapped up by Walt Disney, just as a 14-year-old version of this author also discovered it. Eventually, the House of Mouse opted not to dive into prehistoric shark waters and the Meg sank into development hell, as directors like Jan de Bont and Eli Roth came and went. For a few years, this author’s dream of a big-screen Meg film continued to shine bright and that’s why there’s a character in Meg 4: Hell’s Aquarium called Captain Timon Singh (true story), however, years soon turned to decades.
Sure, 2003’s Shark Attack 3: Megalodon with John Barrowman was entertaining enough, but a creature as terrifying as a Megalodon needed a budget of millions behind it to make it worth watching. Step forward, The Stath… and, financial backing from a Chinese studio.
With National Treasure’s Jon Turteltaub taking the reins, putting The Stath front and centre and surrounding him with a cast that includes Ruby Rose and Rainn Wilson, it’s fair to say the focus won’t be so much on scares, but campier blockbuster entertainment with everyone inevitability waiting for the moment that The Stath does a flying-punch on the Megalodon.
However, we could still have a few scary moments.
Steve Alten’s book theorises that in the deepest, darkest oceanic trenches, it may not be just Megalodons that lurk beneath the waves. Darkness, extreme pressures and the claustrophobia of submersibles could see audiences jumping in terror as the Meg (and other creatures?) lunge out of the deep.
Time will tell how The Meg will perform box-office-wise, but the world has long been overdue a decent shark blockbuster. Will The Meg give us nightmares about going back into the water? Probably not, but it will probably go a long way in making shark films respectable again. Plus, if it is a hit, Hollywood still has all those numerous USS Indianapolis scripts floating around…
Timon Singh is a film writer and runs The Bristol Bad Film Club. He has just finished his first book: Born To Be Bad: Interviews With The Greatest Villains In Action Cinema.