After nearly an incredible twenty years in development hell, it looks like the megashark movie Meg will finally be getting made, satisfying all our deepest desires for seeing gigantic, ancient, sharks on the big screen, and not direct to DVD. Jason Statham has signed on to play Jonas Taylor, a deep sea diver and palaeontologist, who upon coming into contact with the giant monster has a very difficult time (a lá Dreyfuss) convincing people that it even exists, before (obviously) eventually having to come face to face with it. Yes, Statham will probably punch a shark in the face. What a time to be alive!
Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, Cool Runnings) has been signed on to direct, and it will have a release date in March, 2018. But what is the film based on, why are shark movies so popular at the moment, and is there any scientific veracity to how the megalodon will be depicted?
Meg is Based on A Novel
Meg is a shortened version of the much cooler novel name which is Meg: A Novel Of Deep Terror, written by Steve Alten. Like all great science-fiction novels, it starts in the Late Cretaceous period, with dinosaurs fighting - that is until a megalodon appears and eats an entire Tyrannosaurus rex. So right from the start we know that this big fish is a pretty big deal, the kind that would wipe out Moby Dick with just a flick of his tail.
From what I have read about the book, it appears to be a barnstorming genre read. One hopes the film will keep its tone, which includes incredibly written passages such as:
"Approaching from above, the female accelerated at the sub's hull like a berserk, sixty-foot locomotive. BOOM!!"
It's corny, but it reads cinematically: I can already picture this huge animal hurtling through the water. However, Richard Ellis of The Los Angeles Times wrote:
"Whenever the author discusses biology, paleontology, oceanography, or any other recognized scientific subject, he gets it wrong."
But what exactly is the science behind a huge, millions of years old shark?
What is a Megalodon - apart from a word I keep on spelling incorrectly in the process of writing this article? Well, contrary to best-selling author Steve Alten, the extinct megashark wasn't around during the Late Cretaceous period (dinosaur age) but this current era: The Cenozoic Era, which is a broad term for the last 66 million years. Existing somewhere between twenty-three million to two million B.C., the megalodon is believed to be one of the scariest predators in all of natural history, reaching up to fifty-nine feet. Imagine a great white shark but three times the size. You wouldn't want that chasing after you, especially when you also consider that some of its teeth can be longer than your arm!
It was a cosmopolitan animal - meaning, in English - that it could live anywhere in the world with the appropriate habitat, including swamps, salt lakes, up rivers and deep in the ocean. So if it were around today, it could strike anywhere, a fact made more terrifying by the fact that it is considered "the most formidable carnivore ever to have existed", an adept and skillful hunter that would eat almost anything and preferred to go for the bones instead of the flesh. You can swim easy though, as these sharks are generally - apart from some crackpot conspiracy theories - believed to have been long extinct. The enjoyment of Meg will be seeing this ancient creature come to life.
Despite the fact that megalodons preferred shallower waters, Altens book hypothesises that these sharks could be hiding in the deepest parts of the ocean, unbeknownst to us stupid humans. And where else than the deepest part of all, the Mariana Trench? Reaching an estimated depth of about eleven kilometres, it surely could be large enough to hide a massive shark or two. The only problem is that four descents have now been made to the bottom - including the famous Jacques Piccard and James Cameron, who filmed parts of his film Deepsea Challenge there.
Check out James Cameron plunges to new depths in the Deepsea Challenge trailer below
If none of them saw it, then it probably just doesn't exist. Yet do depictions of sharks really have to be accurate? Lets look at its history on film.
Depictions of Sharks in Films
Shark movies have a distinct before and after, as do blockbusters - when Jaws came in 1975 the a film itself that was criticised for its depiction (and the subsequent demonisation it caused) of sharks. Before Jaws there were only really a handful of b-movies regarding sharks, but the Spielberg classic, apart from spawning three sequels of its own, inspired all sorts of rip-offs and derivations of the theme.
Sharks have been seen in all sorts of places, including the beach (Sand Sharks), the city (Ghost Shark 2: Urban Jaws), and the snow (Avalanche Sharks). As well as somehow existing outside their usual habitats (you know, water), there are many different types of sharks in movies. The standard is The Great White (Jaws, The Shallows) but you can also have mutant dunkleosteus-octopus hybrids (Monster Shark), genetically-enhanced sharks (Shark Attack) and extraterrestrial shark-like kaijus (Gamera vs. Zigra).
Around 90% of Shark movies usually have the word "shark" in them, and are also either television films and/or released directly to DVD. Among the most successful franchise is SyFy's absolute joke (albeit self-aware) Megashark series, which sees its megalodon face up against threats such as the Giant Octopus and the Crocosaurus. This has inspired even more films as stupid: including the ridiculous Sharknado (sharks that fly through the sky) and 2-Headed Shark Attack (self-explanatory). It seems with sharks, the possibilities are as limitless as the ocean is deep.
Check out an incredible scene from Megashark vs Giant Octopus below:
Will This Film Be Scientifically Accurate?
From my research of the shark and the novel, it appears that Alten has taken extreme liberties with the facts. The historical periods don't add up, he doesn't know where the sharks normal habitats are, and the belief that the shark is still alive is extremely speculative. But I don't think scientific accuracy matters all to much in a genre film like this. What the target audience are looking for is a riproaring, swashbuckling adventure that eventually sees Jason Statham having a one-on-one with a fucking huge shark. I only hope that it doesn't try and outdo the ridiculous antics of SyFy, and instead relies on old-school horror filmmaking to provide its terrors. With the reliable Disney man Turteltaub at the helm, this film could have real potential to resurrect the megalodon on the big screen.
Do Megalodons still exist?