The Meg

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/13/18;
Warner;
Action Thriller;
Box Office $143.01 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for action/peril, bloody images and some language.
Stars Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Cliff Curtis.

Despite its general faithfulness to the man-versus-monster formula, The Meg turns out to be a fun romp thanks to a likeable cast and the filmmakers treating the absurd premise with the appropriate level of gravitas without going over the top.

The film is based on a 1997 novel about a long-extinct giant shark called a megalodon emerging from an isolated section of the ocean to terrorize modern times. In adapting the story, director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) manages to blend the research premise of Deep Blue Sea with the imperiled tourist angle of Jaws, and add a healthy dose of modern visual effects to deliver an effective if not always engrossing action thriller. The film looks great, and the Blu-ray really nails the beautiful blues of the ocean vistas, even if the CGI becomes a bit too noticeable at times.

The plot involves a deep-sea research platform sending a submarine to explore a hidden realm of the Marianas Trench previously cut off from the rest of the ocean thanks to some mostly convincing pseudo-science. Soon enough, the sub is attacked by a large creature and trapped, leading the station to call in deep-sea rescue specialist Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham). There’s some rumbling about Jonas being nuts because he claims a giant creature screwed up a previous rescue, but that’s mostly some conflict to build tension among the human crew.

Suffice it to say, Jonas’ rescue attempt allows the creature to get past the trench’s natural barrier, which let it evolve in its own unique ecosystem for millions of years, and up to the surface, where there are plenty of delicious boats and beachgoers it can play with. And since the megalodon is basically a giant shark 10 times bigger than a great white and capable of biting a humpback whale in half with one chomp, the platform’s financier (Rainn Wilson) and his team are eager to blow it up before it can do much harm.

The Meg isn’t overly reverential of previous shark movies, though audiences familiar with them will certainly recognize the foibles of this crew’s attempts to stop the threat. Attacks are played for either shock or humor, depending on who is getting swallowed whole, and there are even quieter moments that allow the characters to express some emotion as they deal with their colleagues, friends and family members getting killed.

Statham’s Jonas character is of a certain aquatic adventurer archetype that one could imagine another franchise entry subjecting him to any number of quests along the bottom of the ocean that don’t necessarily involve him fighting giant sea monsters, though it’s pretty much a given that any sequel would put him up against another menacing beast. The original book’s author, Steve Alten, has written a series of sequel and prequel novels about prehistoric carnivores, so when the time comes to cash in on The Meg’s box office success with a follow-up movie, the filmmakers will have no shortage of source material from which to pick.

The Blu-ray arrives rather light on bonus materials, sporting just two decent featurettes: the 12-minute “Chomp on This: The Making of The Meg,” covering the production as a whole, and the 10-and-a-half-minute “Creating the Beast,” which focuses on the shark.

Movies Anywhere also offers a two-minute promotional video about filming in New Zealand.

The Last Hunt

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Western;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget, Russ Tamblyn.

To Western lovers, 1956 is synonymous with The Searchers, but there was a pretty fair bumper crop from all directions. Budd Boetticher’s 7 Men from Now comes immediately to mind, I’ve always been partial to Donna Reed’s cool cowgirl duds in Backlash (especially the hat), and there were a couple underrated Delmer Daves achievements (The Last Wagon and Jubal, though the latter did rate a Criterion treatment five years ago). For embracers of the “big tent” theory, we had the definitive screen “Texan” with Giant, and those with a taste for the outrageous could go with Martin & Lewis in Pardners, Elvis in Love Me Tender (a Civil War aftermath pic, but the future King was riding a horse) and Guy Madison bringing a dinosaur to the chuckwagon in The Beast From Hollow Mountain. I even once had a poster for Tony Martin in the same year’s Quincannon, Frontier Scout hanging on my office wall, but I will not go there. (Though if Tony could later record for Motown, why not?; it was good enough for Albert Finney.)

Into this mix and adapted from a highly regarded novel by Milton Lott came MGM’s The Last Hunt — respectable, engrossing and a movie that didn’t deserve to be another of production chief Dore Schary’s box office disappointments, particularly given what the crew but especially the cast had to go through (because they were in winter apparel). An epic about the decimation of buffalo that combines on-location CinemaScope panoramas with disfiguringly obvious outdoor sets, a lot of it took place during what the script claimed were frigid temperatures but were actually the toughest 110-degree weather that South Dakota could provide. Co-lead Stewart Granger endangered his health with the heat, and I’m almost surprised that Robert Taylor didn’t have what certainly looks like hair dye running down his forehead.

This is no knock on the somewhat underrated Taylor, who gets top-billing with his very atypical villain’s role as a guy who, in addition to hating Indians and slaughtering buffalo, isn’t too bright and is sometimes challenged by grammar. He also treats women badly, drinks too much and thinks little of shooting people at will. Equally well cast as Taylor’s partner/adversary is Granger, who reluctantly gets back into buffalo-hunting after his hopes of becoming a cattleman are dashed by his dead cattle (which will do it) Rounding out the principals are an unlikely Debra Paget as a Native American with child (a high-profile year for the actress, with Love Me Tender and The Ten Commandments still to come); Russ Tamblyn as an even more unlikely half-Indian who’s trying to assimilate (though, as ever, Tamblyn remains an appealing screen presence); and Lloyd Nolan as an affable, one-legged old coot of a jug-swigging buffalo skinner. After a long period on the road rolling steel balls on stage as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, this was Nolan’s first feature in three years. He is terrific and, as ever, malleable; compare him here to his performance as town-conscience Doc Swain in the movie of Peyton Place the very next year.

Schary got Richard Brooks to adapt and write after the latter skyrocketed MGM into the rock-and-roll era with Blackboard Jungle, a movie that still gives me the willies whenever I flash on the fate of Richard Kiley’s 78 collection. We even see them together in one of two Blu-ray excerpts from the old “MGM Parade” show that George Murphy hosted during my TV youth, a vehicle designed to promote the pictures the studio was about to put in theaters (Tamblyn shows up in the other included segment). This was an ambitious picture that didn’t quite live up to turnstile hopes because, in part, Taylor’s box office potency was fading — though he’d last longer at MGM than even Gable and Tracy and go out on a lurid favorite of mine: Party Girl. Meanwhile, Granger never quite caught on in America the way he deserved (when I asked Martin Scorsese in an interview which old-school actors he most would have liked to have directed, he said James Mason and Granger, and may even have listed Granger first).

Still, The Last Hunt is a fast-mover with Russell (Red River, Hatari!) cinematography of real buffalo being “thinned out” — a process that was all on the up-and-up because the filmmakers were allowed to capture an official government reduction of herds, which had to be done periodically. The climax is capped by a chilling shot that even got to me when I saw the picture (for the first time) on NBC’s old “Saturday Night at the Movies” weekly viewing ritual, albeit in a presentation that hardly approached the one here. The Blu-ray’s stereo track has some punch, though even with a magnifying glass, I couldn’t read the damned specs on the back of the disc jacket (a bad layout habit that too many distributors have picked up). The image also has a lot less of the mud we’ve all seen in other mid-’50s Eastman Color MGMs, maybe due to all that bright sunlight from those impossible South Dakota location temperatures. I only wish the Warner Archive Blu-ray of my much beloved but Eastman-plagued It’s Always Fair Weather looked as satisfactory.

Mike’s Picks: ‘My Man Godfrey’ and ‘The Last Hunt’