The Meg Book Differences

It seems almost unthinkable that The Meg is based on a book. After slews upon slews of terrible mutant-shark movies from the likes of SyFy and The Asylum, the notion of such a film being adapted from a written text – with a high budget! – is quite something. But Meg: A Novel Of Deep Terror indeed exists, published in 1997 and written by author Steve Alten. It has spawned six sequels about its giant prehistoric shark so far. And now, after decades of development hell, a movie.

I’ve been a shark enthusiast since an early age, and a shark movie enthusiast ever since seeing Jaws at a slightly later age. I’m such a shark movie enthusiast that I even made one myself. Naturally, I read Meg when it came out; just as naturally, I went to see The Meg in its opening week. But though the movie was as real and the shark as big as I wanted them to be, a few things were missing. Namely, it lacked the two sequences that push Meg into the crazed realm of superpulp – and would have done the equivalent for the movie, had they been retained.

Spoilers ahead for both The Meg and its source novel(s).

the meg

The Ultimate Battle

For starters: Meg opens – opens! – with a fight scene between a Megalodon and none other than a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s staged almost like the opening from Jaws: the Rex is chasing a pack of hadrosaurs when they flee into the water. Chasing after them, the predator gets stuck, unable to swim as well as its prey. Then the prey in question suddenly disappear, before the Rex itself is attacked by the titular giant shark. Cue extreme, bloody shark-on-dino violence, which the shark comprehensively wins (obviously).

The image of a T-Rex being thrashed about and turned to a gooey mix of seawater and gore is a powerful first impression, obviously setting up its beast to be the new apex predator of the prehistoric world. It would have been totally bananas to see on screen, but also would have cost a dime and a half to produce. Given how frugal the final film is with full shots of its monster, it seems unlikely that an elaborate, entirely CGI sequence involving the shark and multiple dinosaurs would have ever been on the cards. A shame: it’d set up the Meg’s prehistoric origins (even if the period depicted isn’t fully accurate), cause cheers to erupt from the audience, and give a firm middle finger to fellow 2018 blockbuster Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

A Few Smaller Omissions

Obviously, a number of other changes were made in the journey from page to screen. Protagonist Jonas Taylor, a paleontologist and marine biologist in the books, became a deep-sea rescuer with the body, face, and voice of Jason Statham. Japanese characters are recast as Chinese, and San Diego as China’s Sanya Bay, thanks to the involvement of Chinese production company Gravity Pictures. Jonas’ ex-wife is a marine biologist in the film, whereas the book – not the most charitable towards women – casts the character as an ambitious journalist who is eaten by the Meg while trying to film it through a shark cage.

Several setpieces and story elements also changed or moved around in the act of adaptation. The film’s opening sequence, in which a downed submarine is destroyed by the Meg, is taken from the sequel book The Trench – as is Jonas’ romance with his Japanese (now Chinese) colleague’s daughter. The Meg itself glows in the book, its bioluminescence presumably a reflection of its deep-sea habitat. It also eats, in addition to a healthy number of surfers, a helicopter – a SyFy-worthy stunt missing from the film. Narrative-wise, though, the biggest difference is that the film’s Meg isn’t pregnant. In the book, the impending birth serves as a ticking clock plot mechanism, and the resultant baby Meg is captured for scientific study – and for sequels. A surprising change, given Hollywood’s thirst for franchising, but easy enough to retcon into the film’s climactic feeding frenzy if need be.

None of these omissions, however – not even the T-Rex scene – can possibly live up to the utterly bugnuts sequence that takes place at the book’s climax. Strap yourselves in.

The Meg Reviews

The Original Climax

In the movie, the Meg is taken down in a somewhat gory but fairly straightforward manner. Jonas pilots his partially-wrecked submersible along the shark’s undercarriage, an exposed piece of metal ripping a gash along its belly. As if that isn’t enough, he then pops out of his craft, hanging on to the shark as it breaches the water’s surface, before stabbing the beast through the eye, and presumably also through its tiny, tiny brain.

A cunning stunt, perhaps, but nought compared with the book’s shark takedown – which takes the narrative concept of “entering the belly of the beast” to a jaw-droppingly literal extreme.

The novel’s final sequence begins much the same, with Jonas charging the Meg head-on in a one-man submarine. Indeed, for a moment, it looks like the film will follow the book, but as you’ll see, it doesn’t. Instead of slicing along its underside, however, Jonas charges at full power into the shark’s jaws, down its esophagus, and into its stomach – where he gets out and goes to work.

Surrounded by half-digested pieces of wildlife and deceased characters, Jonas uses his marine biologist know-how to navigate the shark’s innards. Slicing through the stomach lining with a fossilised Megalodon tooth he’s long kept as a personal totem, he makes his way to the shark’s cardiac cavity, even as the shark twists and turns, making progress difficult. And as, unbeknownst to Jonas, the Meg hurtles hungrily toward a fellow human character, he plunges the tooth through its aorta, severing the heart and near-drowning himself in shark blood:

“In total darkness, Jonas lay on his back, covered in warm blood that continued cascading down upon him in buckets. On his heaving chest, like an enormous tree trunk, lay the detached heart of the 40,000-pound Megalodon. Jonas struggled to breathe steadily into the regulator, hyperventilating from his effort. The drums had stopped, but the chamber was engorged with blood.”

From there, it’s a matter of making his way back to the submersible and escaping the rapidly-sinking shark carcass – and getting the bends on the way up.

The Meg

Looking Back and Ahead

If there is indeed a baby Meg swimming out of Meg Prime in the film’s final sequence, and more importantly if the film continues to do solid business, we might see a sequel someday. One wonders if any of these sequences could make it into subsequent films. One also wonders whether any sequels would follow the trajectory of the books, in which the Meg ends up a kind of Godzilla figure, fighting against other resurfaced prehistoric marine beasts. Honestly, it’d be great if they did. The Meg’s biggest failing – bigger than its silly plot, hackneyed characters, and PG-13 tameness – lies in refusing to fully embrace the pulpy-as-fuck nature of its source material.

Would audiences have gone for a finale as ridiculous and weird and blood-soaked as the book’s? Maybe; maybe not. The MPAA certainly wouldn’t have. That ending is amazing, but it likely wouldn’t have flown with mainstream audiences unaccustomed to watching their heroes swimming around in giant internal organs. Regardless, I maintain that it, as with the T-Rex prologue, would have improved the film considerably. Scenes like those are precisely the kind of deranged nonsense you want to see when you go to see a movie about a giant prehistoric shark. At the very least, it’d be more memorable than the comparatively bloodless climax of the film. Beginnings and endings are how people remember movies, after all. Open and close a movie like THAT, and no audience will forget the time they went to see The Meg.

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