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The Meg review: Screen X brings new cinema experience

New 270-degree cinema experience at Reel showcases Jason Statham fighting a prehistoric shark — with the screen extended onto the side walls

Every five years or so Hollywood tries to reproduce a classic overcoming the monster narrative in film like Jaws, or Jurassic Park.

Reel cinema’s Screen X debut was pegged onto the Middle East premiere of The Meg (trailer below). And while the cinema experience has some interesting and, as promised, immersive aspects to it, the film is one you won’t want to rush to the cinema to see.

Screen X is a 270-degree concept that projects the pictures of the flick onto the side walls of the theatre, as well as the traditional big screen at the front. Why? So when there are moments of high-tension — chase scenes, confined environments like submersibles or hideouts, the surround-picture puts the spectator into the character’s shoes, seeing what they see all around them.

Where 3D, 4D and even 5D cinema experiences rely on attacking the senses from all angles, the Screen X experience goes for the sight sensory jugular. And, at times in The Meg, say when the ever-chiselled Jason Statham (Jonas) has to flee the 75ft prehistoric shark, you feel like you’re in the sub with him in the water on the run from the man-eating mega-killer. Quite the thrill. And spill.

Every five years or so Hollywood tries to reproduce a classic overcoming the monster narrative in film like Jaws, or Jurassic Park.

Also when the looming presence of the predator — the megalodon shark in this film’s case — floats across the screen, it’s really eerie and unnerving to see it move across from one end of the screen to the other, circling of you as you sit nervously clinging to your oversized box of popcorn.

And this is where the Screen X has potential to create another dimension of theatrical drama on top of what we already have in cinemas.

On other occasions, however, when the action is less thrilling, confined to straight shots of laborious exposition (which will shortly be addressed), the 270-degree shots don’t quite work. You’re left wondering which of the three screens to look at. If you look to your left, you’re missing the dialogue and potentially crucial subtleties (though there are none in The Meg: subtlety seems to have evaded the vocabulary and skill set of the directors — especially when it comes to product placement) on your right.

So while there’s plenty of potential for Screen X, expect it to be a work-in-progress for a while yet. And don’t expect highbrow period dramas to be available in Screen X. You won’t need to feel like you’re in the ballroom with Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy to appreciate the splendour of Pride and Prejuduce.

Screen X is a 270-degree immersive cinematic experience

Now. The Meg. Let’s start by saying that a film like this is inevitable. Firstly, it’s what people apparently want to see: Statham in a wetsuit fighting a 75ft monster. In the ocean. Who doesn’t?

Secondly, every five years or so Hollywood tries to reproduce an ‘overcoming the monster’ classic narrative in film like Jaws, or Jurassic Park. And every five years or so Hollywood fails to produce a classic ‘overcoming the monster’ film — as the multiple sequels to each of these franchises stands to testifies. But what Hollywood has not-so-cleverly done with The Meg is attempt to fuse Jaws and Jurassic Park, and to devastating effect.

Given the tongue-in-cheek tone to the trailers, with their jolly use of music asynchronicity, we had hoped this would be a blockbuster that didn’t take itself too seriously; the sort of film prepared to laugh at the genre and itself. But it just wasn’t clever or subtle enough to nail the self-reflective humour that we hoped for. Oh well.

Here’s the premise, taken mainly from Steve Allen’s 1997 novel: a billionnaire (a terribly written character with some of the worst lines in recent times — this is not a film for subtle craft or cinematic prowess) funds an deep sea exploration programme, discovers a prehistoric 75ft shark thought to be extinct, and it all goes terribly wrong. Shock, I know. And then Statham has to save the day. Double shock, I know. Sound familiar? Sometimes, you have to admire the simplest of things in life. 

The Meg is pegged as a action, sci-fi horror. But it’s much more of a comedy. A comedy of errors. The first error being the person (who shall remain namless) that decided to turn Steve Alten’s novel into a film. And then the next fatal error being the person (also nameless) who said, ‘yes, that’s a great idea’ and proceeded to produce the film.

But, cynicism aside, there are plenty of highlights.

Statham, playing Jonas (did I mention this film is not subtle? Characternyms don’t get any more blatant), is one of the highlights. The comedy highlights.

Statham’s accent is one of the more confounding approaches to linguistic clarity that you’re likely to witness anywhere in cinema. It even trumps Brad Pitt’s Austrian drawl in Seven Years in Tibet. At times Statham is what sounds like a recovering alcoholic from New Jersey. At others he has just jumped out of the cockney-riven world of Snatch and not realised he’s on a new film set, in China, as (presumably) an American.

At one stage, Statham jumps out of the shower, still soaking, as an eager Suyin (Li Bingbing’s oceanographer character) bursts into his room. Statham is tensing so hard for the whole scene, you can hear the relief in his voice once the dialogue is over. You’ve got to love this simplicity of the mind sometimes.

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Statham also drives the plot. And essentially the whole film revolves around his vindication. Five years ago Jonas abandons some crew members at the bottom of the ocean when ‘a thing’ is attacking their sub. The sub blows up. His friends die. Jonas has a guilty conscience. Jonas is scrutinised, called crazy for imagining that ‘a thing’ was attacking them in the ocean deep and he retreats to an island in Thailand where he enjoys more beer than he perhaps should (look out for the product placement here, too).

In the present, Statham is helicopter-ed back to the South China sea when ‘a thing’ attacks a new vessel which is trapped at the bottom of the ocean. This one has his ex-wife trapped inside (raising the stakes), and hallelujah — Jonas was right all along: there is a thing, and only he can rescue everyone. On Earth. Much to the shock and awe, and many, many smouldering mid-distance ‘Oh. My. Gaaad’s. Yes, the stakes were high… but they just got higher (*dramatic music in the background, trailer voiceover reading the lines*).

There’s a real jewel of a comedy highlight in here, too. As newlyweds celebrate tying the knot on a yacht, the wife’s cute little Yorkshire terrier, replete with a pink ribbon in its hair, escapes the boat, jumps into the sea and heads towards the onrushing Megalodon. Seems it’s okay to send an adorable dog to the slaughter for a laugh these days.

For all of this, it’s a gloriously absurd and bonkers film. Inspiring laughter when we probably should be feeling sympathy — they got the idea of pathos all wrong here. And there are plenty of jump-in-your seat moments when the Meg appears out of nowhere, jaws parted, teeth ready to chomp you.

The whole film is neatly surmised by Suyin’s daughter (quite why a 9-year-old girl is in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of deep sea explorers is not truly explained), when she learns of a death at the jaws of the Meg.

Jonas (by now a heartthrob) asks Suyin, “How’s Meiying?” Suying replies, “She’s sad and confused.” Yep, just like the audience.

As a disconcerting sidenote: Meiying’s inclusion in the film is symptomatic of this trend in Hollywood films where the youngest or oldest characters are used to say the most outrageous or ‘unexpectedly’ intelligent of things for cheap laughs. Which only exposes the lack of good writing inherent in the script.

It seems to have become a crutch for screenwriters to rely on: Get granny to say something lurid and crude, that’ll make anyone laugh... Because who won’t laugh at a granny flashing her knickers and talking about her sex life. Or have a precocious 9-year-old knowing the answers of life… Stop it. Please.

But, it must be said, for all its flaws, slipshod narrative, overly cheesy script, confusing product placement and characters who fulfil the stereotypes that Hollywood is trying so desperately to overcome (or not desperately enough in this case), it will probably do well at the box office. It’s got Statham being a confusing American version of Statham. Bingbing is attractive in a swimsuit. And there’s an enormous shark raising hell, causing chaos and eating small dogs and children. What more could you want?

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