It’s a great time to be a shark in Hollywood. Audiences around the world are hungry for these kings of the sea, be it in animated form, falling out of the sky in tornadoes, or eating innocent beachgoers. And though the release of Jaws in 1975 kicked off a slew of imitators, this past weekend’s release of The Meg brings audiences face-to-face with sharks like they’ve never seen them before.
Though Jaws inspired a whole stream of shark movies, TV specials and books, author Steve Alten didn’t set out to be a copycat. Instead, the Philadelphia-based author set out to change the market for shark-based entertainment completely.
“The megalodon was the nastiest apex predator ever to have existed. It’s not just a shark, it was the shark,” he said, noting that he hopes The Meg changes the way other shark movies are seen. “With The Meg out, they can’t do another remake of Jaws. Who wants to see a puny great white when you have a megalodon? It makes the shark from Jaws seem like a snack.”
The Meg, short for megalodon, brings to life Alten’s New York Times bestselling novel: Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. And deep terror is what readers not only found in the 1997 debut novel, but are experiencing on the big screen with the movie that follows a deep-sea rescue diver (played by Jason Statham) as he attempts to rescue those aboard an underwater observation program from the attacks of a megalodon which has survived extinction.
For Alten, seeing his novel come to life was a project 20 years in the making. Though discussions to make the book a movie began in 1997, the project found itself in development limbo for years, before finally finding success. The tall task of bringing the toothy creature to life on the big screen was then given to Jon Turteltaub, best known for the National Treasure franchise and Phenomenon. And while Alten says he stayed pretty hands-off on the movie-side of The Meg, entrusting the project to producer Belle Avery, the key element for him was getting the shark right.
“The most important thing Belle Avery did was safeguard what the shark looked like,” said Alten, noting that previous studios had tried to create their own version of the megalodon. “We know what the shark looked like.”
Though he works in fiction, maintaining a level of legitimacy is essential for Alten.
“The reader wants to believe what they’re reading, even though it’s fiction,” he said. “It’s a much better story if it’s believable.”
Adding to the realism is Alten’s characters, some of whom are named after his devoted base of self-proclaimed “megheads.” Alten is steadfast about writing back to anyone who emails him and for the past couple of years, has held a contest to see which minor characters will be named after his fans. It’s gotten to the point now, Alten said, where his fans beg to have their namesakes killed off.
“It’s become the status to become eaten,” he said.
Alten recently released the sixth book in The Meg series and said he hopes that the film follows suit.
“The writers wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, the material’s all there,” he said on whether he hopes The Meg becomes a film franchise. “The books get more intense as it goes on; we’re not just setting up for repeated kill scenes, there’s a story line that leads to bigger and better things.”
Find out more about Alten and The Meg at www.stevealten.com.