Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Megalodon books. Two of 'em.

Like producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus releasing competing Lambada dance movies on the same day back in 1989, two different authors had their Megalodon-on-the-rampage novels hit bookstore shelves within the same month in 1997 (Neither one features Lambada-dancing Megalodons on the rampage, but that would’ve been too much to hope for). The day I find myself on national television saying, “I’ll take Carcharodon megalodons for $400, Alex,” will be the day I praise Meg and Extinct, two waterlogged schlockers about gigantic prehistoric sharks that resurface after several million years to stain the oceans of the Earth blood red. In other words, Jaws meets Jurassic Park, but without a shred of the originality, style or suspense that made those pop page-turners so entertaining.

If you’ve read Jaws, you probably remember the sequence in which Hooper tells Brody and Quint about the Megalodon, a long-extinct ancestor of the great white shark, which he likens to “a locomotive with a mouth full of teeth.” Those words conjure up a frightening image, one that no doubt inspired Robin Brown to write the 1981 thriller Megalodon. I haven’t read the Brown novel, but it can’t possibly be any worse than Meg, a blood-soaked stinker that opens with a mighty meg ripping apart a Tyrannosaurus rex while a herd of Shantungosaurus watch from a nearby beach. Four pages (and 70 million years) later, we meet Professor Jonas Taylor, a paleontologist still haunted by the events of seven years earlier, when he may or may not have encountered a Megalodon during a top-secret military expedition to the depths of the Mariana Trench. Through layers of plot blubber too thick to slice apart in the 15 minutes I’m allowing myself to write this, he takes another trip to the Trench and accidentally unleashes a 60-foot meg that snacks on some large ocean vessels, devours a few dozen people (including Jonas’ philandering ex-wife and the son of his best friend) and could very well destroy the fishing industry by disrupting the migration patterns of whale pods. The laughably awful climax has Jonah – er, I mean Jonas – driving a deep-sea submersible into the meg’s mouth and gutting the monster from inside with a fossilized shark tooth!

First-time author Steve Alten deserves at least some credit for doing his homework and coming up with a fairly plausible way to haul the Megalodon out of retirement. Unfortunately, the meg’s bloody escape from the Trench provides the book’s only effective moments. The overabundance of techno-jargon certainly doesn’t help; Alten may have set his style sights on Michael Crichton’s Sphere, but the end result isn’t half as enjoyable as one of those breezy adventure novels Crichton used to write in his sleep at Harvard Med and then credit to “John Lange.”

Charles Wilson has more experience than Alten in constructing this type of thriller, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of that in Extinct. The plot? There’s a big shark on the rampage around the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and everyone just assumes that it’s your average, garden-variety great white…everyone, that is, except Admiral Vandiver, Director of Naval Intelligence, whose background in marine biology leads him to the conclusion that the real culprit is a Megalodon. While he’s spewing out pages of scientific theory to his assistant (and us – zzzzzz), marine biologist Alan Freeman and charter-boat operator Carolyn Haines fight the meg…and eat dinner together…and Alan buys birthday gifts for his Aunt Rayanne…and the local sheriff’s name turns out to be Jonas (thankfully there’s no character named Ishmael)…and Carol is a single mom with a 6-year-old son…and, wouldn’t you know it, Alan looks a lot like her ex-husband…

Has it been 15 minutes yet?

No comments: