Every week this summer, we'll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to one of the weekend's wide releases. This week: The Meg has decided that 60 feet isn't nearly imposing enough of a size for a giant shark and so increased the size of its megalodon by about 25%. You might suppose this was sufficiently excessive. You would apparently be wrong.

It is surely wrong to say that Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is the quintessential film made by The Asylum. If nothing else, it isn't a copyright-dodging knock-off some major Hollywood studio production that's about the be released to theaters. But it has long lived in my heart as the first film I think of then The Asylum comes up in conversation, as happens to me more often than is at all likely.

Some of you are now nodding sagely; some of you are now looking mildly confused and asking "The Asylum? What asylum is that?" Since I have decided that you actually care, it is my pleasure to explain: The Asylum is possibly the ideal movie studio. It exists to make the cheapest-possible version of the most-salable idea, often involving a title that will confuse the less-attentive into thinking that it's some related to a real movie that production and marketing money was spent on. Many of The Asylum's films premiere, or at least find their widest audience, on American television's Syfy channel, where they stand proud as a reminder of the glory days of the 1980s, when "made-for-cable" was the most vicious insult you could sling at the most hapless, cheapjack multimedia production.

Even so, the people who run The Asylum are straight-up geniuses: they have won capitalism. They let other people do all the work of creating brand awareness and the rest of the marketing legwork; they come up with titles and concepts so outré that almost anybody would be struck with a morbid curiosity as to what might be hiding behind them; and they make sure that their films are so ridiculously goddamn cheap that even if only a tiny, statistically invisible fraction of the people who hear of their films actually pay money to watch them, the films all turn a profit. Indeed, at the end of the 2000s, around the time thqt Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus premiered, The Asylum was able to brag that it had never once lost money on a movie, a claim that I do not doubt for a second (I do not know if it's still true, but I would be wholly unsurprised, especially with the meteoric rise of streaming video in the subsequent decade). They have succeeded, apparently without any real effort, where generations of Poverty Row studios and micro-budget indie producers, have failed: they have turned no-talent filmmaking into a can't-miss money machine.

The shorter version of all that: The Asylum is the studio that made the 2010 Sherlock Holmes movie where he fights dinosaurs.

So with all that as our background, let us return to the film of the moment: in which a mega shark and a giant octopus meet and find that they do not care for each other. This wasn't tied to anything in particular, just the fact that there has been no point since the 1975 release of ur-blockbuster Jaws during which film audiences have been disinterested in sharks. This was also right about the time that creature feature fans had given themselves up entirely to irony, more or less (Snakes on a Plane was not yet three years in the past when this film, with its similarly objective title, emerged into the world), and The Asylum very quickly figured out how to capitalise on that. We're a long way from the self-aware camp of Sharknado and its many sequels, but Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was undoubtedly on that road. Or, at least, its legendary-to-a-certain-audience trailer was, with its pointedly ridiculous scene of an enormous shark jumping hundreds of meters into the air to pull a passenger plane back down into the Pacific Ocean. You don't try to sell that scene because your movie is good, and the audience doesn't respond to it because they think it's exciting. The point of that scene is for a merry bit of group mockery and a feeling of camaraderie with the filmmakers who have the same weird sense of fun as their sarcastic viewer.

The vicious truth of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is that its mega shark (whose exact size is never clarified; my back-of-the-envelope calculations, based on the claim that its tooth is 11 or 12 feet across, is that it can't be shorter than 1000 feet from nose to tail, and that's being grossly conservative) is in the film for not more than three or four total minutes (including several repetitions of one shot of the animal speeding towards the camera), and the giant octopus is in it much less. So any hope of this being a non-stop collection of hilarious shots of an outrageously unconvincing CGI shark devouring planes and Golden Gate bridges runs instantly into the hard fact that literally all of the good stuff was in the trailer, and the bulk of the none-too-sprightly 88-minute feature is absolutely no fun at all.

Indeed, despite the title, our protagonist is neither a shark nor an octopus, but a human, Dr. Emma MacNeill ('80s pop star Debbie Gibson, here appearing under the name "Deborah" in what I take as a misguided bid for seriousness). She's some manner of ocean scientist - MSvsGO isn't one for details, which is good, because it gets them wrong when it does provide them - and we first see her somewhere in the Arctic Circle in a submarine, listening to Bach and marveling at a pod of humpback whales with her colleague Vince (Jonathan Nation). Unluckily for them, a secret military operation (the purpose of which we will never, ever learn later) is dropping SONAR bombs around the whales, which is driving the creatures mad and sending them swimming against the walls of a nearby glacier. Even more unluckily, the helicopter pilot suddenly loses control and crashes into the same glacier, for absolutely no reason. Most unluckily, all this is taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, if we're to judge from the warm-water marine life being used as B-roll, and it's much too hot for glaciers there. This combined trauma is enough to shatter the glacier, and as she and Vince flee to safety, Emma thinks she spies the silhouettes of two enormous animals frozen in the rapidly disappearing ice.

Back at Point Dume, California, Emma is getting chewed out by the head of her research institute for taking an official submarine out without permission... so, she went joyriding from Southern California to Alaska? And she expected to do this quickly enough that she wouldn't be caught? Our plucky hero, ladies and gentlemen, an idiot submarine thief. One must get used to seeing Emma described as substantially more clever and morally upstanding than is in any way indicated by the script, so it's good to start getting practice in early. Anyway, let's just skip ahead: Emma in California and Dr. Seiji Shimada (Vic Chao) in Japan are both starting to notice a series of accidents that seem to be caused by impossibly large animals, and we've seen a 1000-foot mega shark jump up into the sky to destroy a plane by this point, so we tend to agree with them. The two meet thanks to Lamar Sanders (Sean Lawlor), Emma's former professor and mentor, and also a disgraced Navy pilot, and the three of them figure out almost immediately what's going on. Soon enough, the trio has ended up capturing the unwanted attention of Allan Baxter (Lorenzo Lamas), an obnoxious U.S. military official who offers them the aid of the government in stopping the creatures.

I've cut out a lot of the dithering to make it sound consequential and in any way well-paced. In fact, a huge portion of MSvsGO consists of watching characters get inched into place, taking forever to learn things - Seiji has an eyewitness's extremely clear drawing of a giant octopus to go by, and still doesn't get around to guessing "octopus" until much later - and then spending a lot of time pouring beakers of brightly colored liquid into other beakers of liquid with a different bright color. The goal being to create giant octopus and mega shark pheromones, in order to draw the two animals into a trap, a plan that Emma concocts after she and Seiji have sex in a broom closet and she's reminded that animals get horny. That is fucking verbatim what happens (also verbatim, or nearly so: there's literally a line of dialogue later on that goes something like "I saw a broom closet and thought of you").

It's all exceedingly boring, is the point, and compounded by some extremely bad filmmaking. There is much repetition (the same military facility is introduced from the same low angle with the same guard who was obviously given the direction "okay, you're a tough guy, grr!", and even the same onscreen text reminding us where we are, three different times), and a whole shitting lot of technobabble, all of which is transparently made up. It's a charmless slog, and the only thing that does much to break the monotony is that Gibson gives an extremely weird performance: she's so energetic and committed, but she's not great at tone, and so the film consists to a large extent of Emma grinning a huge grin in pretty much every scenario when she's not in direct danger of being eaten by a mega shark.

The worst of it, though, are the scene transitions. The film does this... thing. It does it first during the thunder storm when the giant octopus destroys an oil rig, and each bolt of lightning doesn't flash "bright", so much as it flashes to black-and-white. I don't think I explained it right. When lighting flashes, the image shifts from color to black-and-white. Okay, so I guess I got it right the first time. I just wish I hadn't. Also, this scene includes dialogue from two people who are about to be killed, and it's something about why it's socially unacceptable to throw urine at other people, or something along those lines, and I want to know what the fuck is up with that other movie.

The point being: dramatic flashes to black-and-white. These will be brought back, a whole lot, to do scene transitions. What happens is, like, the last few seconds of a scene will start sputtering with these flashes to monochrome with a couple of full white frames, and then the first few seconds of the next scene will do the same thing, and it's so confusing. It's like a little mini-montage of time advancing as the scene changes. And they happen all the time. I assume this was designed to place some kind of awesome style into the movie, but it failed, if this was the intention.

At least this is an ambitious, active choice that goes terribly wrong. There's also plenty of stone-cold incompetence on display. The most conspicuous such moment is probably when the mega shark charges a U.S. Navy destroyer played by stock footage of a U.S. Navy battleship (and I'm absolutely not the kind of person who notices that kind of thing), and the shark charges from the side. The battleship, meanwhile, starts firing with its guns positioned firmly to the front and back. Unsurprisingly, the guns fail to hit anything. Also, when I say "starts firing", I do mean that little animated gunbursts are drawn over the ends of the gun barrels, and also, sometimes, in the middle of the barrels, and sometimes, nowhere particularly near the barrels, though at least these last ones are being fired from the side where the mega shark is attacking.

This still looks better than when the appalling CGI shark "bites" the Golden Gate Bridge.

All of this is quite unbelievably helpless, of course: the technique is bad, the ideas behind the technique are bad, the characters are stupid and make awful choices, the more awful as a direct result of being loudly proclaimed to be a genius by other characters. The story is adequate, I guess. If this was the '50s B-movie it resembles in a great many ways, it could have had a very similar story, though the protagonist probably wouldn't have had her breakthrough as a result of having sex in that case. It's more a generic, uninspired story than a bad story, and that's a thing to cling to. But what I was going to say, is that it's beyond incompetent, and it probably also sounds like it's a hoot and a holler as a result. This is not the case. Giant monster movies that aren't fun turns out to be rather like comedies that aren't fun: they're hard to redeem by mocking them. I suppose that a good group of drunk friends might do the trick, but for myself, I just found Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus so dimwitted and sluggish as to be completely boring, and when you have boring giant monsters on top of everything else misfiring here, you have nothing.