Movies

‘The Meg’ Director, Jon Turteltaub, Is Tired Of This ‘Hack’ Talk


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You’ve seen Jon Turteltaub’s movies, even if you may not realize it. Well, of course, there’s the hugely successful National Treasure films that grossed a combined $800 million. Before that there was his run of ‘90s staples: Cool Runnings, Phenomenon, and the still very much beloved today Sandra Bullock vehicle, While You Were Sleeping. And then this week comes The Meg. With that poster of a massive shark whose open mouth takes up pretty much all the real estate, it’s one of the most effective marketing campaigns of the summer. But, still, Turteltaub has a chip on his shoulder.

Not many directors openly admit they’ve been called a “hack.” Turteltaub not only brings up the subject but addresses those criticisms head-on. And, look, he has a point, his movies have made a lot of money and, for the most part, people do like them. But when speaking to Turteltaub, it’s easy to get the sense this is a director who has felt a bit beat up, critically, over the years and has gotten to the “fuck it” stage of his career. While, at the same time, history has been kind to movies like Cool Runnings and While You Were Sleeping, which are still beloved today.

Though it is notable that the director of While You Were Sleeping directed The Meg, a movie that features Jason Statham fighting a prehistoric shark. Like, literally: Statham and this monstrous shark have a fight. But that’s Turteltaub’s point: if you’re a director and you can’t be pigeonholed into one type of movie genre, you get the dreaded “hack” label. So, yes, maybe Turteltaub has earned that chip on his shoulder.

All these stories about wealthy people in San Francisco keeping sharks as pets feels like weird cross promotion for The Meg.

How creepy and weird. I didn’t even hear that story.

Apparently it’s a new trend.

I think someone pulled your leg.

No, I’m serious. It’s a thing.

Okay, here it is. Wow. This is horrible. It’s always a worry people see shark movies and think sharks are evil. Sharks are awesome.

Someone in that piece is quoted as saying that owning a shark is “payback” for Jaws.

Look, I don’t have trouble understanding the human side, humans are horrible creatures. Humans own lions and humans own leopards. That’s never been an issue. But we need sharks in the oceans – we need a lot more of them. One hundred million a year are killed. That’s an insane number. So the idea you’d keep a huge shark in your house is nonsense.

People have been trying to make The Meg for 20 years.

There are reasons some things don’t get made and there are also reasons things stick around that long. Usually, when something is sticking around that long there’s always enough interest to keep it alive.

So what happened here? People love the book.

I don’t know if it was a problem with the movie so much as it’s often a problem with the people making it or financing the movie. Companies come and go. I don’t know of any movie in Hollywood that doesn’t take four to five years these days. I’m just glad it survived long enough to find me. It took seven years to get National Treasure made. So it’s hardly the sign of a problem.

That’s surprising about National Treasure.

Yeah, well they all seem like no-brainers once you’re done.

And they make a lot of money.

They make a lot of money and people think, “that’s obvious.” People forget, there are a lot of really bad shark movies. A lot of people say they love shark movies, but there really aren’t that many.

There’s only one good Jaws movie. Jaws 2 is okay. The next two are not good. There’s a reason there’s not a Jaws 5.

Maybe this is Jaws 5.

Once the shark’s relative came back for revenge…

That was a good one. There was also one in 3-D.

Right, with Dennis Quaid.

And there was one up and coming star in that, I forgot who it was.

Lea Thompson.

Yeah, it’s Lea Thompson. But it’s weird as a director to set out to make the second best movie of this genre, but if we can pull that off I’ll be happy.

When your name was attached I was a little surprised. At least, it’s strange to say the director of While You Were Sleeping also directed The Meg.

I’m surprised, too. I’ve always been surprised, every single movie I’ve made, someone says, “Why would he make that. That’s not his kind of movie.” Partially, when someone has success, you want them to stay in that spot. And I’ve always tried to change spots – which has, apparently, made me into the least auteur-ish director ever.

I’ve never heard anyone say that before.

It makes you not an expert in everything, apparently. I don’t think critics like it. I think critics like it when you make nine movies on the same topic in the same style. I’ve just tried to do something new as if I was making movies I wanted to see.

I don’t think it’s a case of critics not liking it, but a lot of directors get put into the “workmanlike career” category. Directors like Ron Howard and Rob Reiner where there’s no real way to define one of their movies.

But people were pissed off when Rob Reiner decided to make A Few Good Men. They didn’t want that to work. And I’m sure he got worse reviews for that movie because it was him – and anything they thought wasn’t quite right they could pin on it being Rob Reiner, as opposed to a different director who was more enigmatic. And maybe didn’t know if they really hated it or if it was a clever choice. “Workmanlike” is the nice term, “hack” is the less nice term and I’ve seen that plenty in my life.

Said about you?

Yes.

Which movie?

You can’t be called a hack until you’ve had a long enough, successful career to have done a lot of movies. That’s the irony of the whole thing. So whether it’s Three Ninjas or Cool Runnings

I feel history has been kind to Cool Runnings.

Oh, yeah, it’s been great. There’s no question more people saw that movie on their VHS cassettes let alone on DVD or downloaded than ever saw it in a theater. Then to do While You Were Sleeping then Phenomenon and then to do National Treasure, people thought National Treasure was completely out of the box. Then after National Treasure the only movies I was offered were treasure hunts and action movies. It just goes that way, people just want you to repeat any success you’ve had.

Of the movies you just mentioned, the one in that time period that didn’t get a good response was The Kid. People didn’t respond well to that one.

No question.

The others you mentioned, people like.

The Kid actually did better than people think. I get a lot of, “Oh, my favorite movie is The Kid.” I think the wrong audience went to that movie. So the people who saw it didn’t think it was for them. It was not a movie for people under 40.

Or people who wanted to see Bruce Willis in another Die Hard.

And I’ve definitely had my share of failures, it’s just to you, the director, you never think of them as failures. You learned a lot or you like it yourself.

And you have movies people love.

And you know what, I just hope I have a long enough career to eventually figure out a movie I’m good at.

But While You Were Sleeping is this beloved film…

You know, I think the most Jon Turteltaub movie is Last Vegas.

That’s interesting.

And that did fine. But I think that is more who I am as a person than it is The Meg. But The Meg is more who I am as a moviegoer.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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