Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Best: Directors #23 - Michael Bay

Michael Bay
photo by Romina Espinosa

Great Movies:
The Rock

Decent Movies:
Pearl Harbor
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Island

Bad Movies:
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I know that there is a lot of internet hatred for Michael Bay. They think that he is all style and now substance. But even this criticism is an admission of his talent.

He has a very distinctive filming technique. He loves using large sweeping shots, even in very intimate settings. While some find this distracting, I actually find it invigorating. He gives unique sense of energy to his films. I know that no matter what else I find in a Bay movie, my eyes will be constantly drawn to the screen.

But Bay is often said to sacrifice story and acting for visual spectacle. This is, of course, a legitimate gripe of his super successful Transformers trilogy. But I hold this much more to be the fault of the writers (or in the case of the 2nd movie, a victim of the Writer's Guild strike, lack of writers). But I do not know how that can be said about his amazing film Armageddon.

If you remember, there were 2 “Asteroid threatens to destroy the earth” movies that year. The other was Deep Impact, which was thought to be the more mature and serious piece. But Armageddon is not only more successful as a piece of entertainment but also as a work of drama. Each character is given a distinctive voice and a different function to the story. The plot ratchets up slowly and intensely, with sharp, witty dialogue all the way through.

But one most important moments is the last scene shared between Harry and AJ (Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck). He allows two very masculine characters a moment to rend their hearts to each other without shedding any of their manhood. The other is the moment when Harry pushes the button. The visuals he conjures are so evocative that I doubt anyone watching was not moved.

I also love his very open patriotism in his movies.  In a time when Hollywood thought it was cool to talk the nation down, Bay always tries to use images like the flowing flag to stir up pride in America. 

He has not been able to top this early success. And much of the criticism heaped on him for the problems with Transformers is understandable. But there is a reason his movies are so successful. I've read some critics blame it on the stupidity of the American audience who only want dumb shows. I respectfully disagree because I hold the average American moviegoer in higher esteem. I think it should be looked at the other way around: in a hands of a lesser director, the failures of the script would have led to certain failure.

His directing is so skillful that he can make even a bad story fun to watch.

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