IN DEFENCE OF MICHAEL BAY: WHY THE HATE?





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If you’re a film lover, something that can be frustrating is when you not only really like a filmmaker but are also convinced that he is good….yet few people seem to share your opinion. For a while I was considering doing a defence of the Wachowksi’s [and still may do it], a pair of filmmakers who, while they certainly have their fans, most people and even film critics just seem to have actively disliked since the Matrix sequels. Something I will be doing one day for this website will be a review of all three Matrix films, and saying that the two sequels, especially the first one, are probably better, and certainly more interesting, than the first movie. Yes, you read that right, but now I’m going to be even more controversial. You see, the widespread derision that the latest opus from Michael Bay has provoked, and in particular the attacks on Bay himself, really got my goat. Why? Because I believe Bay is bloody good at what he does.

That probably seems like a ridiculous statement to many. However, I would go further than that. His knowledge of things like how to make stuff look good and frame composition makes many other filmmakers, especially those making the same kinds of movies, seem almost like amateurs and puts them to shame. For a start, we seem to live in a time where more and more filmmakers seem to want their films to look as ugly as possible, a good example being Edge Of Tomorrow, which was quite widely praised as being the best blockbuster [or ‘would be’ blockbuster] in a while, but did it have to look so unattractive? Once again, it was that dull desaturated look, but with the colours diminished by lots of dark grey rather than white. I guess this is done to get a gritty, realistic feel, and a gritty, realistic feel is the ‘in’ thing at the moment, but actually making everything look drab and dingy is no more realistic than having lots of bright colours or actually making things pleasant to look at. Bay does his best to make everything look good in his films, even when he adopts darker hues as in The Rock. You can say his constant staging of scenes at sunrise and sunset is an easy way to make them look nice, but at least they do look nice!

The recent video called What Is Bayhem? that was widely seen and we showed on this very website was a good analysis of Bay’s filmmaking style, such as his trying to make virtually every shot look big and dramatic, from constantly zooming up into character’s faces just as they’re about to say or do something, to often placing things like lamp posts in front of the main action. I love how quite often there are two or more layers of things going on, and how he pays so much attention to every single part of the frame, and how he tries to get every shot to have an impact. The guy isn’t at all stupid, he knows exactly what he’s doing – using everything he can to try and heighten matters. This is in sharp contrast to quite a bit of other directors at the moment whose work sometimes seems barely directed at all, or directed very badly. You could take one random frame out of any Bay film and it would be a great example of how to stage part of a scene for maximum effect. And as for his constantly roving camera – it’s a joy, and shows just how many filmmakers don’t make the most of what they’re using.

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Bay’s action is widely considered overly frenetic and confusing, but, in watching some Bay films recently, I was surprised at how coherent and controlled much of the action was. I hate the hyper-fast cutting and shakycam that is ruining action cinema – you often can’t see what’s going on and often either end up with sore eyes or feeling sick – but Bay’s action isn’t nearly as bad in those respects as that of many others, and his choice of shots usually makes his scenes flow very well, resulting in cinema that is often exhilarating. A good example is that crazy car chase in The Rock, where it seems like they destroy half of San Francisco. There was much criticism of its editing at the time, but it’s nothing compared with, for instance, the opening car chase in Quantum Of Solace. Bay doesn’t even use shakycam very much – ok, I could have done with a bit less of it in Transformers: Age Of Extinction – but he generally employs it sparingly so it has true impact, a good example being the hospital scene in Pearl Harbour where the jittery camerawork really heightens the impact of the scene. The trouble is that he’s been imitated by filmmakers with far less talent [a similar thing has happened with Paul Greengrass], and who just want to makes the shots even quicker and shakier but just result in confusion, irritation and just plain feeling ill [You’re Next, which had a full hour of shakycam, actually made me feel physically sick].

A big thing Bay’s films lack in many people’s opinion is heart. I don’t entirely agree with that. It was there in Armageddon, as corny as that film was [but what’s so wrong with corn anyway? People tend to praise it in, say, the Rocky films], and was there even more in Pearl Harbour. The vitriol poured over what I believe to be Bay’s best work, at least visually [there are times when it’s basically just one gorgeous shot after another], by cynical narrow-minded critics who dismiss any film that portrays war in an old-fashioned, un-ironic fashion and who failed to realise things that, for instance, Bay had made a film with 1940’s attitudes, and that, actually, the film is quite historically accurate [especially compared to most other historical films], may have seriously hurt Bay, because since then his films have become a bit soulless, though I’ve enjoyed every one and they deserve credit for what they do well. For example, Bad Boys 2. It was incredibly bloated. It was unevenly paced. Much of the comedy just didn’t come off. Yet, it had some of the best action scenes of its year. I feel that Bay needs to diversify and do more films besides his Transformers pictures, though it seems that he can’t win in many people’s eyes. I haven’t yet got round to seeing Pain And Gain – while I like Bay and often find myself defending him, I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s one of my all-time favourite filmmakers – but it seems like it would probably have got far more praise if it hadn’t actually have been from Bay.

Critics, who often don’t seem to be too interested in how a film looks or how technically accomplished it is despite film being first and foremost a visual medium, seem to concentrate more on things like the scripts for Bay’s films being bad. Some of them aren’t too good, admittedly, and Bay doesn’t seem to like pruning scripts either. Some directors try their best to root out the weaker parts but Bay doesn’t seem to care about that! I really dislike the bits of crude humour in his first three Transformers films in movies otherwise fine for kids, and feel uneasy about Bay’s fetishism of the military. I can’t say his sometimes leering filming of women bothers me too much though: male directors have been objectifying women since cinema began. If there’s a pretty woman on screen then I’m happy if the director and cinematographer want to take advantage of the fact!

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Bay has his serious limitations as a filmmakers, something shown up by, for instance, Guillermo Del Toro when he made a better Transformers-style film than Bay has so far ever done. Much of his film grammar is pinched from other directors such as Tony Scott and Steven Spielberg. And I really dislike Platinum Dunes, the company he had a hand in setting up which for a while seemed to specialise in making unneeded and inferior remakes of horror films, though they seem to have stopped that now. But I cannot fathom the hate that this guy has caused, a guy whose work, would you believe it, has actually been praised by a whole load of much more respected filmmakers who surely know what they’re talking about, people like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams and Nicolas Winding Refn. You’ve even got some folk on the internet saying that he’s one of the worst directors ever, a totally ridiculous statement considering how much he knows film craft, and how well he employs it. His immense visual and technical prowess tends to be overlooked because he makes Dumb Summer Blockbusters. He probably doesn’t care, because a hell of a lot of people go and see his films no matter what. But I’d like to see him get some more credit. I like a great many filmmakers, many of whom are regarded as amongst the best. And I also like Bay. Sometimes I just want to escape into a cinematic world where everything looks bigger than life and loads of shit blows up, and, when he’s at his best, Bay does that better than almost anybody else today.

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About Dr Lenera 1981 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

2 Comments

  1. I have been saying this for a while, I feel that the only objective way to judge a film is weather it achieves what it sets out to do. Bay’s films achieve this, they are not meant to be post-modernist cinema, they are meant to be big dumb blockbuster films. Whereas Bay isn’t my taste at all, He is no way a bad director!

  2. If u like Bay, that is fine. No judgement here. However, i can’t get into his films. I saw transformers and thought it was pretty decent, but with each film, he keeps focusing more and more on the human characters (and they r annoying as hell). Then u have the racist autobots who take up much of the running time in fallen. I’ve heard the recent film produce by him has the same problem (April is the main character and the turtles are support), though probably not as bad as transformers.

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