We brought this upon ourselves: A Michael Bay career retrospective

Categories: Film

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America's favorite action auteur-savant, Michael Bay, has spent years telling whoever will listen that his directional style is too hardcore for 3D, that adding depth would be too extreme and punishing on the average filmgoer. With last week's official announcement that Transformers: Dark of the Moon (dude, it totally syncs up with Wizard of Oz, man) would be released in IMAX 3D, he's decided it's time to use the latest in high-tech wizardry to blow our brains outta our skulls and straight through the movie screen, leaving us huddled and crying bloody tears in the fetal position. It's the final step in a journey of vengeance he started years ago -- and it all started with an act of injustice so dastardly it would be written in books about cinema and history and cinema history forever -- Michael Bay got in trouble.

Born to a Child Psychiatrist and a CPA in Los Angeles, a young Michael Bay once strapped a boat-load of fireworks to his toy train, rolled camera on his dad's 8mm loaded with Kodachrome, yelled "awesome" and let 'er rip. The ensuing disaster, presumably shot while he ran in circles around the fire, maniacally giggling, earned him the unwanted (and unwarranted, he would argue) attention of his parents, multiple neighbors and the Los Angeles Fire Brigade. Before he could cut the footage into a thousand incoherent pieces, however, the camera was taken away, and Bay was grounded by the very people he sought to entertain.

As in a Shaw Brothers kung fu flick, he swore vengeance and set upon mastering the arts he would need to wield his weapon -- cinema. He went to film school, where he joined the fraternity Psi Upsilon, and like Shaolin Monks, they taught him the skills he would later need, like objectifying women. Observe, for example, this early career ad for Bugle Boy jeans:

This is seriously an ad for men's clothing.

Possibly assuming he'd be grounded any minute, Bay worked furiously, directing ad after ad, moving to music videos and featurettes for Playboy. More and more people were being punished by his cinematic antics, but unlike his parents, they kept being entertained. He would have to go further -- and wider. Luckily his success in commercials led to a relationship with mega-producer and fellow owner of very finely coiffed hair Jerry Bruckheimer. He and his partner had been attempting a project with an objective thought unthinkable until they saw that one commercial Bay made (At Red Rocks, by the way) where Brian Seltzer played guitar with an old woman, and they immediately knew Bay was the man for the job.

The mission: Make Will Smith, America's most likable person EVER, seem like a raging douchebag. It was right in his wheelhouse, and using more skills possibly forged at the frat house, Bay brought homophobia, racism, misogyny, uberviolence, and Martin Lawrence into Will Smith's world. On those terms, it was a resounding success. Seriously, it's really hard to like Will Smith in this movie.

It was also a resounding success financially. And the Bay knew he'd have to go harder. He responded with The Rock, letting Nicholas Cage freely ad-lib Cageisms, shooting 83 percent of the movie in slow-motion, destroying most of downtown San Francisco with a hummer (back then called a humvee and made of metal instead of yellow plastic), and putting badass Terminator-killin' Michael Biehn in, like, one scene before he got shot by that fat actor from St. Elsewhere. He also began developing a new skill on The Rock -- crass patriotism.

It was the fourth highest grossing film of the year and Bay's first to receive a Criterion DVD (other films in the Criterion Collection include: The Seven Samurai, The Works of Stan Brakhage, The Red Shoes, The Third Man).

To complement this new tool, Bay went looking for the stupidest screenplay he could find. He found it in Armageddon.

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11 comments
sideffect8
sideffect8

Awesome article, read the catwoman review, great writing as well.

Bring the hate, it's hilarious!

Mkase
Mkase

You know Will Smith in many interviews credits Michael Bay and Bad Boy's 1 for making him a movie star. He Had just done just one small movie part before Bad Boy's. You talk about how he was unlikeable? Really? I think you want that to be the case because it suits your column, but you are dead wrong here. He is totally likeable in the film. If you know anything about American cinema, Bad Boy's 1 was the first movie starring African American's that worked around the world.

D.T. Pennington
D.T. Pennington

You know, now that I think of it, I'm pretty sure it was definitely Transformers that helped me fully process 9/11. Thanks for that!

Ok
Ok

Thanks for publishing this great article. I don't agree with most of what you say, but it is always a pleasure to read a well-composed text. Its the same thing that happens to me with Mr. Bay's movies: I don't agree with most of what I he depicts in them, but the explosions (of people, things and values) are very nicely done, so I enjoy watching them.

Your beshht?
Your beshht?

This is really well written, you have a fantastic tone and your writing is fun to read. I don't think you're too harsh on Michael Bay, and while he's an easy target for criticism, all of this is thoughtful and witty enough that it I can't imagine even he would be offended by it. It's too funny. Fantastic piece!

Just a movie fan
Just a movie fan

You need to relax with your hate dude! Michael Bay if you look on boxoffice mojo he is the 6th highest grossing film director in the world. I guess a lot more people like his movies then you know or care to admit. So where is all your hate from? What are you so unhappy about in life? Bay say's these movies are just entertainment....they fricking entertain he makes no excuses for them. You watch Transformers 3 will be the highest grossing film of the year!

Sign just a movie fan

tim davids
tim davids

What about that one movie where they all pray to the Coke bottle or whatever? Oh, I guess those are Africans minus the American part.

tim davids
tim davids

The amount of 9/11 imagery and catchphrases he appropriates, especially in Transformers TWO, is ASTOUNDING.

tim davids
tim davids

Thanks! Confession: I actually like a bunch of Micheal Bay movies.

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