We brought this upon ourselves: A Michael Bay career retrospective
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:
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.