Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2011

Mr. Big

With 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' capping off his Gigantic Robots Destroying the Earth trilogy, Michael Bay may be trying to tell us something

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Paramount Pictures
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, John Malkovich; and the voices of Peter Cullen, Leonard Nimoy and Hugo Weaving
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 37 minutes
Opened June 29, 2011
(out of four)

At this point it's pretty clear that Michael Bay is just trying to compensate for something, right? I mean, can we all agree on that? He's certainly sending some sort of message with Transformers: Dark of the Moon - and, for that matter, his other two movies about small sports cars that spontaneously erect into giant robots upon stimulation. That message boils down to this: My robots are huge. My weapons are huge. My explosions are way bigger than anyone else's. And have you seen my runtimes? They're really long. Girthy, too.

I mean, come on - in the last movie, he gave us a Transformer with huge, metallic robot balls swinging all over the place. If that's not subtext, I don't know what is. In any case, let's just put it like this: With Michael Bay, size really seems to matter. Everywhere you look, that's all you see. Big, big, big.

Even the advance PR on the film was all about how the final hour is basically wall-to-wall action. Not "we put together some really unique and interesting action sequences" or "the film builds to a dramatic crescendo that culminates in a series of brilliantly staged and cathartic action setpieces," but instead: "Holy crap, there's so MUCH action. Look how much action there is! Look how long it lasts!"

A whole hour of nonstop action? That, my friends, is called stamina. (They have pills for that these days.) Now, all that precedes said action - the foreplay, if you'll forgive the Extenzed extended metaphor - is 90-plus minutes of utter nonsense, embarrassing attempts at quirky humor, lingering shots of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's delectable derriere, and of course more utter nonsense.

With increasing transparency, Bay has made it explicitly clear what he cares about in his own films and what he doesn't. What he wants is to create a massive spectacle with a massive budget, blow a lot of stuff up, destroy cars and buildings, show alpha males doing alpha male things, and look at hot chicks. On these levels, he succeeds.

In his earlier films (well, a couple of them, at least), there seemed to be some cursory interest in other elements - in letting a narrative and/or character take hold and allowing the action to punctuate (sometimes effectively, as in The Rock) what had previously been established in the story.

In a movie like Dark of the Moon, he uses the same formula, but displays a complete lack of interest in every moment that doesn't involve sex, guns, fighting, CGI, cars, explosions, or sexy gun-fighting CGI car explosions. He just wants to get to the parts where he shows you how much money he's spending.

He has contempt for any semblance of real storytelling, complete disregard for character, and let's not get started on his women.

OK, scratch that last thing I said - let's get started on his women. It's no secret that Bay's movies, in particular the Transformers series, are unabashed indulgences in, and celebrations of, boyishness in its most adolescent form. Shia LaBeouf, the franchise's star, was recently quoted as saying that Bay's films appeal to a "16-year-old sexuality." (Awkward? Naive? Uncontrolled?) (Note: Michael Bay is 47.) If you were about to walk into his office, you'd fully expect to see Carmen Electra pin-ups and Lamborghini posters all over his wall. You'd also expect him to call you "bro."

And yet no one - not LaBeouf, and certainly not Bay - has answered the question of what value such a relentless expression of that 16-year-old view serves over the course of a 2 -hour movie. Let's just consider the way he uses his new leading lady in Dark of the Moon. (Note: This will also demonstrate Bay's highly intelligent sense of humor.)

Sam (LaBeouf) and his new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley) are in her boss Dylan's (Patrick Dempsey) showroom, which features several extremely expensive, extremely sexy sports cars. The camera focuses directly on Carly, clad in quite a flattering white mini-dress, as Dempsey waxes poetic about the "beautiful curves" of, you know, the car they're looking at.

Do you get it? Curves?! Get it??

That's Michael Bay being witty, folks. Wit!

Later on there's a moment that basically mimics a low-angle, paparazzi-esque "upskirt shot" attempt. (Stay classy, Michael Bay!)

Let me be clear: I like seeing women in various states of undress as much as the next guy. I also like movies. As often as those two things can go hand in hand, they are not necessarily the same thing.

Michael Bay thinks they are the same thing.

To this point I have said very little about the specifics of Dark of the Moon, but for all intents and purposes, I've said almost everything that needs to be said about it. I admit, Bay shows more patience in some of his action scenes than he has in his first two Transformers entries - he holds shots for longer, certain sequences play more cohesively than usual, and there are pieces within his hour-long climax that are pretty impressive in what is otherwise a dull and ugly film. (Having said that, the extended action finale has a strange, awkward lack of rhythm and narrative propulsion.)

And then there's the Bay we know all too well - cuts that don't make dramatic sense, narrative threads that get all-too-casually muddled or outright discarded, a big-name actor (in this case John Malkovich) who shows up for a supporting role that has no purpose and no impact on the film whatsoever. You know - the usual. And my favorite - a hilarious sequence in which Dempsey takes 30 seconds to explain to Carly what has actually been going on, what is about to happen next, and why it is about to happen. In other words, to explain to the audience all the things the movie itself didn't have time (somehow, over 157 minutes) to bother with.

Oh, and this movie is about Decepticons who are trying to destroy Earth, in case you were wondering. Also, the Autobots are trying to stop them. Also, it has something to do with one of the moon landings. Also, a terrible-looking CGI JFK shows up in "archive" footage. And most importantly, the film is creatively, emotionally and artistically bankrupt.

But if there's one thing Bay wants you to remember, it's this: His is bigger than yours, and he's got the box-office numbers to prove it.

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