Monday, July 28, 2014

A Love Letter to the Michael Bay(s) of Hollywood - Part 2

In "Part 1", while making the early note that I have found Michael Bay's overall career to be lackluster in the sense of an assured steady decline to the reaches of mind-numbing Hell, I really spent the first half of this ramble paying respects to his early work. I feel this is an art form slowing fading away, not only in professional criticisms, but all the way down to the social media outrages. Movie fans are far more content to fixate on the bad and ignore that the good ever happened. That's not to say the bad should be ignored and excused because the film maker at hand managed to grow one rose in a field of weeds. Bad is still bad, no matter how you look at it. The good movies should be remembered, embraced, spread around by word of mouth and adoration. I can't honestly believe it is, but even if it's just me, true creativity in Hollywood is fading rapidly. At least from the mainstream view. It's depressing and getting more and more difficult to ignore. The indie scene is still grasping onto what used to be the pride of Hollywood, thankfully, but for how long? What baffles me is how "bad", despite all the complaints towards its continuity and increasing commonplace in Hollywood, is succeeding.

On that note, the one particular cluster of such dumbfounding success is the recent Transformers movie franchise. Before I begin, no, I'm not going to pick apart these movies one by one and explain why I can't hardly stand any of them. That horse isn't going to get any more dead.

We all know them: Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), and Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), so far. Here's all you really need to know, and then I'll get off that particular soapbox:

1. The robots, of which these films are named after and supposedly based on, take a back seat in their own damn movie. "...but it's about the people." Well, if that's true, it should have been called We the People, Shooting Guns, with some Robots and American Flags Filling the Background.

2. Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. No further explanation warranted.

3. Blatant racism is okay as long as it is presented as robots making bad, cliche puns.

Even though that last one is too tasteless to ignore, all could have been mostly forgiven if not for one major fact that every single one of those movies (except for maybe the last one, I haven't seen it yet but have been told I'm not missing much) have climaxes so poor that it is borderline hilarious. By hilarious, I mean in the saddest way possible. Climaxes that are so rushed and so empty, it almost feels like movie theater robbery.

"Here's two plus hours of build up for a foe that even the mighty Transformers may not be able to survive. What an epic battle that this surely will be!" (30 seconds into big, epic battle) "Wow, wait - that's it??"

And so it goes from there. Now, some may think that I, and those that have similar opinions as me regarding the Transformers movies, are taking it way too seriously and just need to lighten up. These movies are here for fun and not for life changing enlightenment. Trust me, I've taken that into consideration, and my only natural response to that is - No kidding! You have no idea (actually, I'm hoping a lot of people share this feeling) how badly I want to like these movies. How badly I wanted them to be good, even if it was just "Coca-Cola and popcorn rotting my brain cells" good. Not everyone agrees with this, but I love the design of the robots in these films! Being a prop in the background is disappointing, sure, but give them a great battle at the end and these movies are something to positively remember. Bad acting, bad dialogue, stupid plot, who cares?? Giant-Fighting-Robots!!!

Yet, in spite of these mistakes made time and time again, this franchise is making millions upon hundreds of millions of dollars in each outing.

My question is pretty obvious: Why?

I recently viewed a video by Bob Chipman. He's a movie reviewer on a website called The Escapist. If you haven't checked it out, I'd really recommend it. It's a nerd haven. Anyway, Bob made a video ( commenting on the fact that critics and the public alike need to back off of Michael Bay a little bit because it's becoming almost a sport in the movie industry to call him out and slander him. That point I completely agree with (see "Part 1"), it was the latter portion I had trouble wrapping my head around. His main point was that the reason Bay makes films like this is because it's a proven successful franchise that he can make a hefty paycheck on and that it's what we [the general viewing public] want. He even goes to make an analogy about it is us that wants the junk food, he's just the one serving the french fries. This wasn't aimed at any particular demographic either. Bob even called himself out on it. Screw it, I call myself out on it. I own all 3 that are currently on blu-ray. I'll probably own the 4th on blu-ray because I'm a completest and have friends that like the movies. Once more, I digress. I like where Bob was going with it, but to me, it doesn't seem that simple.

My thoughts are, and I can personally testify to this, that even casual movie fans have a naive optimism that patience is a virtue and that some day, that patience will pay off and we will have the Transformers movie we deserve with the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent in good faith. Hell, even Bay has been recorded saying he was disappointed with Revenge of the Fallen and that Dark of the Moon was going to be bigger and better to make up for it. Well, it was bigger . . .

That also may be my naivety talking. Perhaps it's possible that people don't care anymore, and don't think their hard earned money deserves a hint of sustained quality in return, and that the true escapism of what going to movies used to represent has been reduced to a cheap thrill to help line the pockets of greedy corporate heads so they can milk the cash cow until it's blue in the face. I think in part of what Bob was saying is true, except said greedy corporate heads think so little of the general public that they truly believe we want their slop. Problem is, we're not doing anything to dispute that. Complain all you want, but when money does the talking, all that complaining might as well be that tree in the forest that no one is around to hear. We're partially responsible for the success of "bad".

Look, I don't know if I've made a successfully concise argument through all of this, and I don't want to make a "Part 3", so I'll wrap this up. I guess my point is, when Bay's career first started, he didn't butcher the box office, but at least he made films that gave audiences positive reflections instead of "Oh god,..." As any kind of artist, is that really what you'd want your legacy to be? That you made millions of dollars? That you supposedly just bent over and gave the public "what they want" or what you boss says they want? I, personally, would love to be a famous author someday. Famous, however, for my work. Not the ceramic statue in my garden that it bought. I know full well I could write my own 50 Shades of Grey called the Tits 'n Beer Chronicles (and with some illustration) that would sell really well to one demographic, and could also sell A Southern Yarn About How Both My Wife and Dog Got Cancer (and by the way, Here's a Box of Kleenex) to another, but I couldn't be proud of it. Ever. Just like I know Bay can't be proud of Transformers. I'm pretty sure he even said he didn't want to make a 4th, and yet here we are. It's hard to turn down those dollar signs.

I just wish we're not so consumed by the dollars and cents that we go back to have that and respect for the craft that got us here in the first place. We are capable of so many cinematic marvels in 2014 and beyond with technology and fresh creative minds, but it feels like we'd rather make millions and release Transformers: Who Cares, You'll Come See It or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (on steroids). Oh wait, crap, one of those is happening. 

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