How Michael Bay taught me to stop hating Spielberg and start hating Michael Bay

As a young film student just out of school, I once shared the usual contempt that all serious film connoisseurs were expected to display for Steven Spielberg. From young students to senior lecturers, everybody I knew agreed that Steven Spielberg was the leading auteur of a kind of ‘lesser’ cinema, centred on spectacle, devastation and cheap sentimentality. In other words, he made blockbusters and blockbusters were bad.

Of course, if Spielberg had produced films that were badly made, his contributions would have been received with less hostility. The thing that people truly hated about Spielberg was that he produced incredibly entertaining films, filled with convincing characters placed into situations that in a previous era would have been relegated to B cinema. These were spectacular works of escapist cinema that captured the attention of the public and did not concern themselves with exploring the human condition, the political clime, or any other subject deemed worthy of the form. More than this, whether one acknowledged Spielberg’s merits or not, his successes soon redefined what Hollywood cinema was about –many would say for the worse.

After the success of Jaws (Spielberg’s first ode to the B-movies of his youth), the industry began to remodel itself with a much greater focus on what would soon become known as the ‘blockbuster’. These were films with a central focus on action and spectacle, and a lesser focus on narrative, character development and… well… anything that wasn’t spectacle. More than this, the studios progressively moved towards a marketing approach to cinema, with productions more often being structured in such a way as to satisfy various demographics. The result was a risk-averse industry, weary of films and filmmakers that moved far beyond standard generic formulae. That’s why a lot of people really hate Spielberg… he has long been seen as a marker for the rise of a shallow and more commercially driven cinema.

Of course, from a business perspective the modern approach to film-production is understandable, businesses are designed to make a profit and the studios cannot be blamed for their attempts to produce a popular product. However, the tragic truth is that such an approach is also very restrictive on the creative possibilities of cinema. While one could argue that limitations and boundaries (commercial, generic etc.) can often result in great art, this is not so much the case when those boundaries include having to produce a film targeted towards men and women between five and sixty-five years of age that must be action packed, feature a romance, conclude with a happy ending and receive a PG rating from the censors.

Michael bay and Jerry Bruckheimer are probably the epitome of this kind of cinema. They’ve dedicated themselves to the production of epic spectaculars starring young, attractive men and women playing two-dimensional stereotypes that spend their time kissing each other between explosions and gigantic robot battles that run for thirty minutes at a time – all of this is usually tied together by some kind of lazy and preposterous narrative that involves the potential end of the world at the hands of a robot or meteor or…. whatever. The cynicism with which these filmmakers approach their work is astonishing – but not as astonishing as the audience’s willingness to eat it up. However, it’s not Michael Bay’s films that break my heart – there is room in this world for crappy escapist cinema, it’s the fact that ninety-percent of Hollywood’s output is crappy escapist cinema and nobody seems to care. Compare today’s films to the cinema of the American New Wave and it becomes clear that the recent lamentations of many European critics are right – today, Hollywood only makes films for teenagers.

Let me try and pull away from this grumpy rant so that I can get to the point – Spielberg isn’t an awful filmmaker, and he did not destroy American cinema. He is not to be held responsible for the unforeseeable consequences of his passionate love for the B-films of his youth, and his desire to share that love with the generations that followed. Every filmmaker strives for success and Spielberg succeeded. If his approach to filmmaking (and that of contemporaries, like George Lucas) resulted in an industrial shift towards a youth oriented cinema of spectacle then the responsibility lies fundamentally with the  industry itself and the tastes of the public.

And at the end of the day, one need only look at the cinema of Michael Bay to fully appreciate the filmic talents of Steven Spielberg.

Here endeth the grumpy rant.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

140 thoughts on “How Michael Bay taught me to stop hating Spielberg and start hating Michael Bay

  1. haha, nice title man! ;) I actually quite like Spielberg and hope he’ll continue to make some good movies with the time he’s got. Although he had some downs as well, e.g. “War of the Worlds” was terribly bad. I remember sitting in the cinema, being super-bored, not to say disappointed. :P

  2. Success does seem to preclude one from being taken seriously. I think you’ve wisely and cogently described the fundamental difference between the two directors: Bay exploits cinema, Spielberg exploits sentiment. Even in his treatment of the Holocaust, Spielberg can still find hope, and that optimism is a testament to the power of his cinema. In his treatment of Pearl Harbor, Bay can still be cynical, and that exploitation is what damns all his efforts.

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  4. While I understand what you’re saying, I think that most people go to see a film to get away from the exact thing you are talking about. People are sick of bad news and listening to everyone’s problems, on a daily basis. They are looking for escape, for fast cars, fast lives, no commitment and a way to spend two hours without taking responsibility for anything at all. No one wants to sit and watch a movie drag along anymore, because it’s too much like the real world and their lives. It’s like all the musicals and huge glamorous movies that came out during war time. People were hungry for glitz and dancing girls and huge sets and the unrealistic lives of the characters because they wanted to forget what was happening outside the theater for a little while. The same thing is happening today. People are out of work, losing their homes, broke and they want to see things get blown up and the bad guys “get what they deserve,” because a lot of people feel powerless right now. Drama is real life. The things you don’t think are worthy…well, that’s what people want…mindless destruction, and chaos. That doesn’t mean that the other films are ignored, they aren’t, but that’s why I think the action, blockbusters are so popular.

    • A good point. No doubt there’s truth in the fact the current global socioeconomic climate makes escapism all the more appealing – and that’s totally fair enough. But I think this is a broader industrial shift that has continuously developed over the last almost 40 years.

      Having said that, my position has softened a little on the above since I wrote it more than a year ago, and my language would be quite a bit less definitive now.

  5. Quite an honest statement about your earlie approach to Steven Spielberg – appreciate that. I think Jaws is brilliant – not only from a blockbuster point of view. When I take a look at Spielberg’s director’s filmograpy, I see quite a lot very good movies. He’s not Kubrick or Hitchcock, no doubt about that, but far more gifted than Michael Bay, of course.

    I have to admit that every once in a while I can enjoy a Michael Bay / Jerry Bruckheimer movie. But it’s a sad fact that cinemas in Germany (and other countries of the western hemisphere) are crammed with that kind of film. Insufficient space for more ambitious pieces.

  6. I’ve never been a fan of “cinema,” per se; I’m more a fan of story. Most of the time the book is better than the movie but sometimes the movie is better than the book and I’m comfortable enough with my own identity that I don’t have to pretend to like one over the other.
    The same goes for movies. I was born in ’75, the year of Jaws’ release and have been raised on summer blockbusters and the merchandising that goes with it. I actually submitted a post to another blog in which I make a case for Jaws 3 because I saw it when I was 9 and it was awesome when I was 9 and there was no internet around to tell me it wasn’t good until later.

    I don’t really care who the director or producer, or even actors are if I’m compelled by the story. I have to care about the characters and whatever it is that they’re going through.

    That being said, I don’t think Bay/Bruckheimer are capable of telling a compelling story. That’s why they need all the strobes and robot fights- to take your attention away from the fact that the premise makes no sense, the characters are stupid and Bumblebee was a VW Bug, not a Camaro. It just seems like the two of them were hanging out watching a fireworks display one day and one said to the other, “Wow, people sure like to watch shiny-explody things,” and the other one said, “Dude, let’s videotape this and make a billion dollars.”

    And they did, and they sold lots and lots of tickets.

  7. Hello James,
    Thanks for following my blog, should have some new posts up soon. I have been wanting to check out some other film-related blogs here but have been very busy. This article is spot-on, I never blamed Speilberg for the blockbuster syndrome, the bean-counters that now run Hollywood would have just started their reign with someone else. At least Speilberg has done some good work, Can you imagine Michael Bay making “Schindler’s List” or finishing a project conceived by Stanley Kubrick? Also loved the post about “Sunshine” and hope it’s inspired some more people to check out a great film that didn’t get enough notice. Look forward to reading more from you. Rick

  8. I love this post for the title alone. It’s true, too. Spielberg, I think, is a great filmmaker because he comes at his ridiculous over-the-top spectacle plots with a genuine sense of innocent childlike wonder–you see it in scenes as diverse as the dinosaur-chomping-the-guy-on-the-toilet scene in Jurassic Park, the kid’s last day with his mom in AI, and my favorite, the purely for the thrill of it storm chasing of Twister. Whereas with Michael Bay etc. you get the feeling it’s being done by a marketer, somebody who doesn’t really believe in what he’s doing.

    Very curious to know what you think of Baz Luhrmann?

    Never really liked him much before the Great Gatsby but now…

  9. I find this one of the more interesting expressions of this oft expressed view. You are surely not the first film school graduate to decry the horrific wounds inflicted by Bay, Bruckheimer, Lucas et al upon the pure face of CINEMA.

    As for the idea that films should “explore the human condition”, the popularity of the directors mentioned and their products is more than eloquent on that subject. If I want more on that subject I would more likely seek an anthropologist or perhaps a philosopher. Their training seems more appropriate to the question.

    Ultimately, the fault (of fault there is) lies with the audience. If we didn’t watch them, they wouldn’t make them.

    Cheers, Winston

  10. Hey thanks for following my site ‘thefreshbias.wordpress.com’!

    Reading your articles is like reading my own opinion, only much more eloquently delivered. The ability to see beyond the visuals and see how insipid most blockbusters are is a trait I very much admire, and I look forward to further opinion pieces. :D

  11. First thanks for liking my postings enough to follow me. As you can no doubt tell from my various comic book prints, etc. that I am a great lover of “B” film, crummy comics, camp, etc.
    But I found the title to “How Michael Bay taught me to stop hating Spielberg and start hating Michael Bay” irresistible. It sums of the feelings of a friend of mine almost completely. Not sure it sums up my own, but then I haven’t bothered to watch enough Bay to really start hating his work. Maybe it will someday be like Ed Wood and we can laugh at it.
    Anyway, liked your post enough to read it through–which is a rarity for me, so I hope you feel complimented. It’s meant as a compliment. Well done.

  12. I have likewise gone from scathing rants against “ET,” to appreciating that Spielberg does love what he does, and does it because he loves it. Agree about the rest. Very enjoyable rant.
    I may be a Pollyanna, but I remain hopeful that crowd funding and digital cameras may revive a bigger place for the auteur in motion pictures. Or at least a bigger place for motion pictures in the lives of auteurs.

  13. The first movie I saw in a cinema was Jaws. I grew up in a conservative home/church that didn’t allow movie going. I have been hooked on film ever since. The problem with many of today’s films is more narrow then selling to teens – after all it is mostly for mainstream, heterosexual teens. If there were more films like last year’s Perks of a Being a Wallflower, then I’d be campaigning films made for teens but nobody is going to be inspired to peruse art and find the moments when they are infinite by watching another Transformers movie. Spielberg showed you could be entertained and still have heart – you care about his characters.

  14. I like the movie “The Island”. It has Ewan McGregor in it, whom I like a lot. What I like about that movie, apart from the obvious that Ewan is in it – is that it deals with the idea of having human clons and whether this is okay or not. The question of how far can or should we go trying to “save” a human’s life or not and keeping a human alive? But there is a certain amount of time in that movie where it goes from “interesting plot and even ethically challenging questions” to “pure action, car chasing, exploding everything” kind of movie. It turns around some time later again for the ending, which is quite exciting and good, I think. But this moment of action and chasing and explosions one after the other just to make an exciting Blockbuster, I guess is the reason. Just sad. Cut the action, which would have made the movie a 90 minutes movie and more interesting instead of just Blockbuster.
    Contrary to that I watched E. T. again some months ago after not having seen it for probably at least a decade. Still just charming and cute and sad and beatiful.

  15. Hmnn…Seems to me, folk who prefer art (be it literature, graphic art, video or whatever) tend to be an underfinanced minority. Few get rich selling art, though one’s heirs may. So, a decision: Is one pursuing art or business? An honest decision, not always honestly made. Both are honorable pursuits, both offer value to their markets. Both require effort, talents, energy and commitment. But they are not the same, nor should they be confused, in my opinion. It is true though, that on occasion, either can take on the character of the other. But to set that as a standard would reduce output to nearly nothing; thereby depriving us of most of both. Or so I see it…We can’t expect a Lamborghini in every garage, but nearly all need a car…

    • This is true… But a greater attention to the balance between the two is far more important in a field where even the most minor of productions requires significant investment. It’s important that the art does not fade away because it’s a ‘bad investment’.

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  17. I think you’re bang on here. I’m so sick of people saying they ‘hate’ Spielberg just because he’s too commercial. Can’t blame one man for an entire industry. (also, thanks for following my blog)

  18. Super super super like this blog post. Was attracted to this post by the title and towards the end of reading this post, I smiled. Thanks for the education, if you may call it that.

  19. Agree completely. The only Michael Bay film that have a slight affinity for is “The Rock”, but that’s from most nostalgia, as it was one of first R rated action films I was allowed to watch in my youth. Good post…

  20. I have to say that I don’t consider Spielberg to be a bad film-maker, and yes I got some looks for saying that when studying film at uni, but I grew up with the blockbuster. I can’t remember how old I was when I saw ET, but Jurassic Park came out when I was about 8 (?) and I remember my parents sneaking me in to Independence Day because I was under 12 (none of this 12A we have today).

    As I’ve grown I’ve obviously gained enjoyment and appreciation for other films and film-makers, but my enjoyment of Spielberg or blockbusters hasn’t gone away. At least up to a certain point anyway, 80’s and 90’s blockbusters generally seem to be better than modern offerings, but I don’t think all the blame should be put on the film-makers as much as the studio bosses who make the decisions in the first place. One reason Spielberg is so popular is because he has built up a career making popular and successful films, regardless of genre or style (Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List were both released in the same year), and so studio bosses are happy to give him the money to make what he wants.

    For all we know Bay may have had similar aspirations (even if he did before they’ve probably been knocked out of him now), but starting his career with blockbusters already established, and especially in a time of Brand Recognition, his success with his early films such as Armageddon etc, meant he was typecast by the studio who don’t want to take risks with him?

    Like someone mentioned earlier about people working too hard and needing to eye candy to let their brain rest, maybe this also applies to those of us who are more critical of films as well?

  21. Well said, sir.

    I love movies, good and bad. I can find something to enjoy or appreciate in nearly any film. The only movies I absolutely cannot stand are lazy movies. Lifeless drivel totally devoid of passion, thought, or fun, pumped out by the machine to cash in on a fad or a name brand. That’s what Michael Bay is: a lazy film-maker. Every aspect of his style is designed to lure in and appeal to the lowest common denominator. He’s known for action, but his action scenes look like they were shot during a 9.5 earthquake and edited by a room full of ADD-addled eight-year-olds; they trick you into thinking you’ve just seen something awesome, when all you’ve really seen was a two-second close cut of the blurry outline of something that MIGHT have been awesome. He doesn’t put any heart or imagination into his work. He goes about making movies like a janitor goes about cleaning a bathroom: you make it look nice because you get paid more for that, but it’s still just cleaning a bathroom.

    Say what you will about Spielberg, but he at least tries to make an entertaining movie. Bay just tries to get a payday.

  22. I saw Jaws in the cinema last year when it was re-released and was actually really impressed by the camera work. It also made me jump out my seat twice, proving it has lasted as an effective work of (blockbuster) horror :)

  23. But when it comes to action… I must admit I kinda (as in, way too much) love superhero movies and the like. So, despite hating the Transformers movies, I kinda also secretly love them. But they’ve got nothing on Marvel. Woo!

    • :-) I don’t like Bay’s big robot movies, but occasionally a superhero film will catch my eye. I didn’t even entirely hate Dredd (not a superhero I suppose).

      But Robocop would bury them all!! ;-)

  24. Michael Bay’s list of loves: Slow motion. The same big music in every movie.
    Once upon a time I liked Armageddon, then I watched all three (is it three?) Transformers movies in a weekend – after being told he did Armageddon also. Holy hell – slow motion EVERYWHERE and the same music as in Armageddon. So, went back to re-watch A – oh ya, slo mo all over the place. Oh dear.

  25. I know I’m a bit late to the game with this article, but I loved your take on this shift in Hollywood. I have to admit, I actually prefer Spielberg’s earlier work with its blockbuster appeal (sorry, but give me E.T., Jaws or Jurassic Park any day). He is so incredibly talented, but I feel like I’m being hit over the head with the “messages” of his films these days; it’s almost as if every film he makes now has to be “important.” In regards to Bay, most everything he touches is crap, but I do have a soft spot for The Rock, Armageddon, and Transformers (the first only – because I LOVE Bumblebee and Sam’s parents). Yes, they are made up of empty calories, but sometimes I just want cheap chocolate :)

    • Thanks, Erin – much appreciated!

      I prefer early Spielberg too. His in-your-face sentiment works much better in the world of the blockbuster than historical cinema – where he only seems interested in emotively reaffirming what we already know rather than informing/exposing/enlightening.

      • You hit the nail on the head!

        I have to ask, did you see “Lincoln”? My niece saw it and thought it was wonderful, but also felt it was a missed opportunity to explore Lincoln as a human being (she was intrigued by the glimpses into his personal life). I think I would be more inclined to check it out myself if Spielberg had focused more on the man instead of the issue. I think this is the problem I’ve had with Spielberg’s later work; it is almost like he shies away from in-depth exploration of the personal, and covers it by focusing on a big societal issue instead. He is presenting the forest instead of the trees. (But he does it REALLY well.)

        Sorry, my own little rant I guess :)

        • It is only just reaching Australia now, so I shall see it soon. But I can only presume that I’ll agree with you. He is soft and populist on history, unwilling to interrogate beyond accepted fact (Schindler’s List is the exception, since there is little more that Spielberg could have interrogated there. Although his portrait of Schindler is supposedly quite two dimensional).

  26. A good rant. Have you read the book ‘Easy Riders Raging Bulls’? It’s about the evolution of the modern film industry, really interesting. A lot about Spielberg in it. I don’t think he makes bad films, just a certain type of films. Michael Bay simply holds a mirror up to the lowest common denominator and laughs as the money rolls in, fair play to him I suppose. As long as there’s room for different approaches to filmmaking, let’s let Michael Bay have his time. Makes the other directors look good for a start!

  27. A lot of people tend to peg Spielberg based on his blockbuster films, but a lot of people seem to forget some of his output from 1985 through 1989, with “The Color Purple,” “Empire of the Sun,” and “Always.”

    I sometimes feel these years were the testing ground for Spielberg, attempting to try and make something dramatic and more serious. Though it really felt like the public just patted the little boy on the head and said, “That’s nice, sweetie. Now make us another Indiana Jones.”

    Of course, after “Schindler’s List” came out, the majority of Spielberg’s film talents seemed to shift, and it was like those parents wondering what happened to the sweet little boy they once knew, as the majority of his films since then have taken on a darker tone and feel. Though I did feel that he did a good job with the comedy/drama, “Catch Me If You Can.”

    As for Michael Bay, I’m of the persuasion that he’s a ‘lost boy.’ I can’t see him ever growing out of his adolescence of hot women, fast cars, and massive explosions. Even the preview of “Pain & Gain” makes me wonder if he can (or is willing to) have characters the audience will feel sympathy or even care for.

    A lot of the time, it feels like down on their luck guys who don’t want to play by the rules, and just steamroll over everyone just to get rich, or the girl in the end. Even the Bay-less “National Treasure” film seemed the same way.

    Then again, every director has some thing they carry across all their films. Spielberg’s films almost always feature ‘broken homes/families’ in some form or another. Then again, at least he doesn’t pull the crap Roland Emmerich does. Roland claims his films are about ordinary people, but ordinary people do not survive death over 2-3 dozen times out of sheer coincidence.

  28. Some of the best movies I’ve seen have been by Spielberg: “Empire of the Sun”, “Schindler’s List”, “Munich”, “Lincoln”… I’ve always thought he was a very versatile director capable of appealing to many different types of audiences. “Lincoln” is mostly all dialogue and very little action sequences–no gratuitous battlefield explosions and not even an on-screen assassination. I re-watched “Empire of the Sun” recently and it was very understated and almost brilliant in terms of structure and storytelling. I just can’t bring myself to put Spielberg in the same category as Michael Bay…

    • Agreed. The only real similarity between them is that Spielberg’s work paved the way for a new style of filmmaking that Bay is a part of.

      Can’t blame Spielberg for that!

  29. Someone else already mentioned him, but I’d like to echo the inclusion of J.J. Abrams to the list. He obviously has a lot of respect for Spielberg, and I’d say that half of Abrams’ movies fall way closer to Spielberg than Bay on the scale of good filmmaking, but just look at Star Trek (and probably the sequel). Almost nothing in the plot makes sense if you allow yourself to think about it for more than 5 seconds. It’s all spectacle. Maybe he’s gravitating more toward the Bay formula of just not really caring about what makes sense. It’s too bad. Mission Impossible III was a lot of fun but also more grounded. Super 8 was his homage to Spielberg and the stuff he grew up with, but the characters were also worthwhile. I really hate what he’s doing to Star Trek, even though it looks gorgeous.

  30. Very interesting article! I found it very intriguing to read about these two filmmaker’s films from the perspective of a film student. As a comm major and having taken a couple classes on film and film production everything you’ve said makes complete sense, but it was something I never even thought about! Thanks for the interesting read!! I will definitely be back!

  31. Please add J.J. Abrams and Brett Ratner to the retards of film making. These guys make us stupid for watching anything they put us through…

  32. I like, ah, no, i love spielberg and i dislike, urgh, michael bay a lot. I know that schindler in spielberg’s movie is not as good as spielberg potrayed but compared to pearl harbor. what the.. michael bay really… =_= Btw i still don’t get it why blockbuster movie can be known as B-movie?

    • Hi Eri,

      Agreed!

      The term B-Movie refers to a secondary film played before or after a main feature in the early days of cinema (most people misunderstand the term to mean ‘bad cinema’). These films were generally cheap and based on sensationalism and spectacle. Spielberg’s work elevated the sensationalist spectacle to new heights, making these kinds of films respectable (and far more expensive) than they had been in the past. This new form of spectacular cinema was subsequently given the title of ‘blockbuster’ cinema. After Spielberg, the spectacular and sensationalist film became more popular than the traditional narrative /character based films of the past.

  33. I think he’s sometimes guilty of walking the line of the overly sentimental, but there’s an admirable depth of feeling and playfulness (E.T. Close Encounters, Indy) to Spielberg’s work, combined with genuine balls-to-the-wall spectacle (Jurassic Park, Jaws, Indy) which I just don’t see in Michael Bay’s lecherous cacophony of fast cars, tits and bums.

    Plus, watching Duel was one of the experiences which seriously got me interested in films.

    Watching Transformers seriously got me interested in antidepressants.

  34. Well-said! I’ve been pondering the current state of Hollywood for a long time recently. How it’s become all Image and no Substance. Bay and J.J. Abrams burn me up for a variety of reasons, maybe the main ones being that they’re young twirps with no talent to cater to 8 year olds (or should I say Adults with 8 year old minds?). All explosions, noise, fast cutting, lens flare…everything Geared towards the kids with short attention spans. Everything has been so Dumbed Down. SF films are no longer that but silly fantasy films for teens.
    Yet these so-called new directors are Praised by the masses for shelling this shit out! It just blows my mind. All these excesses and mindless drivel..from talentless asses who Got those jobs because of their ultra-rich Hollywood dads.
    For saying these things I HAVE BEEN cursed, told that I don’t know what good entertainment is, told that I’m jealous of them, etc. etc.
    Story of my life I guess.

  35. Nicely written, especially your description of the “spectacle film”. I’ve often that about how Jaws and Star Wars gave rise to a whole approach to commercial film making that still impacts us today, for good or for ill. However, I’ve found as I’ve drifted away from my film school days that I’ve become more and more a sucker for those easy-to-digest spectacle films, especially if they have the ability to show me something that I haven’t seen before (as most Spielberg films have). However, I haven’t really descended down to being a Michael Bay fan, not yet (though I might pick him over Roland Emmerich, if I had to choose).

  36. Interesting point,I am quite guilty to watch Avengers (It was good). In my school,none watched old films expect for me. I once showed Lawrence of Arabia and they think it’s B.S because it’s nothing but sand. Spilberg did quite nicely in Schindler’s list otherwise I did not watch much of his films

  37. Don’t get me wrong here, Michael Bay IS terrible in a lot of respects, but the thing I can appreciate about him is that he strikes me as someone who is really trying to keep the spirit of the 80s-early 90s action film alive. That is to say he makes the kind of action films we don’t see anymore where we get over-the-top action, cartoonish characters and Die Hard/Lethal Weapon style ‘splosions.

    I for one actually don’t care for the Post Batman Begins “grit” and “realism” that people who make modern day action films try to go for, which is why I actually hate the James Bond reboot movies as immensely as I do. Sure they’re well-made films and they have believable characters, depth and great acting performances, but I don’t really want that in my James Bond movies. I want to see a mix of intelligent character development and over-the-top kind of stuff you KNOW we’d never see in real life (such as Bond’s jetpack and the dude with the hat that can cut through statues). I think a lot of filmmakers today don’t really grasp the escapist element in movies, trying instead to capture more realism when we don’t f****** want to see realism all the time because real life can suck as much as it can be great.

    Say what you want about Bay, but I enjoy that he at least GETS the whole escapist element in his movies which makes them fun for a viewer like myself (someone who wants cheese just as much as he wants intelligent realism). So, I don’t know, I enjoy myself watching his mindless schlock from time to time. Unless, of course, we’re talking Bad Boys 2 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Even if I turn off my brain those two are still awful.

    • Hey Optimus Sean,

      I hear what you’re saying but I think comparing Michael Bay’s films to some of the seminal action movies of the 80s and 90s may be more than he deserves. Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are both incredibly intense, character driven (even if these characters are not entirely three-dimensional) classics. The action in those films is also incredibly tangible (I’ll avoid the word realism), bringing the viewer into the action rather than excluding them from it as occurs in the CGI fuelled works of Bay. I also think the action in those films is firmly supported by an excellent apprroach to the construction of space (I’m actually thinking of the final thirty minutes of Predator right now) – Bay seems to struggle with this.

      I’m a fan of the new Batman/Bond films but this is purely a matter of taste I suppose. The old Batman movies I find unwatchably camp now, but I can certainly see your point when it comes to Bond. There is a certain point where the Craig versions move so far from the formula that you have to ask why they bothered making them ‘Bond’ movies at all.

      As for escapism, I can definitely see your point there. But there is also an argument for catharsis – a film can present a vision of the world that makes everything in the real world look peachy.

      But either way, I’m not lamenting that filmmakers like Michael Bay exist – they should exist. As I mention in my article, there is room for this kind of escapist movie experience. What I am concerned about is that this kind of movie is now the predominant form of filmmaking around the world – when in previous eras the escapist films were relegated to a secondary status.

      Appreciate your comments, Optimus. The world would be a boring place if we all agreed on everything.

      • That’s interesting you would see the Michael Bay style of filmmaking becoming the predominant form of filmmaking, as I actually see the Post-Batman Begins/”Nolan realism” style of filmmaking becoming more influential, at least in the realm of action/adventure/superhero movies, what with the Mortal Kombat web-series stripping the mystical/sci-fi elements from the shorts and the aforementioned Daniel Craig Bond movies scrapping the camp and the gadgets for darker/grittier fare. Michael Jai White (Jax in the Mortal Kombat web-series) was actually quoted somewhere as saying the Nolan Batman movies inspired the people who produced the Kombat shorts and Marc Webb has also stated Nolan inspired him to look for more realism while creating Amazing Spider-Man.

        Don’t get me wrong though, I really dislike both of those styles of filmmaking but I think the Nolan approach actually offends me more as a viewer than the “Bayhem” style as I think action films (Superhero oriented ones in particular) NEED an element of fantastical, over-the-top kind of stuff, which is why I thought the first Iron Man film and The Avengers nailed the action-adventure/superhero genre perfectly. In Iron Man you have goofy cartoonish stuff like the stripper stewardesses in one scene but then you have some deep and profound character development in the next like the sequences between the Tony Stark character and Yinsen, the scientist who had lost his family and reason to live. Avengers also had some great moments of tension and scenes of developing friendships interlaced with goofy/comedic bits like Hulk’s “puny God” sequence at the end.
        And if you want to go back even further for a movie that balanced over-the-top stuff with some believable and intelligent drama, the first Robocop movie has that in spades, showing us Murphy going through his violent and dehumanizing death sequence one minute and then going through some over-the-top action scenes the next once he has become Robocop. I guess what I’m trying to say (and I apologize for getting a little off-topic here by the way) is I would prefer to see a balance between the juvenile Bay-ish “fratboy” approach to moviemaking and the more serious, cerebral, introspective style of filmmaking that guys like Nolan go for as I think living in a world where it’s either one style or the other kind of sucks for moviegoers (which is probably another reason no one goes to movies anymore).
        I appreciate you being civil and articulate in your responses, by the way, glad I can agree to disagree with a fellow moviegoer without it turning to an IMDB flame war. :) And thank you for following my blog as well, I will be more than happy to return the favor. BTW, you can just call me Sean from here on out, Optimus Sean’s just my WordPress screenname :)
        Cheers,
        -Sean

        • Hey Sean,

          I guess when I highlight Michael Bay as the symbol of this particular type of filmmaking, I’m referring less to a style as I am to a general concept. The concept is basically that of a cinema of spectacle lacking in content. For me this would encompass films like the Twilight Movies, apocalyptic disaster movies (2012, Men in Black, Battleship, the more recent Tim Burton films etc.). I see these as being the predominant output of Hollywood today.

          Alternatively, I would view the reinvention of Batman and Bond as (at least in theory) as an attempt to counter this type of filmmaking with a stern, realist approach (for better or worse). Nolan holds a position in contemporary cinema (rightly or wrongly) akin to that of David Lean in his respective period. I like some of Nolan’s film and have hated one or two. Inception, I felt, was close to unwatchable upon a second viewing.

          Of course, it’s all subjective – and I’d prefer that particular style of filmmaking over the Bay stuff. Perhaps part of the issue there is that I’ve never had a relationship with the superhero genre, so I’m not really qualified to enter into a debate about what constitutes an acceptable superhero film. I did enjoy The Avengers and Iron Man but not to the extent that many (perhaps most) people have.

          As for Robocop – we’ve definitely found some common territory there. I think it is a masterpiece. You are absolutely right about the combination of total excess and believeable drama – but for me it’s Verhoeven’s incredibly European satire of American culture that pushes it over the edge. I can’t imagine that we’ll ever see Michael Bay pull off such an impressive cultural critique (although he tried with The Island – kind of felt like a mish-mash of Logan’s Run and THX 1138).

          I agree totally – we need a diversity of cinema. And putting Bay aside for a moment, my original point (which I may have lost sight of) was that these large scale films, be they made by Bay or Nolan, represent a single concept – the ‘blockbuster’. What I lament is that these kinds of movies are the primary output of Hollywood today – as opposed to earlier eras when there was a greater diversity of intelligent cinema (often counter-cultural). But then again, perhaps the reality is that this period of high-concept cinema really only existed from the late sixties until the mid-seventies – the period between free-love and Jaws. Prior to this, depth and subtext were elements to be snuck by, not encouraged by, the studios.

          And no need to thank me for the civility. The worst thing that can happen in these debates is that people start using their anonymity to become obnoxious and offensive. At the end of the day, the debate is what blogging is all about.

          Look forward to talking again, Sean!

    • Of all the comments I’ve read on this post (and I’m still only half way through!), this one grabbed my attention the most. Firstly, I think the new Bond films (maybe not Quantum) are great. Irrespective of the greater good, Bond is someone who has to kill people, and is surrounded by people who die, and I think Craig’s performance nails how Bond should be. Moore’s cheeky chappy international jetsetting playboy Bond just annoys the hell out of me.

      But I also agree that the gritty realism can go too far. I also thought The Dark Knight was a brilliant film, but as a crime drama, not a superhero film. It had great moments of atmosphere, tension, etc, and then this guy turns up in a bat suit? what’s that all about??

      I also agree about the cartoonish action films like Lethal Weapon being the best. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend Deep Rising, directed by Stephen Sommers. I know GI Joe got a few reviews accusing it of being to Bay-like, but like The Mummy, it’s a great action/disaster/monster movie, but has the sense to acknowledge it’s ‘only’ an action film, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

  38. The scene for me that turned me away from Michael Bay was the scene in Armageddon where the kids were riding in the cardboard space shuttles and waving US flags in slo-mo. I hate that kind of manipulation.

  39. ET seemed such a great movie when it came out, my son and I raved. Then everybody else started to think so too. Not accustomed to being agreed with on anything we started to get pissed off. Last time I checked my son was thinking it was Not such a great movie.
    But just making that scene (in S’s List) where the Nazi has the Jewess shot, then follows her engineering advice is enough to put him on a plane with many a genius forebear.

    • That movie is certainly his greatest achievement, and nobody can take that away from him.

      Although – as a person who takes the filmic representation of history seriously, it has its flaws. Schindler was perhaps not quite the saint he was represented to be…

  40. “The cynicism with which [Bay and Bruckheimer] approach their work is astonishing – but not as astonishing as the audience’s willingness to eat it up.”

    I think you’re right on the money about the cynicism. In Bay and Bruckheimer’s movies, we don’t get the feeling that they actually LIKE the characters in their work. Cutouts of the actors could take place of the actual actors and it wouldn’t make a difference as long as things blow up good. Now, with Spielberg, even though he puts his characters in danger, we want them to see them come out of the situation safely as much as we expect to see special and visual effects extravaganza. Personally, I love most of Spielberg’s work because that optimism is so palpable. Even if a movie of his is underwhelming (“The Lost World: Jurassic Park”), at least I don’t feel like I wasted my time as I would from watching a underwhelming movie from those cynics.

  41. Spielberg’s work reminds me of Cecil B. DeMille. Spectacular films through an adolescent’s eyes. David Lean created epic films but they are for adults. I think that Ridley Scott has tried to make big adult films.
    Great article….

  42. Pingback: How Michael Bay taught me to stop hating Spielberg and start hating Michael Bay « The Daily Video

  43. Thanks for stopping by at Colltales. Great blog, will come back often. Your insights about Michael Bay are probably way deeper than anything he’ll ever produce. Also keeping my fingers crossed for that new new wave. All the best.

  44. What you say about both directors is right on the money. The thing that annoys me about a lot of Spielberg’s movies is the cloying sentimentality and the notion that children are the central arbiters of happiness and meaning in civilization. I don’t know much about Bay’s work but I also agree with you that it’s tragic that the blockbuster has eclipsed whatever art in acting, storytelling, or screenwriting Hollywood once had to offer. Let’s hope another Renaissance comes along before long. By the way, I like your writing style very much. It’s spot-on and clear; the words flow with an effortless feel (not to suggest that your writing is effortless; I’m sure you’ve worked hard at it for a long time; it certainly shows).

  45. Very good article. Only thing I’m concerned with is if Jaws really is a B movie? I’m not sure if it is or not but other than that this article is really good and I’m anti-Michael Bay all the way. If I had Shia Labaouf (or whatever) and Megan Fox running through the desert I’d make 1 million dollars too.

    • Thanks :-)
      I wouldn’t say it is a B-movie (a B-movies was a film that came prior to the main feature), but it is a blockbuster. In terms of content, B-movies and blockbusters are the same, focusing on sensation and spectacle. However, what Lucas and Spielberg did was to elevate the cinema of spectacle to a new level (which is an intention they have voiced themselves in one way or other).

  46. Ain’t it the truth. Sadly. I think George Lucas might have a lot more ‘splainin to do. He has no idea how to work with real actors. We’ll see what Abraham Lincoln has to say about Spielberg. Will he drive a stake through his heart?

  47. I like what you wrote, but I can’t bring myself to agree with it hahaha! Sadly, I’m a big Bay fan. He might make movies centered around explosions and big action pieces, but he is a technical genius when it comes to that stuff. Nobody blows things up as well as Michael Bay, and it requires a lot of attention to detail when it comes to those set pieces of carnage.

    I wrote a pro-Bay piece here that you might wanna check out: http://drewpan.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/why-hate-on-michael-bay/

    • It’s a good point. I’m just an old-fashioned guy who likes solid storytelling and layers of meaning (and I have a soft-spot for pre-CGI special effects).

      • Me too, actually. Which is why I’m a sucker for low-budget indie movies, even though most of them tend to be pretentious with unnecessarily slick and artsy shots.

    • You guys are just FANTASTIC! lol
      Both of you made very good points in relation to the Michael Bay cinema. You see the way I see this is that every director, no matter how good or bad, has a strength and a weakness. However, these strengths and weaknesses are ultimately challenged, dissected and affirmed by us, the viewers.

      Who are the viewers?

      Well most of them are teenagers and college students. Teenagers are a spontaneous crowd of people. A lot of them do not understand work ethic and the definition and practice of patience. They prefer having things done quickly and without reason. So when it comes to film, Michael Bay’s resume just seems to be a more attractive choice than say David Lynch’s.

      College students (with the exception of a few majors) are generally forced, simply by occupation, to indulge in the reality of hard work. This work requires them to spend countless hours in the chemistry labs, networking labs, studios, libraries and study halls. In the end, after an assumed 60-70 hour work week, the last thing college students would want to do is go to the movies and watch something like “Lost In Translation” or “The American.”

      SCREW THAT! They’re done thinking! They are going to go and watch Transformers, Godzilla, Battleship, Alien Vs. Predator and well you get the picture. Then there is the latter; people like us: film enthusiasts, film critics, film theorists, writers, artists and so on. We are the people that revel in the intricate details of the science and art that is film. We dissect a film, both sound and visuals, from beginning to end and take notes on the narrative, editing, compositional, directorial and other aspects of the film. We make a conscious effort at appealing to the general public, but often end up on the shorter end of the spectrum because the general viewer just doesn’t care about all these details.

  48. I really enjoyed this post! You could also blame Tarantino, but that would probably be pointless too. Most movies are aimed at teenage boys – they’re the people who (mostly) buy tickets and popcorn – so I guess we’ll just have to accept looking at these images for some time to come!

  49. I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. Those Michael Bays are appalling films. Spielberg’s work is oh so much better.

    That said, I rarely watch films in this era(I admit to a weakness for superhero movies, except for that appalling Batman with ah-nold “Mr. Freeze” and spaghetti westerns)). Most films I look at these days come from he thirties, forties, and fifties. Love me some Turner Classic.

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