How to watch a Michael Bay film

To get out of the 101 degree heat here in Seattle, I decided to take the afternoon off yesterday and go see a film. Only thing playing at the right time was Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen.

I don’t hate Michael Bay films, but I rarely like them since I like movies that make sense. I admit Armageddon was fun, but I can’t say much for the others. Except for The Island which I thought was quite good – probably his best film. If not The Rock. Ok, fine. I guess I do like his films.  But if I do, it’s in part because I’ve learned how to prepare for them.

To prepare for Transformers 2, which I did enjoy, here’s what I did:

  • Don’t think of it as a movie – it’s a mega abstract conceptual art project at a bargain. I paid $7.50 to see a film that cost $150 million to make. There are few bargains this good. By not thinking of it as a movie the pressure to have it make sense went away, and the cheezy jokes, cardboard cutout characters,  or racial stereotypes didn’t bother me. Instead my mind was free to wonder how many people were in charge of Megan Fox’s lip gloss. Or the conversations the CGI folks must have had about how a functioning robot that walks and gets hit by grenades and tank shells could convert in seconds into a functioning jet. Not thinking of it is as movie, and considering it a conceptual art project involving lots of special effects, freed me to daydream, which is a good thing to do when nothing is exploding or being chased in a Bay film.
  • Sit as far back as possible. He loves cramming as much CGI violence and camera movement as possible into the frame and it’s unwatchable unless you’re in the back few rows. Avoid the temptation to get close. You will lose.
  • Turn off all plot seeking brain cells. They will be damaged. This is not Memento. This is not Shakespeare. Any positive effects disappear if you activate your higher brain.
  • Read all the non-spoiling bad reviews. I skimmed through metacritic which lists all the high profile, and often hi-brow, reviews, and many roasted him alive. Even the complimentary ones ripped him in some serious way. This helped set my expectations very low. So low I debated going in fact. Friends don’t let friends OD on metacritic.
  • Forget memories of preceding film in series or actual history.  I did see the first Transformers film, but deliberately avoided remembering any of it so I wouldn’t be disappointed by how much is repeated.
  • Imagine you are talking to a 12 year old boy. It does seem most of his movies are made for 12 year old boys, so it’s good to imagine you’re going to talk to one before sitting down in the theater. If the movie is based on a children’s toy you should know exactly what you’re in for in terms of sophistication. Transformers 2 is a finely made film for 12 year old boys, but if you’re not one yourself, you have some prep work to do.

It was a great way to get out of the heat and see some cool things blow up, including the now standard complement of various monuments and famous buildings.  And if the preview for 2012 was any indication, any buildings Bay hasn’t destroyed on film will be taken care of when that film hits the theaters.


  • What is Bayhem Film Style?  (“we are really visually sophisticated, but totally visually illiterate” 7:26) [h/t Paul Mitchum]


7 Responses to “How to watch a Michael Bay film”

  1. Jim

    Snickering… hehe… so true. Bay makes movies for twelve year olds.

  2. gregory Martin

    I cannot comment on Transformers 2 as I have no intentions of watching it. The first one a giant mesh of CGI and great audio work. That’s Bay’s Transformers in a nutshell. Story was just as scant as Megan Fox when she was leaning over Shia’s broken down car in the blistering sun; no thinking involved, just pretty to look at.



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