Michael Bay sucks, but not for the reason everyone (some people) are complaining about.
Michael Bay has caught a lot of flack, most recently for his announcement that he will be producing a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The hatred for Bay’s decision to remake TMNT comes not only from his last attempt at such a move with the thrice terrible Transformer franchise (I was going to call it a tragedy for the quadruple alliteration, but it felt a little too harsh), but also his recent decision to announce that he was changing the Turtles origin making them space aliens, thus not making them mutants anymore. Not to mention they would just be turtle-like aliens and not actual turtles; and where did these space aliens go to learn to be ninjas? He is taking the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles name and making his own thing. Why take the name of a previously successful franchise and do whatever the hell you want with it instead of just making his own movie about ninja space aliens? He took the name knowing that the people that loved what it once was will go hoping that it will stimulate a part of their brain that made them happy as a child and possibly convince their girlfriends that the “sick” tattoo of the 80’s pop culture wasn’t a bad decision; “She just doesn’t understand because she never watched it as a child. This updated version will get her on board.” (It won’t she’ll hate it and forget about it the next day and you’ll hate it and rant about it for years.) So the movie will get your money and free advertising with all the buzz you and your fellow nerds create on the internet. After he knows he’ll have your money all he has to do is make a fast paced low thought action movie so that he can get everyone else making sure that’s not too funny or violent to keep it PG-13 so all of the kids can get in.
This current trend of taking former established franchises and remaking or “rebooting” them is certainly not just contained to Michael Bay. There are plenty of directors out there rebooting such franchises as James Bond, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Karate Kid. Even Tim Burton, the director of choice for girls who prefer cutting themselves to flowers, is responsible for some of the worst reboots in recent memory. I mean how are the apes more realistic in 1968 wearing rubber masks then in 2001, and how do you find the crap in such rich environments as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland?
How do you even improve on this? (from feastoffun.com’s Flickr page)
The point is the director, while responsible for many things, is not responsible for the decision of what kind of movies get made. That decision is made by the studios and what they think will give them their biggest return on their investment. They are taking fewer risks at the moment; instead of putting sixty to ninety million dollars into a few movies like they used to they are more likely to dump upwards of two-hundred million dollars into one film… Sometimes it works, (like Avatar or Transformers), and sometimes it doesn’t (see John Carter). The studios starting noticing a trend their highest grossing films of the early 2000s were either films connected to previous successful franchises and sequels (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight Toy Story 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, etc.). So directors like Michael Bay could ride on the merits of films like The Rock and Armageddon to try and push mediocre scripts on the studios that are full of characters no one has ever heard of with a forgettable title just to be rejected.
Or they could bust in the door, spout the name of a familiar title, and a five minute pitch and later that day they’ve hired some writers and Michael Bay is walking out with a check. So the choice for him becomes simple – fight for bad scripts or work consistently pitching remakes.
There are plenty of reasons to criticize Michael Bay. His confusing action scenes with quick cuts and unnecessary explosions so the audience can’t see that the action shares the same lack of depth as the dialogue scenes. I mean, Avatar’s story was pretty bad, but I almost didn’t notice because of the way James Cameron shoots an action scene. He made me not mind wearing 3-D glasses which is a feat. But with Bay, trying to figure out which giant robot is winning or what is actually going on in any particular action scene before he cuts to another angle or shot is impossible, and if you say that you can tell what’s going on, you are lying, even if you believe you can actually tell what is going on, you are lying to yourself. Even the way he portrays women is patently offensive.
You may say, “Well he doesn’t write the scripts” and you’re right, but he does read them before he chooses to do them and the way he shoots them is what’s most offensive. Plenty of action movies have under-developed and/or one-dimensional female characters. But where Bay excels is when the female character is introduced in the movie he makes sure that he takes at least three minutes out of the ninety to one-hundred and twenty to shoot her like she is Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a car or the love interest in an eighties movie masturbation dream sequence. The only other shots like that in his movies is when he is doing General Motors product placements.
But this post isn’t about stylistic decisions and conscious or unconscious sexism. This is about people flipping out and complaining about Michael Bay ruining or “raping” their childhood. That’s like saying the poop you took today ruined yesterday’s lunch. No matter what Michael Bay does with TMNT, or any other thing you hold dear from your childhood, it does not affect your childhood or your memories of it. It just doesn’t. When I first heard about the Transformer movie I was excited, very excited. Like, talked about for years before it was actually released excited. He could have made a shot for shot live action remake of the 1980’s Transformers movie and I would have been thrilled. When it finally came out I found myself only being able to say it was okay.
Photo from Calsidyrose on Flickr
In some way I was expecting to feel the same way about the movie as I did about the idea of Transformers from my childhood. Nothing was going to do that not even watching the old cartoons do that, why expect The Island’s Michael Bay to do it. It is hard to critique a movie based on a toys. Hasbro made the cartoons to sell toys in the 80’s; why can’t they make movies in the 2000’s to sell them? How could I be mad at a movie based on toys? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were toys too. I know they didn’t start out as toys, but certainly what I remember about them is the toys and the cartoon made to sell me those toys. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics were started as a joke of what the creators found ridiculous at the time. When the books gained popularity and its rights were sold to make action figures, television series and the original movies I am sure it is not what the creators intended for the characters. I am sure that fans of the original comic series might not have been happy with hollywood ruining the comics. But, if the creators didn’t seem to mind these “spin-offs” then I am sure they will be fine with Michael Bay’s version.