Michael Bay is an American filmmaker born on February 17, 1965 (Goodell 52). He is widely known for producing and directing huge-budget films. Some of the films that he directed have become very popular not only in the United States but also in many other countries around the world. His career as a filmmaker has been successful based on the profits and popularity of most of his films. However, it is strange that Bay is held in low esteem by several film critics.
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He has earned criticism not only in the country but also among film critics in Europe and Asia. Some of these critics argue that most of his films over-rely on technology than on characters. They claim that even in instances where a character is just seated, the camera will always be in motion, creating the image that activities are going on around while in essence, nothing is taking place other than the movement of cameras.
It would be necessary to understand the reasons why such a filmmaker and producer held in low esteem can produce some of the highest-grossing films in the United States. One question that may be necessary to answer is whether the critics have failed to understand his concept in film production or if he is just lucky that his films have been liked by his audience. Luck may work in one or two films, but Bay has produced numerous successful films that it may not be possible to attribute his success to luck. In this paper, the researcher will critically analyze the works of Michael Bay and how he has managed to achieve massive success in the film industry despite the criticism from various film experts.
The Concept of Bayhem
According to Sunshine, Antonia, and Bay, film producers have different strategies that they use to ensure that their films draw and retain the attention of the audience within the shortest time possible (38). In the modern society where people have access to thousands of films online and other platforms, viewers will not always hesitate to discard a film that lacks some form of attraction within the first two minutes or so. Michael Bay knows this fact and he has come up with a concept that helps in retaining the attention of the audience as soon as they start watching his film. Most of his critics have referred to this concept as Bayhem.
In this concept, Bay has been able to create suspense among his audience through the simple use of the camera. His cameras are never static. They remain in motion even in cases where the actor is not making any movement. This concept creates some suspense in the mind of the audience as they wait to see what could be in the background and how it relates to the actor. Constant questions in the mind of the audience are what keeps them glued to their screen.
They always want to find answers to the question about what is in the background. Some critics argue that this concept is deceitful as it creates some questions in the mind of the audience which are not fully answered. For instance, Goodell says that in these films, before the suspense created by the movement of the camera is fully addressed, a new twist comes up that erases all the other questions that one had in mind (37).
It is unique that this concept, which critics have claimed that it is unethical for cheating the audience, has been able to earn massive popularity among the global audience. Under normal circumstances, it would be expected that the audience should complain about the deceit in these films. However, they seem to love every bit of these films. Sunshine, Antonia, and Bay say that this is so because Bay has a special way of erasing these questions in the mind of the viewers to the extent that they feel contented with what is happening at the moment that they forget they had some questions they expected to be answered (32).
It is not possible for an average audience without the ability to critically analyze these films to detect these tricks. Critics call this creativity but proponents believe that it is a style unique to Michael Bay. It is possible that Bay could be using some tricks in his Bayhem concept. However, it is also true that Michael Bay understands his audience very well, and can present to them what they need in the best way possible.
Is Michael Bay such a band director?
According to Caldwell, Michael Bay is one of the most criticized current film directors and producers in the United States (98). Among the film critics, he has earned more negative reviews than positive ones. Some of these critics argue that he takes the power of presenting a given theme from the actor to the camera. His cameras, as the critics claim, have been empowered to take an active role in enhancing the theme of the story. It is important to determine whether Michael Bay is a bad director who has failed to do his work effectively. To answer the question above, it may be necessary to look at some of the films that he produced in the recent past and how they have performed. The analysis will help to determine if indeed Michal Bay is such a bad director.
The Rock is one of the first movies that Bay directed and produced at the beginning of his career. The film gained massive popularity among the local and international audience. Bay used $ 75 million to produce this film and from it, he made $ 335.1 (Sunshine, Antonia, and Bay 74). This was a massive financial success given that this was his second major film. The Rock is the only film directed and produced by Bay that has ever had a rating of over 60% in Rotten Tomatoes critical reviews. It had a score of 66%, the highest that Bay has ever scored among the film critics. This film was generally a success among the American audience.
Bad Boys I & II
The film ‘Bad Boys I’ is what propelled Michael Bay into the limelight as one of the leading film directors and producers in the United States. Working on a tight budget of $ 19 million and a tight schedule, Bay was able to come up with a thrilling movie that has remained globally popular over the last decade. In this action-comedy, he was able to demonstrate that action and comedy can be tied together to come up with a thrilling show. The film grossed $ 141.4 million. Because of the public demand, Bay had to come up with Bad Boys II eight years later in 2003. He spent $ 130 million and made a gross profit of $ 273.3 (Burke 112). These two films were successful.
Transformers Film Series
According to Smith, Michael Bay emerged as a major film director and producer in the United States following the massive success of the ‘Transformers Film Series’ (61). The first series was produced in 2007 and used a budget of $ 150 million. It earned a gross profit of $ 709.7 million. The film became very popular in North America and Europe, and later to Asia and Africa. In the Rotten Tomatoes rating, this film had a score of 57%, the second-highest rating that he has ever registered in his films. Because of the huge public demand, Bay produced Transformer II in 2009. He used a budget of $ 200 million and from it, he generated $ 836.3.
However, critics were not satisfied with what he had produced. Their criticism did not stop him from producing Transformer III in 2011. According to Caldwell, this has been the highest-grossing film in the entire career life of Bay as a filmmaker (85). Using a budget of $ 195 million, he earned a gross profit of $ 1.124 (Cornick 48). The last two series of Transformer films did not receive favorable reviews from critics despite the heavy success that these films had in the local and international community.
Pain and Gain
This film was produced in 2013 using a small budget of 26 million. The film was produced within a very short period compared to most of the films that Bay had to be known for locally and internationally. It elicited mixed reaction among the film critics and in the Rotten Tomatoes, it had a score of 49%. Although it used some of the very famous actors, its popularity among the local and international audience did not rival Transformers.
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Pearl Harbor was another successful film that was budgeted and planned for along with Armageddon. The two films had a budget of $ 140 million. They both grossed over $ 1 billion. Pearl Harbor was particularly a success because of the historical connotation it had about the Second World War. It gained popularity in the United States, Europe, China, and other Asian countries. It was rated 25% in the Rotten Tomatoes, one of the worst ratings that he has ever recorded.
Reasons Why Critics Hate Michael Bay Even Though his Movies are Box Office Successes
Michael Bay’s films have registered massive success in the Box Office, a sign that he understands what his target audience needs. According to Caldwell, there has been a paradigm shift from what used to be practiced during the era of Shakespeare and what is taking place in the modern-day cinematography (114). During the era of Shakespeare, there was a standard way in which films were directed. Since there was a need to meet the expectations of the audience, the directors had a standard way of presenting their shows. Things have changed rapidly in the modern digital society and creativity is becoming a critical component when developing films.
For a long time, critics have been basing their judgments on metrics that are no longer relevant in modern society (Smith 86). It is expected that the views of the critics should in a way relationship with the views of the audience. Critics should be experts who can explain why a given movie has received massive acceptance among the audience and what the director did right to achieve such a success. However, the critics of Michael Bay have defied these golden rules of criticism.
It is common for a film or two to receive wide acceptance among the audience but get unfavorable reviews from critics. However, when close to ten films from an individual receive audience acceptance but negative reviews, then that is a sign that there is something that the critics have failed to see. Positive criticism is what builds an industry. As such, critics should help directors to come up with better films that can achieve popularity in the market. In the case of Bay, his films have registered massive success not only in the United States but also among an international audience. On the other hand, critics still hold him in low regard.
According to Cornick, there is something unique about the criticism that Bay has been receiving among film experts (45). If criticism is coming from a few individuals, then it is easy to conclude that these are individuals whose minds are clouded by personal issues they may have towards Bay. However, most of the film experts are in agreement that Bay’s film falls short of their expectations. In this case, there are two possibilities given the success rate registered by these films. The first possibility is that the local and international audiences have been blinded by the tricks that Bay is using in his films.
This possibility can easily be ruled out because of the high number of literate individuals who can easily detect when there are tricks in these films beyond what they expected. The audience cannot be tricked for such a long period. The second possibility is very likely to be the reason behind the difference in audience rating and that given by experts, and that is the use of wrong metrics when making their judgment.
The ground may have shifted and Bay must have shifted with it. It is even possible that Bayer is the change but these critics have not come to appreciate this fact. It may be relevant at this stage to look at some of the arguments put forth by some of Bay’s fiercest critics. It may help in understanding
Tony Zhou is one of the critics who have come out to question the strategies that Bay uses in directing his films. However, his statement shows that his views are affected by personal dislike towards Bay as a person and not as a film director. He says, “Even if you dislike him (as I do), Bay has something valuable to teach us about visual perception. This is an exploration of Bayhem- his style of camera movement, composition, and editing that creates something overblown, dynamic, and distinct.” This is a sign that this critic appreciates that Bay has a special strategy in directing his film that needs to be understood by the critics. Allowing personal feelings into professional work sometimes may is being considered one of the reasons why some of these critics have had unfavorable views towards his work.
The effect of using the 360-degrees shots
It is important to determine if his way of making films using all the visual effects like explosions and 360-degree shots, lamp posts, are killing the story/plot of the movies or does it make it more entraining. In most of his work, there are constant movements of the camera in all directions, even in cases where the characters are not in movement. According to Burke, this is a strategy that Bay has been using in most of the films that he directs (23).
Whether or not this strategy kills the storyline of movies is an issue that remains controversial among many experts. Caldwell says that the movement of the camera in various directions is not bad if it is in line with the theme of the film (32). The camera should not be moved in different directions if it does not support the theme of the story. Tony Zhou, one of the top critics of the approach that Bay uses in directing his films, believes that constant movement of the camera tends to kill the plot of the movies.
This is specifically so because it creates additional information besides what is presented in the storyline. Sometimes the movement of the camera tells an additional story besides what is in the storyline. It means that in cases where the storyline demands the use of camera movement, it may not make the expected impact because the cameras have been moving even in other stages.
Themes should be allowed to flow freely in a film based on what the characters say or do in the movie. According to Cornick, the heavy use of camera movements when shooting a film introduces new concepts and themes that may be different from what is in the storyline (43). A good example given is a situation where camera movement creates some questions in the mind of the audience. As the camera moves around the character, there is often a feeling that there is something within the environment that the audience should know about. However, when it turns out that there was no specific issue of interest in the environment that necessitated the movement of the camera then a feeling of disappointment may be common among the audience.
The proponents of the constant movement of cameras during the filming process argue that this is a new strategy that helps in engaging the audience when watching a given film. According to Caldwell, drawing and retaining the attention of the audience to a given film is not easy (38). The audiences today have become very demanding and meeting their expectation is not easy. The constant movement of the camera creates suspense to help in attracting and retaining the attention of the audience.
Caldwell argues that camera movement is not done in an arbitrary manner (75). On the contrary, is a process that requires skills of a very high level to move the camera in a way that will not distort the message. Burke says that camera movement when shooting a film must be done in a way that ensures the relevant message is passed to the audience (54). It is an art of allowing the camera to speak to the audience.
The camera is given the power to reveal some of these secrets that the characters may be trying to hide when communicating with their friends. For instance, when a character in a film lies about his physical location, it may not be necessary to use words to help the audience know that the character is lying. The camera will be used to bring out the exact location of the character so that the audience may compare and contrast what the audience says and what is the reality. It requires unique skills and capabilities to achieve this level of photography. This is the area that Bay has registered excellence. He knows how to let the camera speak the truth either in support or in contrast to what the character may be telling his colleagues in the movie.
The primary target of films
The massive criticism that Bay has received among film critics in his career as a film director and a producer sharply contrasts with the commercial success that his films have had. According to Caldwell, Bay is one of the directors and film producers who have developed unique skills in understanding what the audience needs in films (54). He has produced so many movies that have been very successful in grossing and attracting viewers both locally and internationally.
However, he remains one of the film directors and producers who are held in very low esteem by most of the film critics for what they believe is his conscious effort to attract the attention of his audience to his films using deceits. The question that is necessary to answer is whether films should be designed to please critics or audiences. According to Smith, there is a consensus among scholars and film critics that the primary target of every film is the audience (90).
Films are not made for critics. They are made for the audience. As such, there is no doubt about the need to ensure that films are pleasant to the audience. A film that the audience finds captivating may not have the desired profitability even if it receives favorable criticism among film critics. Over 99% of the audiences of popular films do not even know that film critics even exist. The few who know about their existence do not care about their views towards a given film.
All they demand is something thrilling and captivating, whether or not it is liked by the critics. This is the path that Bay has taken in all his films. He has allowed the critics to continue looking down upon his strategies of directing and producing movies. The criticism has not changed his approaches because he knows that he has the backing of the audience, his primary audience. As Goodell says, when critics constantly find their views to be in contradiction with the views of the audience most of the time, then that should be a warning that their criticism is moving towards irrelevance (116).
Michael Bay is one of the most successful film directors and producers in contemporary American society. His films have been a massive success not only at home in the United States but also in the world at large. However, it is unfortunate that film critics have held him in low esteem claiming that he has failed to uphold some of the cardinal rules of producing films. This paper strongly suggests that critics have failed to understand the new concept that Bay has developed in this important industry.
Burke, Liam. The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre. London: Cengage, 2015. Print.
Caldwell, Sara. Jumpstart Your Awesome Film Production Company. New York: Constable & Robinson, 2012. Print.
Cornick, Michael. Modern Film Censorship: Television, Airlines, and Home Entertainment. Hoboken: Wiley, 2008. Print.
Goodell, Gregory. Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept Through Distribution. New York: St Martin’s, 2009. Print.
Smith, Emily. The Michael Bay Handbook – Everything You Need to Know About Michael Bay. Dayboro: Emereo Publishing, 2012. Print.
Sunshine, Linda, Felix Antonia, and Michael Bay. Pearl Harbor: The Movie and the Moment. New York: Hyperion, 2001. Print.