One of Hollywood’s most financially successful filmmakers yet often critically derided, Bay has directed films such as Bad Boys, The Rock, Pearl Harbor and the Transformers trilogy.
During the 1980s, two Hollywood producers changed the face of American cinema. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer took the blockbuster to new levels through the notion of ‘high concept’ filmmaking, where a simple premise forms the backbone of a film incorporating a contemporary aesthetic that can be promoted through multi-platform marketing. They were behind such decade defining hits as Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Flashdance (1983); films that favour surface style over philosophical nuances and were accompanied by product tie-ins and pop-music soundtracks with singles played repeatedly on MTV.
In the early 1990s Simpson and Bruckheimer were searching for fresh talent to take under their wing and a director for their next project, a buddy-cop movie entitled Bad Boys. What they found was Michael Bay.
A native of Los Angeles, California, Bay was born in 1965. His interest in filmmaking began after a brief internship working for George Lucas during the pre-production and filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He subsequently studied English and Film at university and in his postgraduate studies before finding work directing commercials and music videos for the likes of Meat Loaf and Tina Turner. His success in this field brought him to the attention of Simpson and Bruckheimer who offered him the directorship of Bad Boys (1995), a film that would not only launch Bay’s career after he turned a $19million budget into a $141million success, but also make Will Smith an A-list star.
Since Bad Boys, Bay has helmed a string of box office hits, including The Rock (1995), Armageddon (1998) and, despite its lambasting from critics and historians alike, Pearl Harbor (2001). More recently he has dominated the summer blockbuster charts with his Transformers trilogy, the last of which took over $1billion worldwide, and he is currently working on the Mark Wahlberg-starring reboot, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014).
Alongside directing, Bay has also produced an array of horror movie remakes through his production company, Platinum Dunes, supported other films through his visual effects company, Digital Domain, and continued to work in advertising – including adverts for Victoria’s Secret, where he discovered Transformers: Dark of the Moon star Rosie Huntington-Whitely – via his company The Institute.
Bay’s origins in advertising are evident throughout his filmmaking, directing cars, guns and women with a capitalist eye that objectifies and commercialises them. His detractors leap on this aesthetic, condemning him as misogynistic and superficial, with critics such as Mark Kermode describing it as a ‘pornographic sensibility’. However, Bay’s use of high-contrast lighting and colour creates striking imagery, which coupled to constantly moving cameras, low angles, and slow motion has created the quintessential Hollywood hero-shot. Some may contend Bay’s application of this style to his subject matter, but his eye for imagery is undeniable.
His films are successful for a reason; he gives his audience what they want, if not what they need. Bay choreographs action set-pieces like no other, and unlike many directors who have an over-reliance on CGI Bay favours practical effects wherever possible – he even claimed a Guinness World record for the biggest on-screen explosion with actors present in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. His films pack action, comedy, spectacle and heroism into blockbusters that offer escapist entertainment; his works may be guilty pleasures – pleasures critics and cinephiles would have us feel very, very guilty about – but for his target audience Bay consistently delivers.
Embodying the spirit of Simpson and Bruckheimer’s high concept filmmaking, Bay’s creations are exemplars of style over substance; but when that style looks this good, why not just enjoy it?
Top 5 Michael Bay films:
The Rock (1996) – When mercenaries take over the tourist trap and former prison of Alcatraz a former inmate and a scientist are San Francisco’s only hope. Funny, tense and thrilling, this is arguably Bay’s best film.
Armageddon (1998) – An asteroid hurtles to earth so NASA attempts to train a team of drilling experts as astronauts to detonate a bomb deep inside the rock. The bombastic adventure sees a wonderful ensemble cast clearly having a blast.
Bad Boys 2 (2003) – You ain’t seen Bad Boys 2?! Bay’s sequel sees Smith and Lawrence return for an overblown but ridiculously enjoyable cop film that turns everything up to 11.
The Island (2005) – In the future, Lincoln begins to question his role in life – and his humanity. Bay’s most underrated film, this is a 1970s-style sci-fi thriller has greater depth and invention than his other works.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) – Bay’s third instalment of the Transformers franchise comes closest to the epic sci-fi potential of the series and features his most impressive action set-pieces to-date.
What do you think of Michael Bay? Is he everything that’s wrong with Hollywood today? Or a creater of fun bombastic blockbusters? Tell us what you think below…