July 14, 2009

The Most Hated Filmmaker In America

Despite grossing over $300 million in less than a month, the "Transformers" sequel is clearly one of the most profitable films of the year. It is also one of the most hated by film critics, garnering a low 19% on the Tomotao Meter @ Rotten Tomatoes. While some of their critical vitriol is directed at the film and Hollywood franchises in general, a great deal of it is aimed at Michael Bay, the film's infamous director. Here's a sampling:
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” directed by the stunningly, almost viciously, untalented Michael Bay, is much closer to the norm of today’s conglomerate filmmaking." DAVID DENBY, The New Yorker

"You may recall that its 2007 predecessor was a mostly capable commercial for Transformers toys and Bay's previous films, from which most of the iconography was lifted as the man continues to pay homage to his favorite filmmaker." ROBERT WILONSKY, Village Voice

"It's tempting to dismiss Michael Bay's long, loud and ludicrous sequel to 2007's Transformers with one word — hunkajunk. It carves out its own category of godawfulness. I do accept that Bay is unique. No one can top him for telling a story with such striking, shrieking incoherence." ROLLING STONE, Peter Travers
And those are the nice reviews. When I was in film school, there was the notion that getting any reaction from an audience was what was desirable, whether it was love or cinema vendettas. Thus, one could argue that Bay is a master of terrible cinema. In fact, the NY TIMES reviewer Manhola Dargis suggests just that: "Make no mistake: Mr. Bay is an auteur. His signature adorns every image in his movies, as conspicuously as that of Lars von Trier, and every single one is inscribed with a specific worldview and moral sensibility. Mr. Bay’s subject — overwhelming violent conquest — is as blatant and consistent as his cluttered mise-en-scène."

Though I'd agree his movies are consistently terrible, I don't know if that makes one an auteur. According to the Encylcopedia Brittanica, auteur is defined as "
theory of filmmaking in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture." In the case of Mr. Bay in general and "Transformers" in particular, I'd have say to the major creative force is the EFX department followed closely by marketing. It is, afterall, a movie about Hasbro toys.

Though TROTF has proven to be "review-proof", it's hated director may not be. In a curious turn of events, despite the franchise's nearly billion dollar success, Bay says he will not be directing the next Transformers movie which Paramount has announced for July 2011. On his own website, he said he's had enough of robots. Is this code for film critics, perhaps?