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Michael Bay: How Music Videos Transformed into Blockbusters

Michael Bay is a director who people love to hate. Whether your name is Mark Kermode or you've come to despise the Transformers series for its extreme, over the top, guns-blazing and near-pornographic display of alien robot carnage, it must be said – Michael Bay doesn't do himself any favours. Recently he admitted that he should have taken the advice of Steven Spielberg who said that he shouldn't make too many Transformers movies. The franchise has come to serve as an ode to a beloved '80s animated TV series about the Autobots and Decepticons, who battle for ultimate control of the earth, hiding in plain sight from humans in the form of vehicles and aircraft. While there have been a few winners, including Transformers and Bumblebee, the rest of the series has paled in comparison, with one of the worst sequels of all-time in Transformers 2.

Bay came up through the ranks based on a slew of big budget music videos for artists such as Meatloaf, Tina Turner and The Divinyls. This helps explain the Michael Bay experience, which is characterised by short bursts of intense audiovisual extravaganza. Music videos have traditionally been quite loose on storytelling, character and dialogue giving the director a great deal of freedom, there to manage egos and siphon the best possible performances from artists who are much more comfortable with music than acting. Creating spectacle from a radio-friendly few minutes, there's room for panache and crafting something that doesn't have to make complete sense or live within the realm of possibility even. This is why Michael Bay's films are big, characterised by eye-popping visuals, over-the-top performances in constant pursuit of the elusive "money shot".

Michael Bay: How Music Videos Transformed into Blockbusters

Having blooded himself on action films such as Bad Boys and The Rock, Bay's bombastic and loud, colourful style seemed like a perfect match for the Transformers series. Pairing his ability to ground larger-than-life visions with the charm of Shia LaBeouf and sex appeal of Megan Fox, the original Transformers set the standard for the series, unfortunately never equalled. Much like Bumblebee's spin-off success, the secret to compelling such a ridiculous premise was in the slow reveal. In both instances, Bumblebee emerges from the shadows slow enough for the audience to be immersed in the world without completely leaving their senses in a matter of seconds. If Transformers had simply fast-forwarded to an alien robot city destruction in The Avengers start-with-a-climax style, it would have lost audiences bar the Transformers fans who bought tickets to see all of the sequels. When it comes to science fiction, the 80/20 rule is golden, meaning that for these films to work they typically require a ratio of reality versus unreality that allows a slow immersion into the realm of the Transformers versus the Star Wars 20/80 formula where much of the action takes place in an otherworldly realm that harks back to familiar things that offer some grounding.

At the time, the action overload made full use of the theatre experience with an impactful display of visuals set against visceral sound design. The stand-off takes place deep enough into the film that you get a real chance to care for the characters and a better opportunity to suspend disbelief. Blending action, comedy and sci-fi, the balance in the first Transformers movie made it much easier to roll with it, especially with Sam Witwicky as our guide.

Capturing the nostalgic feelings around one's first car, a young adult's attempts to "be cool" and matching them with a vehicle that converted Knight Rider's appeal into a mechanised Robotech-esque warrior, it's easy to see how this strange series captured the imagination of many kids and still holds a special place in their hearts now after they've transformed into adults.

After the runaway success of the original movie, Bay was compelled to adopt the rinse-and-repeat approach somehow managing to "get the keys" to Optimus Prime after a dismal second installation. As much as you could hate his approach to film, which almost seems anti-cinematic in its dedication to all things blockbuster, we are living in a world where gaudy spectacle trumps artful finesse. Maybe it's always been this way. While there is certainly an art to creating a Marvel or DC superhero blockbuster, a Fast and the Furious box office juggernaut or a Disney-Pixar animated epic, this mainstream appeal is the reason directors like Michael Bay will continue to have a foothold.

Acting like a kid in a toy store, there are enough viewers who live vicariously through his self-indulgence and magpie sensibilities to sustain him. We do need directors who dream big, don't take things too seriously and just want to make cool movies to help counterbalance and necessitate the other end of the spectrum. Even if just to fuel enough pundits who want to evoke change and shift the spotlight for auteurs who have something to say beyond "HELL YEAH". While he may have his army of detractors, creating visual extravaganzas that activate several senses is the kind of popcorn excitement that seems to satisfy most moviegoing audiences and necessitates the size and power of the movie theatre.

So as much as it pains some cinephiles to have the likes of Michael Bay in the world, he is in fact a major proponent of keeping cinemas alive with his big-screen sensibilities and box office draw. The director knows how to weather the blows, bouncing back like a jack-in-the-box to our surprise and dismay. It just seems unfortunate that he isn't able to channel his passion into more films like 13 Hours, Pain and Gain and now Ambulance, which show a slightly more mature and controlled filmmaker at work.