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Bay Area: A Flare for “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

The way to enjoy Michael Bay is to deny him his rights as a filmmaker. That is, to turn his fascism around and onto him. Instead of bludgeoning him, your power is denial, or reduction. You can limit his arsenal, so to speak, at home: you can turn off the sound, you can arrest the image, you can plumb shut it down if you want. Looking at Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen off and on these past few weeks since its DVD/Blu-Ray bow, I'm struck simply by the image-making because I've taken the film into my own hands, selecting what I want, proving Bay's advertising-bent history in that the film works best as a gloss—as pure spectacle. I've gotten the same thrill watching pretty clips on youtube, or vimeo, where all I'm looking for is a beautiful nugget. (In fact, the 30-second advertisements during this year's baseball divisional playoffs are what instigated this second go-round.) Though the film is mostly useless beyond this visual fun, it moves better than the first installment, funny enough, with its continent swapping and easily identifiable pee-breaks; and because I wouldn't characterize the first film's imagery as this loopy and looping, as this kind of catch-all pageant; not since his 90s camp sensations has Bay made his neon world so jumpy and laughably-enjoyably-idiotically dazzling with fireworks and endless, ostentatious camera swoops and circles.

So, first, I made this little "study in orange" at my blog. Orange, Bay would have you believe, is the best color. It's not surprising, after the most beautiful sequences in the first 'Formers flick were set in the desert, that Bay would return to the sandbox he sees in the middle east. But I'm partial to a cooler hue. With Danny's help, I put together a little animation of what I see as the best gestalt trick dreamt up for this installment. For one, it shows you a full transformation, from atom to atoms, up to an eye and an outline. For another, it's slower than a lot of the other transformations. And, lastly, it's not quite as goofy as the monstrous, industrial desert vacuum machine (a Decepticon, of course, designed to take down a pyramid; no, nothing's sacred whatsoever) that assembles as part of the climax.



My second animation shows just how fast some of these shape shiftings happen, and how illegible they are, but also how much ruckus that allows Bay to make in the frame for a split-scant sixth of a second (or something).

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Then again, Bay cannot avoid plain dumb stuff, like this robot humping Megan Fox's leg. But it's also kind of great that Fox is like a talisman of "sexiness" or whatever—that she appeals across the board, from our species to that weird (um, metallic) alien genus.

Look at how Bay frames her, flat like portraits, surrounded by active light trying to find the eye.

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Another "fault": Bay makes Army ads, and they look great. Cool, even, in their audacious pride. (Cf. those 90s grab bags, The Rock and Armageddon.)

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Most fun, for me, is that scale and size have little effect, or hardly add up; maybe they just don't matter. That platitude about the heart, or love, or a soul, being bigger than anything. Yeah, right. I just giggle, and say to myself, "at least it looks beautiful, all that light streaming around!"

I thought this was extremely enlightening and interesting.
I think you have filtered out what separates Bay from the snatch-n-grab pack. Turn down the sound and he’s basically visualizing what goes through a kid’s head when he smashes his Tonka toys around. Ardently. But, just like that hyper kid, he has no concept of restraint, so he makes a Dagwood sandwich of military-industrial noise on the soundtrack. Love that opening line, and the way you do your own Tonka play up there, with words and frames. You have a gif-t.
That orange-eye thingee looks very much like the eye of HAL 2000. Whatever.
Nate, thanks for the tip. I’ll try to take a look. Booney Baby, you’re the tops. KJ, yea, I guess so. Doesn’t really bother me since plenty of other, worse movies steal/homage from 2001 in more literal ways. Also, it’s just a red eye. And it’s moving around; it’s not tied to a spaceship’s walls. But, as you said, whatever. Any way you slice it, this picture’s a goof.
In future, whenever I try to explain why I find Bay’s movies so fascinating, and why I cannot reject his aesthetic completely, I’ll save myself the energy of talking to deaf ears and point them to this page instead. You absolutely nailed it. The man can’t make movies, but he makes fascinating moments. Thank you.
this an excellent post. Thank you!

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