Uploaded to MoviePilot on July 6th 2017
Michael Bay: Alleged Film Maker
So guess who saw Transformers 5: The Last Knight? That’s right, people who suffered. I was one of them and I have come to the conclusion that I’m sure many people came too ages ago. Michael Bay has absolutely no idea how films are supposed to work. I’m not just talking about story or concept, films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Pearl Harbor proved that long ago. For me, it took Transformers 5 to catch onto the fact that, in general, he has no idea what on earth he’s doing just in terms of the fundamentals of cinema.
I know this isn’t an accusation to make lightly, surely he has to have some idea how to make a movie since, according to IMDB, he’s directed 13 of them (Unlucky for some… me, unlucky for me). It’s a little stunning to think that someone who has effectively changed the landscape of what movies get greenlit started his career by making the music video for Tina Turner’s song Nutbush City Limits. Specifically, the 1991 version that took a classic line dance song and made it… well…
But this article is not about Michael Bay’s work in the music video industry. If you want one of those I suggest reading Alex Springer’s article “3 Things I Learned About Michael Bay By Watching All Of His Music Videos” (NOTE: Since Creators is shutting down, hence this article being moved here, I have no clue how long this link’ll last). No, this article is about his lack of understanding about how film works so let’s go to the fundamental problems.
Michael Bay Doesn’t Know How Aspect Ratios Work
One of the fundamentals of film is the aspect ratio, a way of describing the shape of an image. The screen you are reading this on right now is more than likely going to be a 16:9 ratio as that’s industry standard widescreen. A few decades ago the standard was 4:3, the little square TV you probably owned would fit that. In general when a film is being made the director and cinematographer will pick an aspect ratio that suits the tone of the film. Let me give you a good example before I get to Bay.
The Hateful Two
The Hateful Eight is a film that perfectly encapsulates what a good director does. Quentin Tarantino shot the film with an Ultra Panavision 70 lens which gives it a very wide shot. The aspect ratio of this image is 2.76:1 and it’s very intentional. This kind of lens hasn’t been used for over 50 years and gives the film a classic feel. You feel like you’re watching an old-time western and every shot has to be perfectly planned because it wasn’t possible to go in digitally to fix it due to the kind of film they were using. It’s a very difficult style to pull off but if it’s done right, it looks amazing.
Now, onto Bay.
Surprisingly, the most annoying thing about this shot ISN’T the lens flare
This shot is from Transformers 5 and as you can see, it’s shot in a 2.00:1 ratio. Basically, it’s twice as wide as it is tall, very good for a movie of this nature. Let’s look at another shot for a second.
Fun Fact: This character is more useful than 90% of the Autobots
This shot from Transformers 5 is shot in a 2.35:1 ratio. It’s also known as letterbox format and it’s a pretty standard shot that you’ve undoubtedly seen in a dozen movies, a very good standby. But it’s also very different from the last shot. While we’re here, let’s do one more.
This actress is now seriously considering her life choices
This shot from Transformers 5 is shot in 1.90:1 ratio. As you can see it’s almost full screen and in context was used for the 3D shots in the IMAX version. Here it is being used on a close up of the character Izabella while she helps repair something that she was looking at in the last shot I showed you. This shot is, quite obviously, not something that needs to be seen in 3D and certainly not in IMAX because it’s literally a close-up shot of a character’s face which may be the most generic shot of all the generic shots. Also yes, you read correctly, these three kinds of shots are shown one after another in rapid succession meaning that black bar went up and down randomly throughout this basic character introduction scene that had no need for multiple aspect ratios.
Now, in theory, there is nothing wrong with shifting aspect ratio, a good amount of movies will try this trick of changing the ratio at certain key points or for certain shots. Just for reference, here’s a video with 5 of them.
In each of these examples, the change in aspect ratio is motivated and smooth. Either they are done to change the mood of the movie and reflect the characters feelings (e.g.: The Hunger Games change happens as she’s going up the elevator into the actual games. You’re distracted by her obvious panic from the scene that’d just happened so the film slowly moves the black bars out of the way to reveal the new ratio), or as an intentional cinematic choice for certain sequences and the change between ratios is masked by a loud noise or a sudden movement (e.g.: The Dark Knight change happens right as Catwoman brings down the fence, the loud sound and sudden movement help distract you so you don’t pay attention to it). That does not happen in Transformers 5. In Transformers 5 you will see the bottom of the frame dance around non-stop with no justification and nothing distracting you from this obvious poor choice in filmmaking. It happens so often that they couldn’t even keep the trailer at a consistent ratio. Seriously, watch the trailer and just look at the top and bottom of the video. Even there you can see that the shot choices are haphazard and poorly thought out and that’s just for the trailer!
Michael Bay Doesn’t Know How Continuity Works
On every film set, there is usually someone whose job it is to check continuity. They make sure that if you picked up a cup with your left hand on the wide shot that you’re holding it in your left hand in the close-up. They do this because the editor has to attempt to piece together a cohesive film based upon the parts that they’ve been handed and it makes their job so much easier if they can sync everything up and make it so you don’t notice their work.
Michael Bay either doesn’t have one of those people or he ignores them because continuity has gone to hell in this movie. Little errors like a character magically missing a hat in some scenes or a person jumping about the shot because no one thought about where their marks were happens a lot during the obscenely long run time. Items will just appear or disappear at random because no one bothered to check and then we have the following continuity issue that made my head hurt.
This is one of our main characters, Viviane Wembly, shortly after being brought to meet Sir Edmund Burton. When I say ‘brought to meet’ I mean that her car is a Transformer and it kidnaps her just after work. What she is wearing in this shot is a simple black top that goes up to the neck, pants and shoes. Her hair is hanging down a little unkempt but again, she was just kidnapped. Why am I bringing attention to what a woman is wearing? Because here’s what she’s wearing in literally the next shot.
Clock the change in aspect ratio.
Yeah that’s right, our kidnapped character who was at work before she was kidnapped somehow changed into a form-fitting dress complete with cleavage and hair straight out of a Pantene Pro-V commercial. No, before you ask, they make no mention of having a spare set of clothing there for them. There is no real explanation for this, they just have them and both characters have changed outfits in this strange mansion they’ve never been in. After this shot, they finally do introductions meaning that she changed into this strange outfit before knowing who her kidnappers were. I’m sorry but this is just bad continuity, it’s jarring and pointless and ruins the flow of the movie. Not to mention that it raises the logical question of “Where on earth did Sir Edmund Burton get a form-fitting dress for Viviane and when?”. Speaking of Edmund
Michael Bay Doesn’t Know How To Get Actors To Act
By now we all know how important a director is to getting a performance out of an actor. Look at the main star of this movie Mark Wahlberg. If you give him Martin Scorsese to work with you’ll get his great performance as Sgt. Dignam in The Departed. If you give him M. Night Shyamalan to work with you get… well…
Directors are important and can bring out the best performance in the worst actors, or bring out the worst performance in the best actors. We’ve already seen Mark at his lowest, you can’t get worse than his painful delivery of “What? No!” in The Happening, that’s just science. But that’s OK because for this point I don’t need to use Mark’s performance. Why use Mark to make my point when I can use Sir Anthony Hopkins and make it even more obvious.
Do I even need to tell you how good Anthony Hopkins is as a performer? Do I even need to link to a clip of him as Hannibal Lecter or Frederick Treves or Richard Nixon? No, of course, I don’t because he’s Anthony Goddamn Hopkins and you know that he can act circles around anyone. That is unless you give him a bad director to work with who has no clue how to give him directions and then you’ll get his performance in this movie. Just to give an example, here is the kidnapping scene I talked about before.
Now beyond the fact that Anthony clearly doesn’t want to be there in every frame he’s on screen, beyond the thousand mile stare, beyond the fact that he obviously cares so little that I just can’t believe he’s looking at a giant transforming robot who just appeared behind Marky Mark… there is how he says the word “Duuuude”. Michael Bay made Anthony Hopkins say the word dude in the most painful way you could get him to say it if he was an 18-year-old doing a stoner comedy. That kind of line reading happens throughout this movie and a lot of the most painful lines are given to Anthony who clearly just want’s his check. Every actor gives this same mediocre performance and seems to think that you create drama by yelling. It’s bad, it’s all bad, burn it all to the ground.
Michael Bay long ago stopped caring about film and something tells me he never did. The man fails at three of the basic fundamentals of movie making. If you can’t figure out what kind of film you want to use, work out how to keep continuity going and can’t get an actor to give the performance you need then congratulations, your film is bad and you should feel bad. His films have long since devolved into nothing but CGI and explosions but at least I had the mildest hope that he understood the fundamentals but just one glance of Transformers 5 shows that either he doesn’t know the basics or he doesn’t care and after a while, those become the same thing.