Misquoting Michael Bay, Or “Bay Areas: Like ‘Gray Areas’, But Longer And With More Explosions”

People who know me are well aware of the complicated feelings I have for Michael Bay. And those that don’t will probably figure it out when they read my review of his new movie Pain and Gain. Well, maybe complicated is the wrong word. More like, “I think he’s an extremely intelligent guy, a gifted visual stylist and a horrible misanthrope with an infantile sense of humor who makes terrible movies that offer little besides bloated, empty, hateful spectacle custom-made for a targeted audience of emotionally stunted frat boys/potential serial killers.” Yeah… its’ not that complicated if you can explain it in a single run-on sentence.

With all that said, I don’t think he should be apologizing for Armageddon.

Even though, yes, Armageddon is a terrible movie.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, this is a quote from a recent interview with Bay that went viral:
 “I will apologize for Armageddon, because we had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could. But the studio literally took the movie away from us. It was terrible. My visual effects supervisor had a nervous breakdown, so I had to be in charge of that. I called James Cameron and asked ‘What do you do when you’re doing all the effects yourself?’ But the movie did fine.”

This, by the way, would not be news if it was any other director. Do you think the guy from The Core apologizes for The Core, and that anyone would care if he did? (No offense to The Core. I actually kind of liked The Core…) Like it or not, Michael Bay is a name director. As in, he is one of the few directors that ordinary, non-movie obsessives might be able to name, or even pick out of a lineup.

Hell, he’s famous enough to have his own commercial:

Hey, I love Gore Verbinski as much as the next guy, but he’s not gonna be shilling for Quizno’s anytime soon.

Part of Bay’s fame is rooted in the fact that people think he’s the devil. Seriously. Type ‘Michael Bay is’ into google and see what pops up.

So when he seems to admit that one of his movies is bad (which is not what he’s saying, but which is how you sell it to get people to click on your link), it becomes a whole thing. But after the quote went viral, he released a statement on his website:

One press writer has gone too far in reporting false information. He has printed the bare minimum of my statement which in effect have twisted my words and meaning. I’m not in the slightest going to apologize for the third movie in my movie career, a film called Armageddon. On the red carpet for Pain & Gain some reporters asked me what are you apologizing for, and I said what on earth are you talking about?

What I clearly said to the reporter, is I wish I had more time to edit the film, specifically the third act. He asked me in effect what would you change if you could in your movies if you could go back. I said, I wish we had a few more weeks in the edit room on Armageddon. And still today Armageddon, is still one of the most shown movies on cable TV. And yes, I’m proud of the movie. Enough said.


That last big boy sentence is very important, because it encapsulates Michael Bay’s concept of what a ‘good movie’ is: It makes money for the studio, and plays on cable TV a lot. And he’s not entirely wrong, either. Hey, like I said: I think Armageddon is a terrible movie. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see it twice in theaters.

The first time was opening night, at the Uptown, in Washington Dc, on a big-ass screen. I even got a poster that’s still hanging on my bedroom wall. (Also on my walls: posters for the Mod Squad movie, An Ideal Husband, Clay Pigeons, The Astronauts Wife, Chill Factor, Antz, and Urban Legend. Which is less a commentary on my viewing habits and more a reflection of the fact that my interior decoration sucks and I used to work at a movie theater.) The second time was a month or so later, in one of those tiny theaters where movies used to go end their run; the last stop before that long, long wait for the VHS release. And on that second viewing, when I wasn’t overwhelmed by all the explosions and all the eighty foot tall close ups of Steve Buscemi, I realized, ‘Hey, this is kind of not great…’

By that time they’d already gotten my money twice.

The movie was successful in the sense that it convinced me to see it twice, and in that there are lines and images that I still find to be entertaining, despite the fact that it is a manipulative, overly long, incoherent mess. No director wants to let go of his or her work. They all want to tweak it, to make it work as well as it possibly can. What Michael Bay said was nothing particularly special.

But a movie isn’t really a movie until people see it. They’re the ultimate arbiters of whether a movie is ‘good’ or not. And the paying customers determine whether a movie is actually successful. By that particular metric, Armageddon is a good movie.

People saw it. It did well. That is Michael Bay’s priority.

He makes entertainment for the masses.

If the masses like his work, then it is technically good and successful. And if you look at his track record, he is very good, and very successful. Now, I happen to think his work is cynical and misanthropic, but do I think he owes me an apology? Of course not. Why would I? It’s not like he tricked me.

I went to see Armageddon because I wanted to see Armageddon. I went a second time because I wanted to see it again. Simple as that.

Michael Bay worships at the altar of success. He’s not trying to pull a fast one on anybody, he’s trying to give the people what he thinks they want. And for a great many people, he does give them what they want. People who don’t care for him or his work (“haters”, he might call them) want him to have apologized. Because it would be a show of humility from someone whose nearly nonstop success seems for some film fans (who can be a trifle hyperbolic at times) to negate the possibility of a just, moral universe. It would show some self-awareness on his part, some knowledge that he’s a purveyor of crap*.

But look at that commercial again. Michael Bay isn’t stupid. He knows what people think of him. And rather than combat it, he plays right into it, for shits and giggles. That’s something that only a guy comfortable with his success would do.

So why would he apologize? Why should he? Everybody is getting something out of the deal. Fans get an entertaining movie. Haters get something to complain about. (And in this modern age, internet hatred is rapidly becoming a legitimate pastime, but that’s an overly-long article for another day.)

So many movies seen on Friday night are forgotten by Saturday morning. Any movie that invokes a passionate reaction, good or bad, is not something to apologize for. Though it might not be something to celebrate, either. Like I said, it’s frickin’ complicated…

*any random comment board posters words, not mine.

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