Saturday, November 10, 2007

How Not to Direct a Movie

To say that I dislike Michael Bay movies is an understatement. It's not the special effects focused monstrosities and the scripts that read like something that would only take half a dozen monkeys with three type writers a few hours to knock out, it's that I think that he's never managed to put together a coherent action sequence. What should be the centerpiece of his movies, the thing he's supposed to be known for, is essentially visual gibberish with shots spliced together in what might as well be random sequence.

So when it was announced that he was directing Transformers I resolved myself to ignoring it. When I was much younger I liked the cartoon but I am not filled with nostalgia for it like many of my contemporaries. Unfortunately for me Transformers was announced as the next film for Rifftrax so I finally watched it.

It was worse than I feared.

No longer is Bay's lack of visual continuity fairly limited to action sequences, but now even the most basic of scenes just don't make any sense.

Take this scene as an example of the shoddy work. Our giant robot heroes accidently knock out power to the house they're hiding behind:

This makes the home owners get flashlights and investigate in the dark:

The giant robots are forced to hide behind the house which when it cuts to them is fully lit:

And then just to confirm that he has no clue what he's doing Bay cuts back to an interior shot where the house is blacked out again:

That's a Film Editing 101 mistake. It's not just some bit of background that he's overlooked (which would be bad but a bit more understandable), but a plot element. It's part of the scene that the house doesn't have power to suddenly have all the lights on again in some shots is just gross incompetence.

This is far from the only example of this kind of lazy work in the movie but it is one of the more obvious and stunning. More standard of Bay's work is this example from the sequence at the beginning of the movie where one lone robot attacks a military base. It tears open a bunker and begins standing still to access the computer and since this is a movie the data its examining is rapidly flashing on a computer screen:

In the very next set of shots it has apparently stopped and attacking again since there are explosions and people running. Did it stop? Apparently since we are informed of this later in the film, but we don't see it. There's no transition between ignoring the humans and attacking again. That's bad film making. Continuing that shot is this sequence where somehow the one lone robot which is about the size of a tank has somehow thrown three tanks at the same time:

Any possible explanation as to how it managed this (Joined by friends? Has a weapon that blasts tanks hundreds of yards through the air?) has to be provided by the viewer. Bay threw the shot in because it "looks cool" but it makes no sense in context.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Transformers. I could pick on the absolutely bizarre script or the fact that the human characters act less real than the CGI robots but that's like shooting fish in a barrel with Michael Bay movies. I just hope I can avoid watching his next one...