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John Scalzi – Is the World Ready For a Michael Bay Romantic Comedy?

Here’s a fun question from the e-mail pile that picks up where last week’s column left off:
“You wrote last week
about directors who made famous science fiction films but weren’t
typecast as ‘science fiction directors.’ I was wondering if you think
any of the directors who are typecast like that could do something else.
For example, will we ever see a romantic comedy from Michael Bay?”

Oh, wow, a terrifying thought, now, isn’t it. Michael Bay’s First Date: The Reckoning. He’s a time-traveling vigilante, she’s a renegade sexbot and on their date they go to a
restaurant where all the food EXPLODES!!! It’ll make millions!
Especially if it stars Megan Fox.

I’m being a bit unfair
to Michael Bay because it’s cheap and easy to do so. Bay isn’t my
favorite director — indeed, he’s pretty much on the left side of my
“favorite directors” bell curve — and I don’t think dealing with live
humans is his directorial forte. But (and you must appreciate the effort
I’m making, here) he’s not incompetent. If he got a really
excellent script, surrounded himself with top-flight actors who weren’t
slumming, and maybe hooked up with a producer who would actually yell at
him to get back in there and film actual performances, and an editor
who could curb his addiction to fast cuts and flashy cinematic tricks,
then, sure, he could probably do something else than a “Michael Bay
Movie.” So: it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that Bay could
attempt a romantic comedy, or a serious drama, or whatever.

But the
question then
is: why would he bother? It’s worth remembering that Bay did try to
stretch
himself once, with Pearl Harbor, and he wasn’t necessarily
thanked for
the effort. It’s hard to classify a movie that brought in $200 million
domestically and $450 million worldwide as a flop, but I don’t think
there’s anyone who genuinely feels that the film did for Bay what Titanic,
Schindler’s List or Gladiator did for their
respective directors, who until that time were more or less defined (and
confined) by their science fiction and action movie pedigrees.

So if I were Michael
Bay, I suppose I would be wondering what the upside would be to try
something else — and if I were a movie studio executive I would be
wondering the same thing. Bay can bring in $800 million worldwide by
choreographing humans running around CGI robots; I’m pretty certain he’s
not going to do the same sort of business with a small, quiet film
examining the depths of the human soul.

Nor at this point,
should he attempt to do such a thing, would he get much credit for it
anyway. Allow me to suggest that even if Bay did do a small,
character-oriented film and pulled it off artistically, he and the film
would still get whacked on by critics who would be prejudiced by their
recollections of his other films. Even the ones who were positive would
still probably hedge their bets, because, after all, who ever heard of
an emotionally fulfilling Michael Bay film? A part of their critical
brain would be saying to them “who are you going to believe? Me or your
lying eyes?”

In short: I suspect that even if Bay could do other kinds of

films, as a practical matter, he’s stuck doing what he does. He’s
certainly not the first director to stuck in a category — would you
want to see the James Brooks version of Armageddon? Really? How
about the
Nancy Meyers version? — but in as much as his particular field of
typecasting is making him silly rich, I’m hard-pressed to see why he
should lose any sleep over it. He’s like the cheesy rock band all the
critics hate but who fill up stadiums night in and night out. Yes,
Michael Bay is cinema’s Motley Crue.
He creates contentless, feel-good spectacle with lots of explosions and
a hell of a light show, and then he goes home to dream on a mattress
filled with hundred dollar bills. And then the next day he gets up and
does it
again.

Michael Bay is a fun
and obvious example here, but there are other science fiction-identified
directors one could slot in here as well: Could the Wachowski Brothers
make a romantic comedy? Could Roland Emmerich? Could George Lucas? And
in each case, if you think they could, do you think it makes any sort of
sense for them to do so? The answers for me here vary, but in each case
I’ll say this much: At the end of the day, I wouldn’t begrudge any of
them — even Michael Bay — a chance to try.

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