This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. The ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema.
And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in THIS Michael Bay movie?
After the heroics of THE ROCK, Bruckheimer and Bay (sans Don Simpson who passed away) moved into the territory recently destroyed by Roland Emmerich, the Disaster Movie. In 1996, INDEPENDENCE DAY showed audiences that blowing up major landmarks, whilst nothing new, was an amazing spectacle with modern movie-making.
Michael Bay goes one bigger with ARMAGEDDON, “It’s what we call a global killer.”
This is going to be the end of the world, Michael Bay style. I mean, even the titles explode. Charlton Heston’s opening narration details the end of the dinosaurs because of an asteroid hitting the Earth, and then it fades into the present.
ARMAGEDDON is Michael Bay attempting to piss off and one-up Roland Emmerich.
In INDEPENDENCE DAY, Emmerich and Dean Devlin took great pleasure in showing that America can save the world after Aliens destroy all of the worlds major landmarks. The White House in particular is the defining shot of the film, it’s on the poster. Then the President of the United States is solely (pretty much) responsible for uniting the countries of the Earth together to fight back.
I can sort of see Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer seeing INDEPENDENCE DAY and deconstructing the elements that made it work whilst simultaneously thinking they could do it better. And bigger.
And so, after pretty much stealing the premise from DEEP IMPACT, ARMAGEDDON was born.
ARMAGEDDON threatens the entire Earth in one fell swoop. The impending disaster has a few smaller skirmish shots, notably New York, Shanghai and Paris. But the scale of destruction, and the effects, aren’t as impactful or ‘show-piece’ like in INDEPENDENCE DAY (hereby referred to as ID4). There is no single unifying association between film and destruction. When I talk about ARMAGEDDON being bigger it is the elements around the destruction. The destruction isn’t the showpiece, it is all the blockbuster elements around it.
Don’t get me wrong, there a signature Bay shots in this. The sequences that are pretty much a music video for Aerosmith are commercial and totally Bay. The destruction, if not as memorable as ID4, is still as practical as it can get with the CGI elements added just as a dressing to the explosions. Everything feels tangible.
To quote Ben Affleck describing Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), “He’s a salt-of-the-earth guy”. Humanity is to be saved by characters who are as blue-collar as a denim jacket. What is more American than someone who works hard, to be rewarded for their efforts. It is the next step of the ‘anyone can be President’ mantra that American society seems to have ingrained in it. Rather than Bill Pullman, a Gulf War Pilot become President, we have people who literally know the Earth. They are covered in the Earth and in Oil, nothing is more ground-up than that.
If it needs to be explicitly stated how one with the Earth and brashly American Harry Stamper is, his introduction is him hitting golf balls at Greenpeace.
I would argue that even Peter Stormore’s Cosmonaut represents these elements too. It isn’t some high-tech math that fixes the ship, it’s Stormore hitting it repeatedly. Brute force over brains. Represented further by Jason Isaacs taking the brunt of Stamper’s ire.
The commercial aspects of the film create this larger-than-life aura that almost drowns the film. The aforementioned Aerosmith music video is repeated ad-nauseum, there a whole shots from around the world that could be from a Nike advertisement (thanking Patrick Willams for that line). It isn’t a surprise that this out-grossed it’s direct competitors, DEEP IMPACT and GODZILLA.
Speaking of GODZILLA, before the destruction of New York there is a dog that chews up Godzilla toys. Bay, throwing jabs at Emmerich.
Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer went after Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, and their disaster movie. Whilst INDEPENDENCE DAY is a solid summer blockbuster, ARMAGEDDON exploits Bay’s whimsical desires and creates something more commerical and unforgiving to scrutiny. The explosions, gratuitous editing and camera angles, juvenile humour, and ‘Fuck yeah, America’ sensibilites all add up to something that I think predicts what is to come from Michael Bay in 2009.
Finally does it rain? I, uhhhh, can’t remember. Maybe rocks, does that count?
Next up: PEARL HARBOR