Michael Bay ready to make you forget ‘Transformers 2’: ‘It was kind of a mess’ [updated]

Jan. 14, 2011 | 2:05 p.m.
michael bay on transformers 3 Michael Bay ready to make you forget Transformers 2: It was kind of a mess [updated]

Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Michael Bay on the set of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (Dreamworks)

Michael Bay is among the most driven filmmakers in all of Hollywood, and right now his biggest motivation is making people forget his last movie, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

“It was kind of a mess, wasn’t it?” an unsmiling Bay said of the 2009 film, which was far from a flop — it grossed a potent $836 million worldwide, finishing third for the year behind only “Avatar” and the sixth “Harry Potter” movie. But the director still talks about the blockbuster in tones of regret. “Look, the movie had some good things in it and it was entertaining and it did very well, but it also failed in some key ways. I learned from it. And now with this third movie we’re going back to basics and I absolutely believe this is going to be a much better film than the second one.”

As Bay spoke, he was standing on the Playa Vista set of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,”  his ninth feature film as director and, to his own surprise, his third movie about Bumblebee, Megatron and the other giant, shape-shifting alien robots called Transformers. It’s due out July 1. The 45-year-old director was skeptical when executive producer Steven Spielberg approached him back in July 2005 with the concept of making a Hollywood franchise out of a Reagan era toy line. “The term I used at the time was ‘stupid idea,’ if I remember right,” Bay said. But after visiting Hasbro and learning about the characters and cosmic mythology that had been created around them, Bay began to warm up to the idea.

Now, the franchise is the centerpiece of Bay’s 15-year filmmaking career. Though he has no expectation that he will make a fourth “Transformers” film — or maybe because of that — he is fiercely focused on leaving the franchise on a high note. He has also been reaching out to journalists in recent weeks to show them footage and perhaps, through his candor and enthusiasm, win a reprieve in the court of public opinion.

transform Michael Bay ready to make you forget Transformers 2: It was kind of a mess [updated]


“I’m still having fun and especially with this movie,” Bay said. “Look, we got burned on the last movie. The big thing was the writers strike, it hurt the film and it made it hard on everybody. We had three weeks to get our story and, really, we were going into the movie without a script. It’s tough to do that. It was too big of a movie. There were too many endings or too many things that felt like endings. There was so much animation [in the visual effects postproduction work], too, and we ran out of time.  We used the schedule of the first movie for the second movie but on the second one way more labor was needed for the animation. And then it felt like we were writing the script in the edit room, trying to put together a story.”

bumble Michael Bay ready to make you forget Transformers 2: It was kind of a mess [updated]

Bumblebee (Paramount)

The 2009 film was memorably savaged by leading critics (Roger Ebert attacked it as “a horrible experience of unbearable length,” Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal called it “a pile of glittering junk” and Rolling Stone magazine’s Peter Travers groaned that it was “galactically stupid … beyond bad, it carves out its own category of godawfulness”). In private, many of Bay’s industry peers held the film up as the Optimus Prime example of what happens when story and character are made subordinate to CG spectacle and an especially pandering brand of one-liner humor.

The surprise isn’t that critics didn’t like a Bay movie — they didn’t like “Pearl Harbor,” “Bad Boys 2” or “The Island,” either — the surprise is that Bay is publicly agreeing with them.

“I think we have something to prove with this third one,” Bay said of the movie that brings back star Shia LaBeouf in the role of Sam Witwicky, the young everyman who befriends an Autobot called Bumblebee. “We’re back to basics. The second one was something going on inside of Sam, the way he’s affected and feeling, and that’s a hard thing to do. It’s more mystical, in a way. This one, there’s nothing mystical about it. It’s a good old-fashioned mystery and it’s a tougher movie … it’s funny but it’s not a wisecrack-funny; it’s funnier in the situation.”

Some critics have taken Bay to task for making chrome-plated movies that have hollow hearts, but Spielberg says he brought the filmmaker in for “Transformers” because of the way he works with humans, not machines.

” The first chance I ever had to work with Michael Bay was when he directed ‘The Island’ for DreamWorks and Warner Bros. in 2005,” Spielberg said. ” ‘The Island,’ while not a commercial success, was successful in showing me how well Michael could deal with relationships within a big conceptual drama. It didn’t take second sight to know how brilliantly he would handle the action between the Autobots and the Decepticons. But because our principal premise for a first ‘Transformers’ was the story of a girl, a boy and his car, ‘The Island’ showed me that Michael would pay special attention to the human stories in ‘Transformers.’ ”

Spielberg added:  “As the plot thickens in the third installment of ‘Transformers,’ Michael’s work on it feels fresh and energized … with lots of new and inventive ways of turning a page on this franchise. ”

Instead of giant military operations and armada imagery, this third “Transformers” film is “lean and mean,” Bay says, and the script by Ehren Kruger (“The Ring“) presents more of a small-team, commando tension. Bay says he thinks of this film as a sort of homeland version of “Black Hawk Down” — but, you know, with giant alien robots. Instead of Middle East deserts, the majority of the action will be set amid the smoldering boulevards of Chicago where humanity continues to fight against the hulking mecha-warriors from outer space, exploiting their one known  weakness (their eyes).

Bay is especially proud of some of the urban warfare scenes (including sequences featuring a team of glide-suit commandos who dip between skyscrapers like a black-ops version of flying squirrels) and the conspiracy mystery that sets up the new story, which traces back to the 1960s space program (a digital ghost of John F. Kennedy and the archive-reel visage of Walter Cronkite will play parts in Bay’s new lunar adventure).

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” brings back John Turturro as the scenery-chewing federal agent Seymour Simmons and familiar faces in Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson . Joining the cast this time around are John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey, but the big news is the prominently absent name on the call sheet. Megan Fox, the female face of the franchise (unless you count the robots), has been left behind, either by her choice or by Bay’s command — it depends on whom you ask or choose to believe.

[For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Ramon Rodriguez as a cast member.]

shia labeouf and michael bay on transformer set Michael Bay ready to make you forget Transformers 2: It was kind of a mess [updated]

Shia LaBeouf, Michael Bay and Josh Duhamel on the set of the first "Transformers" film (DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures)

Fox played Mikaela Banes, Sam’s girlfriend, and Bay says the movie has more room to move without the character and that the cast is stronger this time around. When the topic of Fox comes up, Bay’s expression turns to something between apathy and seasickness.

“I don’t want to talk about it, but we obviously replaced our girl, and by everything I see we fared well,” Bay said, nodding over his shoulder toward Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Victoria’s Secret model from England who has zero acting experience — which is even less than Fox had when she made her feature-film debut in Bay’s “Bad Boys 2” as an uncredited bikini-clad actress. Over the course of  four hours spread across two interviews both on and off the set, Bay never uttered Fox’s name or spoke to the rumors that on the set of the second “Transformers” movie she was high-maintenance and/or he was tyrant. “Look, I will say that I think we have a better cast with this third movie than we’ve ever had.”

Bay is far more interested in discussing his use of 3-D cameras on the set of “Dark of the Moon.” On another afternoon, at his Santa Monica offices, he spoke about the stereoscopic format with the conviction of a convert . “I visited Jim [Cameron’s set] on ‘Avatar’ and I just saw all the blue screen and the big cameras  and I’m like, ‘This is so not me.’ So it’s kind of scary, all right? Especially because I do real-world stuff … this is really hard for me because I’m a die-hard film guy, anamorphic old-school lenses, and there’s nothing more beautiful than anamorphic lenses to me. So going digital was just kind of crass for me.”

But Bay lives for technology, gear and gizmos (there is a reason he’s making movies about robots that turn into race cars and fighter planes) and he is now on a passionate quest to make a statement in stereoscopic cinema. The 3-D film (and its pricier theater tickets) are all the rage in Hollywood, of course, but most of the movies are filmed in conventional fashion and then converted to the extra-depth format during postproduction. Shooting with actual 3-D cameras is less popular; the equipment is bulky and requires the sort of care and calibration that can be frustrating on movie sets that involve big explosions and even bigger budgets.

“Have you ever seen these cameras? They’re big. You’ve got the mirrors — what you’re doing is splitting a mirror, so you get weird refractions. It cuts light. The second camera is always going to be a touch softer because it’s going through a mirror. It sees reflections a little weird. It’ll catch a glare on one eye but it won’t on the other so it will kind of jump out at you sometimes in 3-D.”

Bay is wildly excited about the 3-D achievements he’s seeing already in postproduction but overall it’s early days for the moviemaking approach and Bay has the impatient air of a man who wants the equipment to catch up to what he sees in his mind’s eye. He puts up with it though, because, again, he is a man with something to prove.

In an unusual move, the filmmaker recently invited a small group of online journalists to a screening room to show them a 3-D teaser trailer for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” The goal was to refute Internet rumors that the movie’s 3-D footage was underwhelming and, by the reactions in the room, the director succeeded in a big way. Instead of stopping there, though, Bay brought the startled correspondents into a cramped editing suite to show them raw chunks of the movie, far more than they expected or studios executives would like. Afterward, Bay didn’t mince words about his motivation. “I’m trying,” he said, “to make up for movie two.”

— Geoff Boucher


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40 Responses to Michael Bay ready to make you forget ‘Transformers 2’: ‘It was kind of a mess’ [updated]

  1. G-Man says:

    Awesome! Nice of you to admit that the movie SUCKED after you got our money! What a D-B!

  2. Zaviar Wun says:

    Respect the man for admitting the last one was shite. Even if it's all fake critic-pandering to try and weasel some positive publicity for the new one, it still takes something to publicly admit that a big financial success like T2 was actually artistically compromised (not that we couldn't see that for ourselves with or without his admission!).

  3. Book-Brain says:

    Once again, Mr. Bay continues to say the right things. I'm really feeling optimistic for number 3 after the colossal disappointment that was ROTF.

  4. Paul says:

    I'll hold my breath & wait for the final film.

    Michael Bay is a classic Bullshitter in that he sure can SELL a film. I remember in high school getting pumped up for Pearl Harbor because the trailers & commercials were incredible & Bay really sold it with talks of classic drama films being played out in a grand scale. I was sold on the film… and then I saw it. Hated it. Horrible thing is he pulled the same tricks and got me to see The Island & both previous Transformer films (a friend & I snuck into Bad Boys II and actually walked out halfway through because it was so awful).
    I hope he can take the story back to something like the first Transformers film- his only decent film in over a decade- but I'll wait till I read some reviews & a few friends sit through it first.

    • Michael R. says:

      There's a saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
      How exactly did he get you to see five of his movies? And now you might go see a sixth? If you know he's such a con man selling you snake oil, why bite again and again?

  5. ShadowWing Tronix says:

    I kind of defended the first movie while admitting it was flawed. The second one I still don't have on DVD and while I'm sure I'll see the third one because I'm a Transformer sheep and all I really don't have high hopes on this one.

  6. Jim says:

    Now Michael Bay is bashing his own work on Transformers2 just for marketing reasons.
    This third movie can't be better than the first two. When you fire the lead actress you are going to make a mess. This third movie is going to be a mess. The new Rosie topmodel replacement is his worst female casting to date.
    This movie should have focused on militaries more and have not Sam Witwicky character with another girlfriend. That is going to suck plot and characters development wise. Also even worse it's that they are going to get rid of Mikaela Banes character telling the nonsense that she just dumped Sam… when the only good option they had was to show her death, Sam at her funeral. But no, they think that it's going to be "funny" telling that Mikaela dumped Sam… and no, it's not going to be funny at all, it's going to just look a real mess.
    Spierlberg and Bay don't care about this franchise anymore. They already moved to other projects. This third movie is the worst way to end the trilogy.
    Too many mistakes. You can't get rid of Mikaela Banes character like they are doing, this is a mess.

    • sorrel says:

      Then Jim, let me guess, you are absolutely NOT going to see it right? No, I think you will see it just to say that your presumptuous bashing was correct, even if it proves otherwise. I agree with everyone that movie two kind of sucked but I still kind of got off on the technomess. I'm anxiously hoping that humber three will turn it all around. Hey, if you can't stand Michael Bay and the movies he directs then don't go see them and don't go onto blogs that talk about them…just saying.

  7. triex says:

    I think TF3 is going to be great, Rosie is hotter and can act better.

  8. Tsaur says:

    I sure hope this isn't the last Transformers movie. This is the best movie franchise of all time.

  9. Jeff T. says:

    It's amazing how Bay forgets he and Spielberg outright stole someone else's work when they made "The Island".

  10. Dustin says:

    I'm still waiting for my apology for the first one.

  11. Vogalicious says:

    Is Hot Rod in the movie Yes or No? I mean geez how hard is it for you guys to announce who the red Ferrari is….yeah that's where I'm at right now….I mean you announced pretty much who the other cars were, just say who's who……….Paleaaaseeee

  12. Lawrence says:

    It doesn't particularly help that the two writers who infused the human aspect of the original film the most, Orci and Kurtzman, are not writing this one. When you have a story where, it seems, the most human characters are the robots themselves, then you know your movie is in deep trouble. Sure, it might work for Saturday morning cartoons or mecha-genre anime series, but a live-action movie demands a certain human realism that the audience can connect to.

    • A Rose says:

      They wrote the second one, which everyone is hating on. I was pretty annoyed that, for such hardcore fans, they admitted that using The Fallen in Revenge of the Fallen was a last-minute "hail mary" decision for them. Shouldn't a pair of nerds with a vast knowledge of the TF universe AND knowledge of everything they wrote for the first film have at least a FEW solid concepts lined up? Unless they were really just focused on Star Trek, which they were. They were also executive producers on that film. They had no right to throw Bay under the bus on this one, sorry.

  13. The Last Autobot says:

    It really troubles me that Spielberg and Bay still see this franchise as more human centered than Tfs. I couldnt care less about what Sam does or doesnt or his parents or his bitchy Gf. He shouldnt be the main focus of the story but what set in motion everything. The Tfs should be explored more, its their movie, I go to see them. And to the critics that say that we cant "relate to robots", we relate to characters the issue is just if they are correctly done.

  14. bunnyfoofoo says:

    The toys are almost always better than the TV series, and the TV series is almost always better than the movie. And the Transformers are one of the best lines of toys ever made, while the TV series was mediocre, leading to the inevitable outcome that the movies would be terrible, especially in comparison to nostalgia about playing with the robots.

  15. Jim says:

    @*****foofoo: the tv series is cheesy as hell for today standards, every single series. In the '80s G1 was cool although still cheesy but now it's no more than a classic but still cheesy. The first two Transformers movies have been excellent even despite flaws on the second one caused by writers strike and on set and off set accidents. But Transformers3 is going to suck because you can't fire your lead actress as a director and expect everything to work with a replacement topmodel that can't act and her character breaks down consistency of the first two movies deep down at the core.

    • The Last Autobot says:

      And Megan Fox was Oscar material when she starred in the first two. Wasnt she? And even if thats true (maybe in some continuity in the multiverse). Rosie will be Carly (who should have been the first choice) so who cares. And even inside the movie verse continuity and reality, who can say stayed with her first love up until death do us part? So its entirely logical he is with someone else.

      • Jim says:

        Mikaela Banes character was developed by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg to be Carly of the movie. Interviews with Megan Fox and Orci&Kurtzman at the time the first movies was released were clearly telling that the character was depicted to have elements of Carly to be the Carly of the movie, and in fact she was able to repair anything mechanical for a reason.
        Now Michael Bay is doing the worst to get rid of the character. His only option to get away with this mess he created would be to show Mikaela Banes funeral and give a reason to viewers to accept Rosie character Carly… BUT NO.. he declared he won't do that and he will just tell that "Mikaela dumped Sam" .. for whatever stupid reason… and that is going to suck story and characters wise, it will just look plain dumb and it will ruin continuity and consistency from the first two movies, the whole trilogy won't work anymore. Sam and Mikaela as a couple is what made the first two movies work and Michael Bay himself developed the movies to be like that. Now he is going the worst possible route to ruin everything. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is his worst female casting to date.

      • The Last Autobot says:

        So? It still doesnt matter. The human part shouldnt be the main focus. They should be more concerned that the Tfs are well portrayed, I for once would like to know what happens to Sideswipe or Jolt or Barricade. Reading the comics shows more detail of all the backstories of the Tfs and the fate of several. But what about the movies? You keep watching every detail of Sam´s miserable life, his stupid parents, his stupid friends and so on and on. So Mikaela dumped Sam? Devote 1 minute to it and then pass to Optimus who says something REALLY IMPORTANT, something about the ***** story. Mikaela was supposed to be Carly from the beggining? Well maybe the slutty version, she repaired everything with her ass. I dont say Rosie is better actress than Megan (having a seizure just by saying that), they are both eye candy. But saying that because of her the trilogy wont work is overstimating Megan, and pretty much forgetting that are more important issues like knowing how to tell a story and who are your real characters.

      • The Last Autobot says:

        So? It still doesnt matter. The human part shouldnt be the main focus. They should be more concerned that the Tfs are well portrayed, I for once would like to know what happens to Sideswipe or Jolt or Barricade. Reading the comics shows more detail of all the backstories of the Tfs and the fate of several. But what about the movies? You keep watching every detail of Sam´s miserable life, his stupid parents, his stupid friends and so on and on. So Mikaela dumped Sam? Devote 1 minute to it and then pass to Optimus who says something REALLY IMPORTANT, something about the story. Mikaela was supposed to be Carly from the beggining? Well maybe the porn version, she repaired everything with her butt. I dont say Rosie is better actress than Megan (having a seizure just by saying that), they are both eye candy. But saying that because of her the trilogy wont work is overstimating Megan, and pretty much forgetting that are more important issues like knowing how to tell a story and who are your real characters.

  16. MARK GEORGEFF says:

    almost a billion dollars world wide and still a mess? too bad they put a gun to bay's head and forced him to make a movie he had no say on. Really Michael?

  17. 4323 says:

    Every is a critic. I'll be the first to admit that I am a huge Transformer fan from when I was a kid. And though the movies were not true to the toys or the TV show of the 80's,I still give the first movie an A and the second a B-. There has been way more movies that have come out that I complete garbage yet people think they are either hilarious, dramatic, or some visual phenomenon. The same people that constantly get on these sites and complain will still pay and see the third one. If you don't like a movie great but the constant moaning and groaning after two years? And then some even think they should get their money back? It's just a movie. Get over it.Life goes on.

  18. MARK GEORGEFF says:

    Look…none of us are gonna say anything that'll force Bay to make or not make the movies he's paid zillions of dollars to do. he's proven himself as a blockbuster popcorn maker. I would just think with all his talent…and pull…he would for once, find a very good indie script from an unknown writer and cast of talented actors-actresses instead of going for the BO stars, etc. Do something indie Mike. Give it a shot. Just…for once…Who the heck is going to say no to you Mike???
    And no…this is not a plug for a door to open for me and my work LOL. Just a comment.

  19. willio says:

    Nice that he says the second film sucked, but did he *learn* anything from that? Will the action scenes in this one be connected to the story and explore the characters? Or just be pasted on and basically disposable?

  20. Lucy says:

    Their is some awesome Chicago filmwork in the movie using local talent. The battles are amazing and filmed right off the Chicago River. Even Trumpy Dumps has dudes jumping off the building over the river and landing on Wacker – too cool.

    Chicago as a backdrop comes out looking incredible.

  21. Midmodtom says:

    I still want my money back from the first one

  22. Eric says:

    I'm definitely waiting for this movie. I just hope that finally they add Stan Bush's The Touch in the soundtrack

  23. Hello says:

    Wow! Alot of you guys seem to fight over the Rosie/Megan RUINED FOREVER plot. Seriously, don’t judge someone’s acting skills if you haven’t actually SEEN it.

    • Girl says:

      Seriously. We have seen Megan's acting…and it's BAAAAD!
      But we haven't seen this new girl yet. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt until AFTER I've seen the third.

      Yes she could suck…or who knows, she might surprise us and be a naturally talented actress.

      I for one am excited she'll be playing Carly-you know the original love interest of Spike's from the old cartoon!

  24. kid says:

    Some of you all are takeing it to the heart. For the love of God, it's just a movie, you watch it, and your going to like it or not. I like the first one, I like the rock, pearl harbor was good. Bad boys 1 and 2 was good, he need to hurry up and do bad boys3. I realy don't see what was so wrong with t2, bet hey each it's own. And everybody is saying they don't want to see t3 because the last one suck. lol.. I just wonder how old areall, 30 35,35, and you all are crying about it. lol. but hey what ever

  25. angel says:

    why do you hater's hate ROTFi thought it was an awesome movie an beater than the first

  26. Chris says:

    I hate ROFT, simple as that. it was the only film which negativly efefcted me, there was once a time where I loved explosions. But thanks ot this jack ass I get headaches when their are to many.
    I thought the films was called Transformers, and yet the films have barley anything to do with em, its always Shia trying to act and …….RRRRRRRRRAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. angel says:

    i want bonecrusher and jolt to be in the movie.There are my favorite.

  28. daniel says:

    i want micheal bay to bring back bonecrusher and to show jolt more in this movie

  29. Scott says:

    Personally, I liked the second movie. Every body just takes offense to everything these days and its sick! You'd think that in the 21st century we could get past all of the stupid things and just watch a movie for the purpose of watching a movie. Not to pick it apart. Geeze. I think people really think movies are real sometimes.

  30. DEVO says:

    You're just a symptom of the decline son. Lowest common denominator indeed.

  31. phil says:

    I saw the second transformers first and thought it was awesome…..yes I am simple minded…..but it was awesome…then I saw the third one and it was awesome…..finally saw the first one and it was awesome…..Michael Bay made 3awesome transformers movies….you other guys are just to critical.

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