' ' Cinema Romantico: The One Thing Michael Bay Didn't Blow Up

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The One Thing Michael Bay Didn't Blow Up

“Candlestick (Park) is the sporting equivalent of the mythical island of Manikoora. You remember the movie: In the beginning, lovely sarong-wrapped Dorothy Lamour gambols in the sun; in the end she is lashed to a tree as the hurricane threatens to blast her to eternity.” – Ron Fimrite, Sports Illustrated


Candlestick Park, the former home of the baseball Giants and football 49er’s in San Francisco, is set to be imploded in 2015, which to most is probably about 55 years too late. Which is strange because Candlestick Park was, in fact, christened 55 years before 2015 – 1960, to be precise, and from that moment forward was the windiest, coldest and most reviled baseball stadium ever dreamt up. Ron Fimrite, in fact, wrote the above statement in 1986, close to thirty years ago, meaning that in spite of being so hated, The 'Stick's outdated facilities still held on this long, in a woefully blustery spot by the bay in a bad part of town with bad traffic where no one really wanted to go.

Michael Bay is, of course, our pre-eminent Movie Explosion Maker. Three years ago, in fact, Jeffrey Frankenhauser compiled an infographic study of the correlation between Bay’s explosions and box office. In the graph, he notes that Bay’s films had accounted for a total of 992 explosions, or, in his words, “more than one explosion for each of Bay’s nine films.” “The Rock”, however, Mr. Bay’s second feature film, released in 1996, checks in on the chart with his second lowest explosions total with a mere 22, alarming not necessarily because there were not a great many additional things going kablooey but because there was not, simply, one more.

“The Rock” featured Alcatraz and its 81 tourists being taken hostage by a deranged if idealistic General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) in a vainglorious attempt to get the American government to pony up a stockpile of cash and transfer it to the relatives who were never compensated for the deaths of their military spouses in combat. He intends to force their hand by threatening to launch a cache of seriously lethal VX gas–armed M55 rockets toward the City by the Bay. And sure enough, when his demands are not met by his chosen deadline, he launches a rocket.

But to where? At what? “Football game,” says FBI Special Agent Ernest Paxton (William Forsythe). At which point, Michael Bay cuts to a shot of the rocket up above and about to descend upon Candlestick Park.

Alas, General Hummel, proving he has a beating heart beneath those fatigues, manually re-alters the rocket's course and sends it soaring harmlessly out over the Pacific Ocean. And hey, that's swell. Really, it is. Prevention of needless death is a good thing. But then, needless death has never much concerned Mr. Bay, has it? As Mr. Frankenhauser documents in his infograph, there have been a grand total of 653 onscreen deaths in Bay films. And that, of course, as the statistic implies, does not account for off screen deaths - like, say, the entire 14 million population of Shanghai in “Armageddon”. A few arbitrary on/off screen deaths have never mattered much to Michael Bay.

That is not intended as a criticism in this context. Honest, it's not. To be sure, I have bemoaned many times before just how little death at the movies means anymore, and Mr. Bay is one of those responsible for this suppression of meaning. Still, his movies, as he has so often declared through a theoretical press junket bullhorn, are meant for teenage boys. Loss of life in his work is just CGI collateral damage. Which is precisely what makes it so furiously stupefying that he, Michael Bay, Sensei of the Explosion, the dude who blew up the Mir Space Station for absolutely no other reason than to force-feed a little extra "suspense" into a plot that was already about, you know, ARMAGEDDON, hit the re-route switch and had that VX gas–armed M55 rocket swing wide of Candlestick Park.

The one man most suited for the job of demolishing the most abhorred stadium in history in a single swift stroke politely declined. Who says Michael Bay doesn't get irony?

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