Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
June 29, 2009

We don't think they're doing anything dirty, but we can't be 100% certain.

Mass hypnosis. It's the only plausible explanation.

Kim Hollis: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel to the $319 million hit, opened to $200.1 million over five days. This almost matches The Dark Knight's $203 million in the same amount of time. How did Paramount and Michael Bay pull off such a magnificent result?

Daron Aldridge: It seems that this juggernaut reached critical mass months ago with a barrage of ads and press for Megan Fox and it didn't show any signs of letting up. I really thought once unfavorable reviews started spreading then it would start to weaken. We know the professional critics aren't going to impact this film but if the rabid fans of the first were let down (which was highly probable) then they would turn on it a la Wolverine. To address the Batman comparison, while bad reviews don't hurt this type of film, great reviews are...well...great for business. That fact is what will keep Transformers from even coming close to Dark Knight.

Josh Spiegel: The marketing (despite Michael Bay's protests) is what's to thank here. It certainly doesn't seem likely that Transformers 2 will hit the same heights as The Dark Knight did, but $400 million domestically is what will probably be the end result. Whether we like this movie or not doesn't matter; people wanted to see this movie, if only the once, and they wanted to see it as soon as possible. I'm very curious to see what the second-weekend take for Transformers 2 is; it'll give us a very good idea of how little the critical negativity matters; unlike most big action movies, this one seems to be succeeding in spite of some fanboy hate, so how many non-fanboys will see this again? Like I said, I'm very curious about the second-weekend take.

Scott Lumley: The marketing for this one has been unusual, with a lot of the trailers hinting at dark times for the Autobots, and by proxy, the humans. I commented to one colleague that this almost feels like they were going for an Empire Strikes Back vibe and he commented that he was feeling the same way. It seemed like every time I turned around, some Autobot was getting mangled on TV or sucked into a gigantic sand sucking Decepticon monstrosity.

I gotta say, I liked that angle. The thought that maybe Optimus wasn't getting out of this one alive coupled with the history of what they did with Jazz was some particularly compelling imagery.

I think this kind of spin, coupled with the dearth of quality films this summer, sets up Revenge of the Fallen perfectly. I think this is an excellent result, and I think this is going to drop like a rock after the first week. And I say that while acknowledging that this was truly a monster week and a pure tentpole moment.

Tim Briody: All I have here is "WTF, America?" Although I can add it'll be an interesting experiment to compare this to the Dark Knight since that was beloved and Transformers...not so much.

Kevin Chen: Tim is wrong. It won't be a very interesting experiment at all, since the only comparisons between The Dark Knight and Transformers 2 are going to be made by this Web site and the industry trades this week.

David Mumpower: I resemble that remark.

Reagen Sulewski: I think this is one of those cases where it's very easy to overanalyze what went on. People asked for robots beating the crap out of each other and Megan Fox not wearing much clothing, and Michael Bay gave it to them. I will say that the policy of movie theatres to spit in the face of everyone that bought a ticket for something other than Transformers was pretty effective.

Jason Lee: In addition to everything that's been mentioned, which I agree with for the most part, I think that the relative "underwhelming" quality of the summer blockbuster season left many moviegoers starved for an event picture. Star Trek was huge, Up is a great win for Pixar, Hangover was a nice surprise . . . but we haven't had anything Spider-Man / Sith / Dark Knight / Indiana Jones sized all summer. I think a lot of summer movie fans have been waiting for something to get really excited about.

Sean Collier: That's the last straw, I'm moving to Ireland. If anyone needs me, I'll be at the pub.

David Mumpower: We also should go back to the premise that the quality/reception of the previous film buys the opening weekend of its successor. Transformers was generally well received as demonstrated by its spectacular success on the home video market. It has earned almost $300 million in that release phase in addition to the $700+ million it earned in theatrical release. Its video revenue easily surpasses both of the films that beat it at the box office that year, Shrek the Third and Spider-Man 3, and even currently holds an edge over The Dark Knight.

That sort of overall theatrical/video performance indicates a wide-reaching fan base, making it the rarest of rare true four quadrant tentpole release. Of course, all of these same factors work against it next time as people remember how disappointed they were by the second film. That's why it's a savvy move by Michael Bay to jump off and leave that timebomb in the hands of some other director who will make a better movie that is much less successful.

You like explosions? We got explosions! And dizzy cam!

Kim Hollis: What is it about Michael Bay films that make them so populist? And do you think any other director could have had as much success with the Transformers license as he has?

Daron Aldridge: He gives the people what they want - explosions, pretty people running from explosions, and not a lot of plot/dialogue between explosions. I read quite a few Facebook status update reviews of how great the movie was. Obviously, my frugal nature that prevents me from spending 8 or 9 bucks on something like this is not the norm. That negative response I mentioned earlier that I was waiting/wanting to dent the box office isn't showing up amongst my "friends".

Josh Spiegel: As Daron said: explosions, explosions, explosions. And, since we're talking about a 150-minute movie, that's a lot of explosions. I think that plenty of other directors could've been successful with the franchise, though. As ridiculous (to me, at least) as the premise is, other blockbuster directors (a J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg) could have easily made the series popular and enjoyable, as opposed to what this series is now: just popular.

Scott Lumley: He's has big successes before. But in this case I think it's his style of film making that serves him so well. He knows what the people want, and he gives it to them, with as few thought provoking complications as possible. He may very well be the McDonalds of film makers. But if that's true, then he also gets the sign that says "Over XX Billion served!" And that is not a small thing.

Jason Lee: 100% agree with Scott. It'd be interesting to see Morgan Spurlock film a documentary where he watches nothing but Michael bay films for a month.

Sean Collier: Michael Bay represents a guarantee to a certain type of film fan. He promises an action film that will not challenge, that will not require much involvement on the part of the audience, and will provide spectacle and entertainment on the most basic level. It's sad that this works, but it does. Unfortunately, there's still a large portion of the audience that would prefer not to think, and Bay is their savior.

David Mumpower: Rather than deride him for his flaws, the easy lay-up on movie sites at the moment, I'd like to take this in a different direction. What Michael Bay understands is commercialism. Perhaps that's because he came up through commercials. But probably not. Anyway, what even the harshest critics of Michael Bay must acknowledge is that he has an almost preternatural awareness of what audiences want from their movies. Daron touched on the fact that he isn't going to spend a lot of money for him and his kids to see a movie he is certain will disappoint. That's the crux of this whole discussion.

Bay has exceptional awareness of how people have certain expectations for these big tentpole titles. Call it cynical if you will, but his paint by numbers approach is time proven and constantly stable. During an early humping sequence in Transformers 2, oddly not one involving Hump Queen Megan Fox, I was forcibly reminded of the Shakespeare in Love joke about how every production needs a dog in order to make it more mainstream. There are a lot of people in this industry who are unwilling to take the low road, to angle for the cheap laugh. Bay has no such qualms. He's a mercenary, purely in this for the money. He has no pride about doing what is needed to get the average movie goer's money. If more of us showed Daron's discipline, he'd have to evolve, but about $200 million in five days shows that won't be happening any time soon. He learned his mistake with Pearl Harbor. He won't be angling for Oscar glory any time soon, because he is self-aware to recognize that is not who he is.

Jason Lee: While I don't disagree with your assessment of Bay's ability to "give 'em what they wanna watch," there is something sad about America's movie-going appetite for films that, almost everyone agrees, are schlocky and low in quality. This is why I appreciated Scott's analogy so much -- there's nothing wrong with McDonalds selling their food and certainly enough people buy and eat it. But at the same time, it doesn't make me happy that their nutritionally-deficient menu items are so popular (except for their sausage mcmuffin with egg . . . mmmm, I could eat those all day). Same for me with Bay (but without the mcmuffin).