Sole Criterion: The Rock and Armageddon

By Brett Ballard-Beach

September 27, 2012

No romantic comedy is ever as (unintentionally) hilarious as this one.

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Armageddon: DVD Spine #40/Laserdisc #384
The Rock: DVD Spine #108/Laserdisc #334

Michael Bay’s films are always set in the future, at least a little bit. (Paraphrase of a comment from one of his crew - the production designer on Armageddon I think - that seems to clear up a whole lot of nagging details about Bay’s oeuvre.)

I just tell them to put “insert chase scene here” and we’ll figure it out later. (Paraphrase of a quote by Bay, on his collaboration with screenwriters, that covers most of the details the first quote didn’t cover.)

If nothing else, Armageddon gave the rock band Aerosmith their first and only #1 hit (by way of composer Diane Warren), “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, a full 25 years after they had charted their first hit “Dream On” in 1973. It capped the decade-long commercial comeback that began with the album Permanent Vacation, and in some indirect way I am sure, led to Steven Tyler being on American Idol last year. So, thank you (?) Michael Bay.

If nothing else, The Rock gave America its first full-on taste of Nicolas Cage’s tweaked variations on the idea of the late 20th century/early 21st century American cinematic “action hero.” What at the time seemed like an experiment for the Oscar winner, to reap commercial gains from critical glory and infect the mainstream with some off-kilter mania, didn’t quite turn out that way. The experiment is still ongoing and in many direct ways has led to Face/Off… and The Wicker Man and Drive Angry and.. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. So thank you (??), Michael Bay.


Perhaps it’s just general bonkers brought on by the final weeks of ELECTION 2012! in these sometimes not-so-united States of America , but watching Bay speak in an interview from around the time The Rock was filmed - included, as were the thoughts above, as part of the supplemental featurettes on Criterion’s releases of the two films - I couldn’t help but see a beach bum variation on Mitt Romney at age 30, which is about how old Bay was back then, helming what would become his first film to crack the $100 million mark domestically, and which is now simply his seventh highest grosser out of his nine feature films.

It’s partly the looks—I would peg Bay as shaggy but not unattractive circa ’96 - but also because Bay seems to share a similar positive and detrimental attribute with the GOP nominee. Both seem to have unbridled enthusiasm when dealing with areas of personal interest. For Bay, it’s his action scenes, such as his inspiration for the extended freeway chase in The Island and for Romney, the intricacies of asset management and acquisition, dismantling or refurbishing of businesses of all sizes.

In the debit column, I note, and this may be a viewpoint not shared by many others, a complete inability to convey what they are doing in their chosen field. Setting aside all of my other thoughts on Romney, I find it disheartening that he seems to have no discernible fire in his belly as he runs for a position of no little power. I have listened to him speak and in the ill-at-ease tone that seems to creep through interviews and stump speeches and fiery denunciations, I hear a non-verbal ellipsis in reply to the unasked question, “Why do you want to be president?” If he came off as say, blunt, folksy, and slightly batshit like H. Ross Perot 20 years ago (who if I had been 18 at the time, I would have voted for), it would at least give me an indication of what was fueling his quest.

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