Michael Bay has a pretty unique filmmaking style, to put it politely. Explosions, helicopters, enormous budgets and women writhing around on cars make up the Bay handbook for awesome movie directing. He’s essentially admitted it himself, what with that tongue-in-cheek Verizon commercial he did recently. He wants his movies to be as awesome as possible, and if that means driving the budget up for more detonations or having actresses audition with car-wash videos, so be it. And as it turns out, the man’s M.O. has been the same for as long as he’s been in front of the camera.
Before “Bad Boys” in 1995, Bay was primarily a director of music videos. His resume includes work for Wilson Phillips, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner and even Donny Osmond. Yet the match made in over-the-top heaven came in 1993 when Meat Loaf released “Bat Out of Hell II: Back to Hell.” Bay was hired to direct the videos for three of the larger-than-life singer’s songs, and the result is a trilogy of absurd, big-budget films that I’m not sure whether to even take seriously. Does the director know how hilariously formulaic his directing style seems to the rest of us? Does he care?
The first of these is “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Meat Loaf and Bay capitalize on the craziness of the artist’s persona almost immediately, sending him down the highway on his signature motorcycle in the video’s opening moments. Yet then suddenly we find ourselves hanging out in a graveyard with a mysterious vampire/Vulcan incarnation of the singer. No expense is spared, and between the strange medieval castle and exploding crypts one gets the impression this video had a bigger budget than most early-‘90s feature films.
That being said, if you want real explosions, you need to head over to the third video in the mix, “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are.” It’s a sad story, or at least it’s supposed to be. Meat Loaf looks back on a checkered past, the death of a boyhood friend in a plane crash and an affair with a somewhat dangerous woman. Of course, instead of a subtle use of flashback or a delicate treatment of the poor dead kid, Bay sees this as an awesome opportunity to throw in an explosion. If you miss it, don’t worry; he cuts back to it over and over again. This music video is the archetypal example of the director’s “awesome above all” method of filmmaking, and should probably be studied.
Incidentally, the one other element these videos have in common is perhaps the most ridiculous element of Bay’s easily identifiable style. “I’d Do Anything” is a duet, the female part sung by Lorraine Crosby. Yet that isn’t good enough for the explosion-auteur, who replaced her with a young model. To make it even more awesome, there’s the obligatory scene of wet writhing; in “I’d Do Anything” it’s in a bathtub, while “Objects in the Rear View” has a car wash. And then we get a lesbian sex scene for no conceivable reason. It’s almost reassuring that Bay has been so predictable for so long, a career spanning over 20 years with no shortage of TNT or Sapphic strippers.
And as a final gift, if you want to see 18-year-old Angelina Jolie in the second video, Meat Loaf’s cover of “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” here it is. It’s probably the least coherent as far as narrative is concerned, which is impressive work. There’s always something a bit fun about seeing the early music video work of a now-famous star, and there’s perhaps no stranger way to kick off your career than with a Meat Loaf video. See if you can spot the cop who at least looks suspiciously like Mark Wahlberg in the “I’d Do Anything” clip as well.