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The genius of Michael Bay
July 28, 2014 6:41 AM   Subscribe

This summer's Transformers 4 have seen its fair share of negativity, considering it's a master class in economics and its predecessor is Michael Bay's first art movie (last linked discussed previously.)
posted by Harald74 (52 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The part of the Vox article where they break down the ways in which the movie is sucking up to the Chinese market is especially interesting.
posted by maxsparber at 6:50 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Take note, kids: that's how you suck up to China.

Wow. I hope whoever negotiated that kind of political product placement is getting a nice bonus this year.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:54 AM on July 28


The Chinese-audience-pandering is becoming a thing nowadays, isn't it? I know Iron Man 3 shot an entire scene just for the Chinese market that was not shown in the rest of the world's theatres. I thought the Avengers did this as well but the wiki article shows I was mistaken.
posted by elizardbits at 7:08 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


is "snakeballs" something you say in chinese?

i just got over watching 'John Carter' and it seems like not only have the plots of big summer sci-fi movies disintegrated but they seem to be trying to break the bonds of coherent speech as well. That movie was full of phrases, utterances really, that I'm sure have never appeared in english...
posted by ennui.bz at 7:14 AM on July 28


The Chinese-audience-pandering is becoming a thing nowadays, isn't it?

Local-audience-pandering has always been a thing. Gilbert and Sullivan musicals having a few lyrics changed to throw in a gag relevant to the local audience is a practice as old as Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, as one example among probably hundreds of thousands.
posted by mhoye at 7:21 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


AMERICA #2 OR #3!!!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Including stuff that's relevant to the audience is fine - a bit jarring when it goes into every cut, but whatever. The propaganda is what makes me want to hit somebody.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:37 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I feel like the real takeaway is that "big dumb effects spectaculars have gotten so big you can't just sell them to America". This is not sustainable.
posted by egypturnash at 7:39 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


And yet, it still doesn't explain that weird scene with the laminated card.
posted by mochapickle at 7:46 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


JOE: I'm learning French.

ABE: Why the fuck French?

JOE: I'm going to France.

ABE: You should go to China.

JOE: I'm going to France.

ABE: I'm from the future. You should go to China.
posted by mightygodking at 7:47 AM on July 28 [17 favorites]


The New Anerican Century is over. It's the New Chinese Century now.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:15 AM on July 28


It continues to surprise me that jingoistic American voters aren't at all concerned about China's swift economic and political ascent. They freak right the hell out about starving children immigrants at our southern border but seem utterly uninterested in the nation displacing America as the world's biggest economy, even though millions of American jobs have been lost in that process. I've certainly never heard any politician bring it up. And I can see why not, I guess; but it's still odd to me that even the politicians whose personal brand is all about speaking unpopular (and frequently morally reprehensible or factually invalid) truths, or Defending America, have nothing to say about it.
posted by clockzero at 8:29 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Our modern-day capitalists seem excessively inclined to defer to the authority of the sources of capital regardless of any other allegiances, duties or considerations that might otherwise come to bear. China's one of the biggest capital holders in the US economy now. So by the logic of this particular myopic strain of market culture, China is one the most important authorities in our economy and political system now.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:40 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


But you're right--it is weird how little the increasing extent of China's political and economic influence in the US upsets the gung ho patriot types. I guess it's because their historical political heroes were the ones who put this new economic dynamic into motion (between Nixon and Reagan, mainly).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:44 AM on July 28


Transformers 3 was the funniest movie ever created when it was released. No aspect of it passes a glancing logic check and the product placement is outstanding.

Transformers 4 somehow manages to surpass it. There is an oreo transformer. Wahlberg hams all of his lines in what can only be an intentional manner. He shoots a sword gun. For the 4th time, the history of transformers on Earth is completely retconned. I'm pretty sure at this point Bay has never seen any of the finished films.

Please see this movie.
posted by MangyCarface at 8:45 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Please see this movie.

That would mean adding my money to the Chinese, and helping pave the way for Transformers 5. So, no.
posted by JHarris at 8:50 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Transformers 6: The Planet of the Earth
posted by clockzero at 8:53 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Yes but you COULD see a hilariously ill-subtitled foreign camrip, which can only serve to make it more enjoyable.
posted by elizardbits at 8:53 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Alternately, the Dare to be Stupid sequence from the original movie is right there on Youtube.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:56 AM on July 28


You really don't understand. Wahlberg hits a bud light platinum(C) truck, opens his door to punch a bad guy in the face, and then flips the cap off a platinum and takes a swig.

Imagine the # of people who vetted, filmed, and post-production'd that scene
posted by MangyCarface at 8:58 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


You really don't understand. Wahlberg hits a bud light platinum(C) truck, opens his door to punch a bad guy in the face, and then flips the cap off a platinum and takes a swig.

Why are we exporting our venerated American beverages?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:06 AM on July 28


But you're right--it is weird how little the increasing extent of China's political and economic influence in the US upsets the gung ho patriot types.

Possibly because the last outbreak of Yellow Peril nativism kind of ended up being rather embarrassing. Anybody remember when Japan was the wave of the future? When Zaibatsus were going to own America and sinister Japanese businessmen were going to do the white slavery thing with Our Women? And then Japan's economy collapsed, and the nativists were left shuffling their feet and going "Umm...they might recover. Someday." It's kind of hard to work up a proper Yellow Peril frenzy after something like that. But give them time.
posted by happyroach at 9:12 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Why are we exporting our venerated American beverages?

See aforementioned article on repackaging things previously sold domestically for foreign markets.
posted by JauntyFedora at 9:14 AM on July 28


But you're right--it is weird how little the increasing extent of China's political and economic influence in the US upsets the gung ho patriot types.


I know that the Mallard Fillmore comic occasionally takes shots at China -- don't ask me why or how I know that -- and I think you can spot the occasional right-wing talk show host dissing China in a kind of "Why isn't Barack HUSSEIN Obama doing more to stop China from taking over the world?!!!11! Is it because he's WEAK?!!1eleventy!" way

Regarding the movies, as someone who loved Transformers dearly as a child -- I used to have the descriptions and stats from the characters' toy boxes memorized -- I have enjoyed each Transformers film as a comedic take on originally semi-serious source material, a la the old Batman TV show.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:26 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Alternately, the Dare to be Stupid sequence from the original movie is right there on Youtube.

So it is. The problem with Transformers 4 might be that it needs more Weird Al. Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep nini bong.
posted by sfenders at 9:34 AM on July 28


Thing is, Happyroach, the real risks have always been a lot more subtle and IMO even more oppressive than those lazy racist fantasies. More on the order of a memo coming down from "Headquarters" (meaning, a big investor like China) to a bunch of American companies dictating some new hiring policy that subtlety has the effect of furthering a larger political or economic aim. If we defer to the authority of corporate rules by default under the law and then those corporate rules start getting set by outside interests, we run a pretty serious risk of letting those outside interests dictate a lot of the rules that most directly impact our daily lives in practice. People should be worried about that. But instead, they worry about more cartoonish, hyperbolic threats because those are easier to visualize concretely. The Chinese people are not our enemy.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:38 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I knew it! It's the Bulgarians!
posted by Mister_A at 9:44 AM on July 28


They hate us for our freedom; I hate them for their amazing feta, which I would gladly trade a bunch of freedom for.
posted by Mister_A at 9:45 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I have enjoyed each Transformers film as a comedic take on originally semi-serious source material, a la the old Batman TV show.

I think that's a great comparison. I'm a fan of both, and as much as I prefer the dark and brooding Batman, I definitely still love Adam West's version. Michael Bay has made some odd choices—Galvatron, Jetfire, turning Hound into Kup, etc—but I like seeing them even if I don't necessarily agree with them.

Sorry, not to derail. There's a Transformers 4 thread open here. On topic, I definitely noticed the China stuff in the theater, but it didn't bother me as a viewer. I didn't think it added to or detracted from the movie. As an American citizen, no comment.
posted by cribcage at 9:55 AM on July 28


Yeah, there's a passable CAM torrent out there now if you're into pain.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 9:57 AM on July 28


American movies conquer the Chinese market => American filmmakers pander to the Chinese audience
Chinese manufacturing outstrip American production => Chinese workers take American jobs

America the put-upon, its population ever so underprivileged. Nowadays the average American earns scarcely five times the average Chinese's income! Whatever will America do? /sheds tears
posted by fatehunter at 10:06 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


They hate us for our freedom; I hate them for their amazing feta, which I would gladly trade a bunch of freedom for.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary feta, deserve neither Liberty nor feta.
posted by Hamusutaa at 10:11 AM on July 28 [8 favorites]


America the put-upon, its population ever so underprivileged.

I think pandering was clearly the wrong word for me to use if it's made my comment seem like I have a problem with adding scenes to US-filmed movies to make them appeal to an international audience, because I am definitely not against it in any way, nor do I have any of these weird nationalistic sentiments that your comment seems to suggest.
posted by elizardbits at 10:21 AM on July 28


There is nothing in principle wrong with Hollywood pandering to audiences in different countries, but by the same token, no one should be surprised or offended, either, if people in the countries a particular film isn't pandering to scratch their heads or grumble about it (or maybe even refuse to buy it). American audiences still want movies that pander to them, too, and that's their right as much as anybody's. The markets are supposed to respond to a variety of demands from different consumers, not just shove the same product down everyone's throats because it's easier to set things up that way on the production side.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:29 AM on July 28




nor do I have any of these weird nationalistic sentiments that your comment seems to suggest

Your comment isn't the problem. "Pandering" has a negative tone compared to "appealing", but they're basically the same thing. It's a fact that Hollywood tries to appeal to the Chinese audience.

The ~Rise of China~ comments are the problem. It's bizarre to me how, even on MeFi, Americans seem to think that the world owes them their rightful place on top and any hint of competition is a serious threat. The epitome of the privileged acting overly entitled and defensive.
posted by fatehunter at 10:38 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Some of us Americans have never been into the America #1 crap in the first place and basically believe all people should more or less just leave each other alone except to help each other out when there's a need and a capability, rather than thinking of all human life and history as an epic struggle to the death among various hostile forces trying to conquer each other and impose personal preferences on each other through force. Michael Bay does not have to make and release big films to American audiences that weren't really made for them. And we don't have to buy them. There should be enough room for everyone to get pandered to equally.

I know most of the world has been lapping up American cultural products for decades. In Germany when I used to visit my family there, practically all most people watched were overdubbed American TV shows and films. But as far as I know, we didn't dictate those choices to the rest of the world. The demand for our products was just there organically. Why should American audiences have to buy products intended for Chinese audiences and vice versa if they don't want to? What does pointing out that that's not how markets are supposed to work have to do with "America being at the top"?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:45 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


It continues to surprise me that jingoistic American voters aren't at all concerned about China's swift economic and political ascent.

Huh, really? I'm always struck with the opposite thing; how Americans seem so obsessed with being knocked from Top Nation status by China.
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I got a 45-minute tipsy lecture yesterday from my brother-in-law about the Rise of China and What It Means for Poor Ol' America.
posted by COBRA! at 10:54 AM on July 28


They seem to be obsessed with the top-nation thing, but in a completely ineffective, divorced from reality sort of way that in practice means nothing. Personally, I think the people harmed most by the current cozy relationship between American big business and China are the Chinese people, and the race-baiting thing is just a cowardly way to squash any attempts to talk seriously about that.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:59 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Yeah the jinogistic sinophobia is absolutely a thing, even in academic international relations scholarship. On the other hand, one possible reason it's not AS loud as one might expect is lingering embarassment over how everyone freaked out about the rise of Japan in the 1980s just before their economy overheated and they suffered through the Lost Decade (which was really more like the lost 15 years). Remember how every cyberpunk or scifi book/movie from the late 80s had the Japanese taking over everything? Remember the collective media freak-out when a Japanese backed investment group bought Rockefeller Center in 1989?
posted by Wretch729 at 11:04 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


If, before going to see #4 in a theater, you want to quickly catch up on the three previous Transformer movies, the Half in the Bag movie reviews watched all three of them in parallel for you.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:52 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


"But you're right--it is weird how little the increasing extent of China's political and economic influence in the US upsets the gung ho patriot types."

Possibly because the last outbreak of Yellow Peril nativism kind of ended up being rather embarrassing. Anybody remember when Japan was the wave of the future? When Zaibatsus were going to own America and sinister Japanese businessmen were going to do the white slavery thing with Our Women? And then Japan's economy collapsed, and the nativists were left shuffling their feet and going "Umm...they might recover. Someday." It's kind of hard to work up a proper Yellow Peril frenzy after something like that. But give them time.


It's not an endorsement of nativist mentality to express some surprise that there isn't more of it where one might expect to find it, just to be clear about my own position.

The ~Rise of China~ comments are the problem. It's bizarre to me how, even on MeFi, Americans seem to think that the world owes them their rightful place on top and any hint of competition is a serious threat. The epitome of the privileged acting overly entitled and defensive.

I can't speak for anyone else, but to the extent that you're referring to something I said, I think my comments are being subtly interpreted differently than I meant them. I don't think America deserves, in some transcendental sense, a particular position in the world; rather, I was expressing surprise that people who do think that way are more worked up, when they turn their attention to "foreign threats," about (e.g.) the child immigrant crisis on the US's southern border than the long, slow supplanting of US hegemony by China (and other nations). I'm not saying Americans are insufficiently entitled, I'm saying it's weird that their sense of entitlement is so arbitrarily applied or directed when you consider the empirical facts.

"It continues to surprise me that jingoistic American voters aren't at all concerned about China's swift economic and political ascent."

Huh, really? I'm always struck with the opposite thing; how Americans seem so obsessed with being knocked from Top Nation status by China.


We must be observing different groups. But even if we aren't, I'd say that there's a difference between a vague sense of disappearing prestige, on the one hand, and a coherent conception of the very real and not at all symbolic material success which China has been enjoying, and the economic/political implications of that success, on the other. I'm surprised that more people who tend to be preoccupied by the symbolic status of their nation, as you say, have almost no interest or investment in the latter branch of that distinction.

Yeah the jinogistic sinophobia is absolutely a thing, even in academic international relations scholarship.

I see some of that in my field, too; I'm surprised not to see more of it in, say, Republican primaries, which are like petri dishes for the laboratory of irrational, racist, nativist American prejudice.

But I think the key there is "irrational". Politicians who appeal to those prejudices exclusively focus on false threats, because if they talked about real ones at all they'd have to actually address them.

Yeah, I got a 45-minute tipsy lecture yesterday from my brother-in-law about the Rise of China and What It Means for Poor Ol' America.

From the mouths of babes, and people inebriated unto babyhood.
posted by clockzero at 1:47 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Some of us Americans have never been into the America #1 crap in the first place and basically believe all people should more or less just leave each other alone except to help each other out when there's a need and a capability, rather than thinking of all human life and history as an epic struggle to the death among various hostile forces trying to conquer each other and impose personal preferences on each other through force.y

I know you're coming from a good place saulgoodman, but I don't agree that we can just cast those ideas off so easily. Nobody can ignore the last 200 years of history, one that has the United States eventually becoming THE world leader, while a former world leader, China, basically not only declined but went through a "Century of Humiliation". Then, slowly and painfully climb back up to a world power, that has gleaming cities, bullet trains, hosts Olympic Games, sits on the G-20, UNSC, and talks as an EQUAL to the US and Russia instead of a client state. It's an achievement born of struggle, and there should be some recognition and back patting due this. Note, just like any country, it's not an excuse to descend into hostile jingoism. But, I mean, it's just a tiny little bit of Transformers, and that should be totally cool.

And, I don't entirely get the concern of "pandering/appealing" to the Chinese audience. It's still an American movie, a huge flexing American-flag tattood-bicep reaching into China and picking up gobs of moolah to stuff into the pockets of Hollywood. Where's the huge equivalent Chinese bicep? Yes, there's a trade imbalance, but China is still buying US bonds, and contrary to some alarmists, this still means the US holds more power in this relationship than China. But, that's economic talk. When I say equivalent bicep, I mean more cultural/soft power, like where's the Chinese Michael Bay with the Chinese Transformers pandering to American (and worldwide) audiences? Despite being such a big global power, there hasn't been a huge renaissance of Chinese art, animation, comics, pop music, soap operas, TV shows, video games, books, or movies. Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have WAY more cultural capital in this regard. The Chinese government is well aware of this gap, because it imposes movie quotas and protectionist measures that favor domestic Chinese media, which also partially influences why Hollywood movies adjust their content for a Chinese audience. It just makes sense to increase your chances to become one of the lucky 34 (soon to be 44) foreign movies that get released in China and also to make the most of it when you do get into the market.
posted by FJT at 3:45 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I was expressing surprise that people who do think that way are more worked up, when they turn their attention to "foreign threats," about (e.g.) the child immigrant crisis on the US's southern border than the long, slow supplanting of US hegemony by China (and other nations). I'm not saying Americans are insufficiently entitled, I'm saying it's weird that their sense of entitlement is so arbitrarily applied or directed when you consider the empirical facts.

I think there are two primary reasons this doesn't get more attention from the Manifest Destiny crowd (which makes up a substantial minority of my Facebook friends, because we don't get to choose the culture we're born into):

1) There's nothing we can do about it - effective nuclear parity for purposes of Mutually Assured Destruction, so any direct force is right out* and competition is reduced to economics where they're widely perceived as winning on merits.

2) Their rate of growth is probably not sustainable - anyone can look at the pictures of Beijing's air pollution and immediately grasp this fact. Those with the capacity for minimal research can look at the growth curve for China's electricity needs vs. projected availability and grasp this on a slightly deeper level. In either case it's sufficient reassurance along the lines noted above, re: "Oh it's just Japan in the 80s all over again."


*This demographic largely receive their geopolitical understanding from, in all seriousness, Tom Clancy novels. Even in that context attempting to for-real slug it out with China is considered a no-go.
posted by Ryvar at 6:53 PM on July 28


FJT: I don't think we really disagree at all. I don't think the fact that Bay shot a scene for Chinese audiences really does rise to a level I would personally feel like complaining about, but even a lot of big box office movies released domestically (according to the industry pundits at least) are being crafted to appeal primarily to more lucrative international markets now, as that's where these films are actually making most of their revenue. None of that is bad in itself really, except that American audiences still have every right to want and expect big box office movies made to appeal to them, too. And it would be nice if Hollywood could somehow get back to taking more risks on screenplays with original stories. I come across people grumbling about the declining quality of American films so often now it's almost become cliche--but I don't think the complaints are entirely unjustified. Business planning rather than creative vision seems to be driving the car a little too often now.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:54 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Transformers 6: The Planet of the Earth

You left off the best part of that movie poster - the subline "Written by No One".
posted by FatherDagon at 9:00 PM on July 28


AMERICA #2 OR #3!!!
posted by Brandon Blatcher


I apologize on the behalf of Canada, and the rest of the diverse Americas, some of whom have great personalities despite their father's political views, for bringing down the average.
posted by porpoise at 11:07 PM on July 28


I am in China now, and while I am more than happy to eat Transformer-themed oreos, I just don't see the value proposition in seeing this shitshow of a movie.

You can thank the foreign market for saving Edge of Tomorrow. That was a hell of a great movie, I loved watching it in 3d Imax. why didn't you go see it in America?
posted by illuminatus at 4:33 AM on July 29


They hate us for our freedom; I hate them for their amazing feta, which I would gladly trade a bunch of freedom for.

Greeks called dibs on feta. But if you can get Bulgarian products, it's all about pork, which is extremely delicious.
posted by ersatz at 6:44 AM on July 29


You can thank the foreign market for saving Edge of Tomorrow. That was a hell of a great movie, I loved watching it in 3d Imax. why didn't you go see it in America?

Too busy complaining that everything is a sequel or a reboot.
posted by dogwalker at 12:00 PM on July 29


I saw it! In 3D! On opening day!

#notallfilmgoingamericans
posted by maxsparber at 12:20 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


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