RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: June 2014

Girl Meets World and the Trouble with Nostalgia Culture

Girl Meets World and the Trouble with Nostalgia Culture

Forget all the complaints about the nuked refrigerator, the monkey vine jeep chase, Mutt Williams, and the aliens, because those are all arbitrary complaints which have the same general base anyway. Here’s the real reason you hated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: You grew up. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was then made, marketed, and presented to the grown-up you, so you were incapable of applying your nostalgia goggles to it. Therefore, you saw right through the presentation and got a big load of the fact that the Indiana Jones series is, objectively, comically ridiculous. Unfortunately, you’re still not capable of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade through anything but your nostalgia goggles – or maybe unwilling – so you’re still blind to how silly those movies all are. You walked into Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking you still had the same mindset you did as a kid, watching Indy beat up those Nazis and Thuggies for the first time ever, and were expecting to be blown similarly away, but it didn’t happen because you’re a lot more critical in your old age. Meanwhile, you saw a movie in which absolutely nothing you complained about couldn’t also be applied to every other movie in the series.

On June 27, we saw the premiere of the Disney Channel show Girl Meets World. Girl Meets World is the very direct sequel to one of the most beloved family sitcoms of the 90’s, Boy Meets World. By that, I mean Girl Meets World focuses on Riley Matthews, the daughter of Cory and Topanga Matthews, two of the characters from the original series who met the world. Both Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel are reprising their original roles in Girl Meets World. The show’s writers, though, have backed themselves into a weird corner. The audience that still reveres Boy Meets World is now all grown up, and Girl Meets World was picked up by the Disney Channel. Judging from strictly the pilot episode of Girl Meets World, the show is now trying very, very hard to attract the nostalgic demographic of people who grew up watching its predecessor while trying to make everything acceptable to the childrens’ gatekeepers with the Almighty Mouse. Disney’s censors haven’t loosened up their clamps any. I caught the pilot of Girl Meets World myself, and while it delighted me to a point, it still felt pretty stilted. Although I’m in my 30’s, I’m no stranger to the sitcoms there; they remind me a little bit of the old Nickelodeon sitcoms I loved. I’ve taken a particular liking to Liv and Maddie, a show about twins, and Austin and Ally, a show about a duo of musicians. So I have a good idea of exactly what gets done in Disney Channel sitcoms. Strictly in that context, I was happy enough with Girl Meets World to be curious about how it develops. It’s a Disney Channel sitcom, after all, and it did everything that was asked and expected of a good Disney Channel sitcom. But if the writers don’t get the show settled in, well, let’s just say it will not end well.

We’ve been hearing so many rumors about Girl Meets World for so long that we’ve built up a very steep set of expectations, which we then went and compared to a television ancestor that ran for seven years. During the time, Boy Meets World also happened to take on a sort of exulted status. Among people of my generation, Boy Meets World is remembered with (rightful) fondness as the arguable best of a bad genre of TV show. It never talked down to its audience, and main character Cory Matthews was a fine everykid who succeeded in conveying many of the real concerns and issues faced by kids his age. The senior show, though, is also being seen through its own nostalgia lens, and that built up its own reputation to a level which it probably doesn’t deserve. What a lot of fond remembrances of Boy Meets World online tend to do is gloss over the show’s worse aspects – even the normally insightful AV Club ended up blowing its review, which is really saying something. I followed Boy Meets World through its first three seasons or so, but dropped out after being put off after the sudden shift to a dramatic format and the show’s inability to find any stability. Years later, I caught almost every other episode in reruns, and it’s amazing how many people overlook the fact that Boy Meets World switched identities more often than Mystique. Despite only running seven years, Boy Meets World underwent so many different retoolings, you would have to use both fingers and toes to count them all. Boy Meets World also got to be pretty heavy-handed in its Aesop impersonations. The show had many strong points, but its strengths rarely all surfaced at the same time, and so it just wasn’t that good.

My generation probably isn’t the first to be obsessed with childhood nostalgia, but with mass communication and the internet, we’re probably the first generation that can put forth a reasonable effort to keep its childhood alive. Let’s be honest: We brought all the reboots, remakes, and rereleases on ourselves. It’s one of those great laws of economics: If you demand it, they will produce. Well, we started saying someone should begin rebooting all those stored memories of childhood pop culture, and now here we are. We’re seeing mass translations like never before, and in some cases, it’s pretty difficult to argue those in the nostalgia industry aren’t doing their jobs. Everything getting made is getting made by people our own age, trying to pitch the wares at the kids we’re having, and somehow we think we’ve earned the right to be upset at remakes of things we loved as kids when they’re being released for kids with a different understanding what a kickass cartoon is. On the off chance something is released to the adults, it’s inevitably going to be set in a more adult context. There’s the contradiction: Either get let down by a version marketed to kids because the quality of the original wasn’t quite as good as we thought, or get let down by a version marketed at adults because it lacks the sense of fun and amusement. There’s not much of an in-between here.

The pilot episode of Girl Meets World turned out odd because it nailed the contradiction of the nostalgia industry. It’s trying actively to have it both ways. Cory is being set up to be in the role that Feeny played for him in Boy Meets World, the influential teacher, except in this case he’s the father of the main character instead of the neighbor. Main characters Riley and Maya are clearly avatars of Cory and Shawn. Lucas is bland, but he seems set on a path which will make him Riley’s own Topanga. Auggie is coming off a lot like Morgan. Topanga herself may end up an avatar of Cory’s mother. The show even has an imitation of Minkus with Farkle, who – if the previews of future episodes are to be believed – is incidentally the son of Stuart Minkus himself. Feeny had a touching cameo in the pilot, and other rumored cameos are down the line (including a scene with the original Minkus, seen right in the series trailer). This was all clearly set to nab the nostalgia demographic, which was pining to see more of one of the most beloved TV couplings of the 90’s. According to the data released by the Girl Meets World website, some 1.6 million people in the 30-plus demographic tuned in to play catch-up.

For Girl Meets World to find any real footing, though, both the show’s creators and those 1.6 million people who watched the pilot are going to have to come to grips with the reality that this show isn’t about Cory and Topanga and the trials of their marriage and child-rearing. Despite the nostalgia trip, it’s meant to introduce the children of those 1.6 million people to a relatable character of their own who meets world on her own terms, and the pilot wasted no time or dialogue establishing that. Seriously, I could have made a drinking game out of how many times I heard references about Riley meeting the world.

The only things Girl Meets World could possibly be are two things which will be violently rejected by the Millennial watchers of the original Boy Meets World. If the show tried to revolve around Cory and Topanga and their lives as a married couple, we would reject it outright because the dynamic of the original show everyone still loves and reveres would be ruined. Yeah, everyone was all “aww!” when the couple finally made their overdue trip to the altar, but since they’re married and parents now, their concerns about their lives are a lot different, and I don’t think any Boy Meets World fan would want to spend a half hour a week watching them fight over finances, parenting methods, and the rank of the Philadelphia Phillies on Cory’s priorities list. Thus, everybody hates it. The other direction is to make it revolve around Cory and Topanga’s kids, which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. One of the appeals of Boy Meets World was that it never talked down at its audience, and that was because the characters were all relatable enough to be effective. Kids, though, aren’t going to understand problems in the adult world, so we can’t very well expect Riley and Auggie to pick up that slack themselves and become vessels for adult ideas. Think of how absurd that would be. While the kids are kids, there are certain problems and issues which tend to have limited cultural relevance, and so we can’t expect them to spew our old kiddie problems from our childhoods right back at us again. They’re going to be presented as children for the kids we’re having and raising ourselves, so it’s pretty stupid to think we’re going to have any real emotional stake in Girl Meets World the same way we did with its ancestor.

I’m hoping the best for Girl Meets World. As for all the adults who have any stakes in it, I leave you with the advice that Girl Meets World will work best if you’re able to recognize it for what it is: Not yours.

Advertisements

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

My fingers are short and stubby. They don’t seem quite right for a first time learner holding a classical-variety acoustic guitar. The classical acoustic guitar, as per its name, produces a very beautiful sound, but it doesn’t leave a ton of room for error. In order to eliminate unwanted twang and feedback, I have to press the strings and hold them completely against the fretboard, and classic acoustic guitars make that very difficult. The fretboard on a classical acoustic is flat instead of arched; the strings are wider apart than on most other guitars; the depth is greater than most other guitars (that means the distance between the strings and fretboard). My kingdom for a nice telecaster. I can perform a halfway decent version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” though, so at least my guitar can play the kind of music it got named after.

I’ve officially gone from being obsessed with playing video games to being obsessed with playing music. When I started to sit down and really learn to play guitar, I did it in part to improve my concentration and ability to linearize more analytical subject matter. You would think video games would be great for that, and to a point, they are. Playing video games isn’t like reading music, though. A video game level usually offers a number of subtle options which allow the gamer to adjust and strategize, tackling the level in a handful of different ways which all serve different purposes. There’s a way to run through a level which will be easiest for the gamer, and a way to do it which might be a lot tougher, but looks really cool to onlookers. Music notes, in contrast, are pretty linear. Certain aspects of a song can differ, but there’s generally one way to play it.

At a cursory glance, you would think 30 years of experience playing one would be a halfway decent start to trying to learn the other, but most video games require the use of maybe four or five different fingers at once, tops. If I decide to apply my experience as a writer to learning an instrument, well, the problem with that is that I use even less fingers on my computer keyboard than I do on my video game controllers. I know how to type properly, but I find it easier and far less painful – especially on my right hand – to just peck out everything on my two acting forefingers. A musical instrument will pretty much require nothing short of two extra fingers, and that’s just on my good hand. Herein lies the problem: My little stubs of fingers don’t like this weird new dance I’m busily forcing them to perform.

I can’t decide whether learning music is about analysis or good old-fashioned instinct, or even whether I’m ramping up the difficulty even further by wondering a question like that. It would seem like the kind of thing you have to be able to turn your brain on and off for. You know the drill – pick up the instrument, flick the off switch, and let your fingers ride like the wind into the sunset while everyone in the immediate vicinity starts comparing you to Jimi Hendrix. Of course, the problem with that is that you’re not actually learning very much by doing that, and you’d probably be booed out of some two-bit nightclub without 10000 practice hours and a very exacting idea of what to do. When I try to be analytical about reading music, I only end up playing like an honorary member of the Keystone Cops Accidental Musical Comedy Tribute Band: See note, dig through my mental archives in a desperate attempt to remember just which note on which string between which two frets I’m supposed to be plucking, pluck note, repeat process until I’ve been trying to play a minute-and-a-half-long song for about eleven minutes. And that’s provided it’s one of the easier songs I practice on. On a particularly difficult measure, I alternate glances between the page, my fingers, and the fretboard, trying to figure out exactly how to decode the weird alien language written down there until I inevitably sink into a default how-to-do-it mode of playing every note I know until I guess the one which sounds right.

Then, of course, instead of practicing until I know exactly what the hell I’m supposed to be doing, I go sit down at my computer and punch out a thousand words about just how much I suck at playing guitar. It’s my natural instinct, being a writer and all, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Like learning how to do anything else well, starting out as an amateur guitar player gave me a real respect for what the people who are already good at playing guitar can do. One of the first images that comes to mind is the music video for the classic AC/DC song “Thunderstruck,” which opens with a nice close-up of Angus Young’s fretboard as he plays the lightning-fast riffs. It gives me a sense of envy, watching Young as his fret hand glides all over, fingers moving nimbly with the grace and knowing order and purpose of spider legs. How the hell does he do that? One day, I hope to be that good. I also like to imagine there are great guitar players out there, somewhere, who once saw a smooth video gamer playing his best game and thought the same thing to themselves. The difference is that I’m not yet able to name any video gamer who managed to parlay his video game talents into worldwide fame and well-known status as a millionaire boozehound and sex god.

The Schlock-Down: Michael Bay vs. Roland Emmerich

The Schlock-Down: Michael Bay vs. Roland Emmerich

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I love a good, schlocky disaster movie, and as far as good, schlocky disaster movies go, 1998 was a real watershed year. We got two movies about giant asteroids slamming into the Earth, and another movie about a giant lizard wrecking Manhattan. The truly important aspect of 1998 in disaster movies, though, is that two of them were directed by two men whose names would soon go on to become synonymous epitomes of the schlock disaster movie genre: Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay. Today, of course, both of those directors are very well-known and widely panned as blights on silver screen entertainment, but back then, things were a little bit different. While both Emmerich and Bay were working directors, they were more or less fairly well-regarded newcomers who both showed a lot of promise with their genres. Both were a mere two years removed from blockbuster extravaganzas of movies; Emmerich’s Independence Day was the ruling box office champion of 1996 for miles, and Bay’s The Rock was fourth or fifth in the standings. While both of those movies have an enormous share of haters today, they were actually pretty well-received at the time.

1998, though, is when both directors – Bay in particular – started turning toward a drastic style shift. After making their first handful of movies in relative anonymity, Emmerich’s Godzilla and Bay’s Armageddon saw both of them turn toward the trademark styles they’ve come to define for themselves. They also started the shifting of the very ethos of disaster movies; whereas many previous disaster flicks made a point of focusing on the human drama surrounding disasters, the advent of CGI imagery allowed filmmakers to start zooming in more on the disasters themselves, and not many directors have been living and dying by that rule like Emmerich and Bay. While this has resulted in wholesale hatred from a lot of serious moviegoers and critics, its also resulted in big bucks from audiences who, no matter how much they love movies for their artistic merits, still believe movies are ultimately a form of escapism. This summer, Bay is acting as the producer of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (NOT the director, as many think), while helming the next Transformers movie. Emmerich, well, he’s related to this because there was a new Godzilla movie which was just released. And while I haven’t seen every movie by either director, I’m extremely well-versed in the work of both. So let’s do this! Roland Emmerich vs. Michael Bay. One day, I’ll learn.

Shooting Style
Basic style is what most people comparing Emmerich and Bay automatically think of, which is a perfectly natural thing to do because they do the same thing in such different ways. The best explanation I can give for their stylistic differences comes from an article I read recently on a site I can’t remember (I think it might have been Whatculture): Emmerich thinks of his sequences in terms of sequences while Bay sees sequences as sums of his shots. In Bay’s case, style results in a lot of confusion because he has a habit of trying to get every shot from every conceivable angle, and the final product will frequently produce all those different angles spliced together. The result is meant to look flashy and exciting, and there are times when it can work if it’s used right. Bay’s problem is his sworn reliance on that style, and the way he uses his lighting effects much of the time combines with his shot style to form something which tries to be edgy, but which has the potential to bring seizures. When Emmerich shoots a sequence, he wants viewers to behold the scale of the thing. Emmerich tends to rely a lot on wide pans which present a more contextual view of the destruction, and he’ll frequently add a little bit of accent by giving us occasional character viewpoints or otherwise showing us models of everyday cars or houses in order to let us grasp the sheer size of the event.
Winner
Roland Emmerich. Emmerich shoots his disasters to make them look like disasters, and you can’t help but marvel at the way he makes things collapse around and into themselves. I swear, Roland Emmerich movies have probably inspired the next generation of demolition experts.

Storytelling Style
Emmerich’s way of telling the stories in his movies often results in regular token critical beatings, but for some reason, he usually manages to escape without any real damage to his credibility. That’s a way of saying that while Emmerich is regularly hammered for his storytelling, everyone doing the hammering seems to forget about Emmerich’s story flaws until his next movie comes along. (The exception would be Independence Day, which people gleefully pick apart.) Of course, the best thing that can probably happen to stories in modern disaster movies is people forgetting them because they can be so redundant, but Emmerich does use staples. He frequently relies on the strength of the ensemble cast to try to bring human faces to his movies. Unfortunately, the trouble with ensemble casts is, between the multitude of characters and destruction, no one gets developed, and cheesy melodrama with the occasional high-handed Message becomes the order of nature for Emmerich. Even his better movies tend to rely on melodrama. Emmerich also has a thing for conspiracies and fringe theories – Roswell (Independence Day); Atlantis-like prehistoric civilization (10,000 BC); ancient astronauts (Stargate); and even Shakespeare not having written his own work (Anonymous) have all been explored by Emmerich, and it even culminated in an entire movie about that big-ass apocalypse we were supposed to have in 1012. Bay approaches his stories with more of a frat boy mentality. He’s best known for his explosions, in your face style of 90’s hubris humor, and frequent use of the USA military. Bay frequently defends himself against criticism by pointing out that his movies aren’t made for art house snobs, but this tends to show more in some of his movies than others. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is particularly egregious in its pandering to the young adolescent, with its servings of juvenile humor, explosions, and cleavage. Lately, Bay seems to enjoy overcooking his movies, and he seems to be falling back on certain safety tropes like the buddy movie (Bad Boys); the honorable sacrifice (Armageddon), and the aforementioned military porn (damn near all of them).
Winner
Roland Emmerich. Despite my own criticisms of Michael Bay, I’m entirely capable of enjoying his style. I just have to be in the right mood in order to swallow one of his increasingly long boom festivals. Where Emmerich really gets the edge, though, is in his concepts. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I do enjoy interesting ideas, and Emmerich likes to take fringe thoughts and run them to their furthest logical extremes.

Misguided Attempt at Historical Prestige Piece
Emmerich directed The Patriot in 2000, and Bay followed in 2001 with Pearl Harbor. Both movies revolved around huge seminal events in American history: The Patriot took place during the American Revolution and Pearl Harbor, of course, was about the Missouri Compromise. Both were written less with an emphasis on accuracy than jingoism, and therefore both are wildly inaccurate. Notoriously so, in fact, to the point that both have been singled out for inaccuracies many times in an industry where historical inaccuracy is not only accepted, but seen as a boon which keeps the story running. Both use black characters as tokens. Both paint the other side dark – The Patriot’s redcoats and Pearl Harbor’s Japanese are both seen as violent maniacs, although Pearl Harbor made a (very half-witted) attempt to tell things from Japan’s side. The Patriot is probably the more melodramatic – a daughter whose anger caused her to never talk? FUCKING REALLY?! – and the one that dodges history more; it ignores the slavery issue completely and Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, was based on Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, who in real life hunted Indians for fun and raped slaves. Pearl Harbor, meanwhile, shows the Japanese bombing civilians – which NEVER HAPPENED – and uses that damned trope where the badass fighter pilots basically get promoted for endangering themselves, other soldiers, and expensive military equipment. Both fall back into cliche and caricature repeatedly. Where they differ is that in Pearl Harbor, Michael Bay was trying to skirt James Cameron’s Titanic by setting up a love story through a disaster backdrop. That’s the biggest weakness of Pearl Harbor; the buildup is insufferable, the main characters – especially Ben Affleck’s Rafe – are either dumb or jerkasses, and the movie makes use of every love triangle cliche ever. The Patriot, meanwhile, is more interested in being American Braveheart. Emmerich even managed to cop Mel Gibson to play the lead, and Benjamin Martin is virtually indistinguishable from William Wallace. The Patriot, though, tries to play the action epic straight to what it is.
Winner
Roland Emmerich. Braveheart is a much better movie than Titanic, and so The Patriot succeeds in spite of itself and its ridiculous cliches. Besides, The Patriot really is an inspirational movie which uses plenty of action to spur the story along. With Pearl Harbor, Michael Bay basically forgot who he is and what he does. There’s no action until the halfway point and by then, you hope all the main characters are killed in the bombing. Also, the performances in The Patriot are infinitely better.

Popcorn Factor
It’s difficult to find the greatest moment of cheese from both Emmerich and Bay, but for different reasons. It was pointed out at me recently that Emmerich’s movies have a common vein running through them in the way they bring people of all different backgrounds together in the face of whatever worst case scenario Emmerich is peddling this time. It’s not as if Emmerich doesn’t have any sense of fun in his movies, but it’s so buried behind his other themes, it doesn’t even seem like it’s there half the time. The Patriot may be his most unintentional moment of cheese, but for sheer schlock value, it doesn’t get much better than Independence Day. Even Independence Day is played a bit too seriously for its own good, though, between the comedic moments of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and the melodramatic moments being written and performed in a subtle manner which makes them pretty affecting. It’s hard to pick a particular moment for Michael Bay, too, but that’s because his career has been nothing but highball cheese. If I had to pick off the top, though, it’s almost certainly Armageddon. The first half of Armageddon comes off like a comedy; the second half like a drama, and Bay makes no effort to hide the shift; he switches gears the moment the movie does. Bay knows what kinds of movies people enjoy seeing in the theater, and he goes out of his way – frequently to his own detriment – to show that movies are supposed to be fun.
Winner
Michael Bay. Emmerich too frequently forgets people don’t pay ticket money to see his movies for high-handed messianic messages. Bay, for the most part, remembers he’s an entertainer above all else even in his worst moments. The one time he forgot it was when he made Pearl Harbor, but he seems to have realized his mistake there and gone right back to what he knows best.

Best-Reviewed Movie
I’m getting my information from Rotten Tomatoes, which includes heavy critical archives, and besides, I was listed there myself as a critic when Netjak was still running. Bay’s best-rated movie was The Rock, which scored a solid 67 percent. Emmerich’s best-rated was The Patriot, which scored a respectable 62 percent. (Independence Day scored 60 percent.) From objective standpoints, it’s difficult to argue either one; although I’m not sure I would score The Patriot higher than Independence Day, I’ll go with it. The Rock has Bay directing almost perfectly to type – it’s an adrenaline action thriller movie with clear nods to Die Hard, which I would give it a favorable comparison to. Where Bay isn’t actually directing to type, though, are points where he’s directing above the tropes he’s known for. The characters in The Rock are formulaic as hell, but they’re not insufferably immature or stupid, and all are played with conviction by Oscar-winning actors Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. None of Bay’s juvenile humor is here, and so we get an action movie which is fun and exciting without trying too hard. From Emmerich, there’s The Patriot, which has excellent action sequences as well, complimented by compelling performances. The scale tips at the amount of bloat and caricature, and The Patriot has this in spades. Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Tcheky Karyo, and the rest are intense and compelling in their parts, but they aren’t enough to make anyone forget how melodramatic and choppy the script can be.
Winner
Michael Bay. Given the choice of The Rock or The Patriot, there’s no question which one I’d rather watch. As much as I enjoy The Patriot, the movie is still a little too bloated for its own good, and the actors aren’t good enough to excuse the melodrama. The Rock is shorter, moves faster, is free of any melodrama, and while Bay was directing into type, he frequently chooses to take the high road, and you know what? While Michael Bay will probably never be mistaken for an artiste, when he has an array of great actors and ignores juvenile humor to focus on action, he’s a very good director. If Independence Day had only gotten three more points on the Tomatometer, things might have gone better for Emmerich, but it didn’t.

Worst-Reviewed Movie
Emmerich’s worst-rated Tomatometer movie is 10,000 BC, with eight percent. No surprise there. Bay’s is…. BAD BOYS II?! Yeah, it looks like critics are a bunch of fucking idiots again, because Pearl Harbor somehow managed to score two points higher than Bad Boys II – 25 percent to 23 percent. This is completely unacceptable to me because Pearl Harbor was as bad as it gets, while Bad Boys II was gloriously overblown, and one of the few movies to come out over the last decade which gave a real jolt of electricity to the catatonic genre. Unfortunately, the rules I made for this say I have to use the highest and lowest rated, not the ones I agree with. On the upside, though, I can spare everyone a real rant since I haven’t yet seen 10,000 BC. (Although I’m definitely planning to!)
Winner
None. It wouldn’t be fair to pick a winner when I haven’t seen both qualifying movies, although 10,000 BC has some real work cut out for it for me to prefer it to Bad Boys II.

Overkill
Michael Bay’s movies are filled with overkill. They’re overkill in and of themselves, but for the last seven years, Bay has been placing an emphasis on the Transformers series. The fourth Transformers movie will be released this month; Bay directed it, just as he did the last three. Transformers appears to be becoming Bay’s signature series; they comprise four of his last five movies as a director. They also run the gamut in quality; the original Transformers is seen as one of his best efforts; Revenge of the Fallen usually occupies discussions about whether or not it’s worse than Pearl Harbor, and while Bay himself does defend it, he admits it deserved a bit of the hate it got; and Dark of the Moon is generally seen as solid, if not great. Bay’s signature style is frequently referred to as “Bayhem,” and that’s a pretty decent summary of it. Not only is there a ton of action in a Michael Bay movie, but between the action and character threads, Bay’s movies tend to haphazardly tumble toward a conclusion, and so they are able to be mayhem even when there’s no mayhem. Also, Bay’s movies are getting longer and longer lately. Roland Emmerich’s movies also seem to be expanding in length quite a bit. Emmerich, however, usually isn’t privy to turning his movies into series (although the long-rumored Independence Day sequel is now officially slated for release next year) – in a lot of his movies, the world is virtually ruined by the end anyway, so it’s tough to make a sequel which would blow more shit up with no shit to blow up. Emmerich’s overkill is still there, though, which you can see in themes. He’s destroyed the world three separate times (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) and turned the White House into a target several times as well, in Independence Day, 2012, and White House Down. Emmerich makes such a habit of it, you would think he’s an honorary member of the Tea Party.
Winner
I’m calling this a draw. Much as I love both Emmerich and Bay, it would be difficult for me to really marathon with a collection of either of their movies.

Overall Body of Work
Believe it or not, both Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay have themes which reach across much of their bodies of work. Emmerich’s demolition festivals usually tend to unite people. He’s even told that common thread across dimensions in Stargate. A lot of Emmerich’s best-known movies feature it: Independence Day; The Day After Tomorrow; 2012; and even Godzilla all have that theme, and it’s blindingly apparent in each movie. Bay’s theme is broader: Let’s blow some shit up! As to the actual quality of their work, though, you have to first accept the fact their movies aren’t high art. Bay seems more aware of this than Emmerich, and he tends to embrace it in the name of escapist entertainment and commercial success. Emmerich isn’t quite so willing to fall into trope, and so while Michael Bay’s movies tend to be very similar to each other, Emmerich’s are a lot more sporadic as he tries to reach out to different genres. Aside from the disaster movies Emmerich is known for, he’s also frequently directed against type. We know Emmerich’s disaster movies, but Stargate; The Patriot; 10,000 BC; Anonymous; and White House Down aren’t really typical of Roland Emmerich. The results have varied – The Patriot was his best-received movie, remember, while 10,000 BC was the worst – but I have yet to see a Roland Emmerich movie I thought was a complete waste of time. Michael Bay is probably the worse director of the two, but it’s hard to tell since he is more prone to stay in his comfort zone with his signature style. The quality of his work is pretty varied as well – while Emmerich’s worst movie was more hated than Bay’s worst (Bad Boys II for the critics, Pearl Harbor for anyone else), his best (The Rock) is considered better than Emmerich’s best (The Patriot to many, Independence Day to me). Bay’s work, though, tends to lean into the terrible-but-entertaining categorization, and it’s hard to argue that any of his work could help define any genres. It’s easier to make the case for Emmerich because he was instrumental in redefining disaster movies for both better and worse. His straight disaster movies are eye-popping and convincingly use models and CGI. The Patriot aside, the only times people seem to truly hate Emmerich is when he directs against type.
Winner
I’m giving it to Roland Emmerich. Michael Bay is great in small doses, and he also has a habit of sticking to the things he knows. I appreciate Emmerich’s attempts to direct against his type more because his work outside his comfort zone at least tends to be interesting.

Roland Emmerich takes it against Michael Bay. I will note again, though, that I haven’t seen every movie by both directors, so I may end up feeling differently soon. The Michael Bay movies I missed, in fact, are The Island and Pain and Gain, both of which are lower-budget, more cerebral, and from what I’ve heard, more challenging and against type for Bay. From where I stand now, though, the champion is Emmerich.