The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

NASA’s crawler-transporter: large piece of machinery or giant alien robot? (credit: NASA)

Rise of the machines

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I hate Michael Bay.

I realize that this may not be the bravest and most original position to take, but I’m pretty unabashed about it. I consider him a talentless hack, a truly awful filmmaker. The fact that Bay not only continues to make movies, but that Americans see them in droves, has convinced me that a) there is no god, and b) my fellow countrymen have no taste at all.

Over the years there have been a number of movies and a few television shows that have filmed at Kennedy, although far fewer than you would expect considering that the location is historic and iconic, and filled with lots of cool hardware.

Oh, there are lots of reasons why I hate the guy besides the fact that he fills his movies with awful actors, insipid dialogue, and groan-inducing inappropriate slapstick humor. He is really bad as an action director, for instance. The best action directors—James Cameron, for example—are really good at filming and editing in such a way that the audience is able to follow the characters and everything that is going on. Bay, however, just throws stuff on the screen. Watch the opening sequence of Transformers 2—or the long end sequence, for that matter—and try to figure out what the hell is going on. You can’t. It’s impossible to figure out the bad robots from the good ones, and who’s winning and who’s losing, and why the military guys keep shooting even though it doesn’t do a damn thing. And stuff happens in his movies that makes no sense at all. Like why do his characters walk places when their pet robot could just turn into a car and drive them there? Or how come his robots can suddenly teleport, or turn into hot coeds who enroll in college in order to seduce and then kill dumb teenagers? Plus, he doesn’t care about even basic continuity (see the aforementioned movie and spot the dumb math error when the robots dive in the ocean to resurrect Megatron, or notice that the aircraft carrier that gets sunk in the middle of the movie appears again later at the end). Plus, Bay’s movies are all idiotically loud. I blame my hearing loss on the fact that I watched the first two hours of Armageddon back in 1998 before I finally walked out of the theater. My ears didn’t stop ringing until 2002.

So yeah, I really really hate Michael Bay.

But surprisingly, I found myself somewhat less than dismayed to learn that Bay is going to film parts of Transformers 3 at the Kennedy Space Center this fall.

Over the years there have been a number of movies and a few television shows that have filmed at Kennedy, although far fewer than you would expect considering that the location is historic and iconic, and filled with lots of cool hardware. Space Cowboys filmed there a decade ago, and Armageddon a few years before that. There was also the 1996–1997 TV show The Cape, about a group of shuttle astronauts. A lot of space enthusiasts hated The Cape, but I thought that it had its moments, such as giving Adam Baldwin his first opportunity to play a space traveler. (Alas, sadly it is not available on DVD.) The original Star Trek had an episode that partly took place at what was then called Cape Kennedy, but did not actually film there, with an alien operative named Gary Seven attempting to sabotage a Saturn V launch. Perhaps the movie that took the greatest advantage of the location was unfortunately the terminally boring Marooned.

My own personal favorite KSC appearance was in a two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man filmed in 1977. The episode featured a number of unique shots of the space center, including a scene on the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building, and another in the blast room under one of the Saturn launch pads. Although I was never a big fan of the show as a kid, I thought that this episode was incredibly cool because of all the scenes of KSC. But most importantly, it had the lovely Jenny Agutter playing a British astronaut. I had a big crush on Jenny Agutter (and her adorable nose), and was terribly disappointed when I learned that Britain didn’t have any astronauts who looked like her. (Sadly, The Six Million Dollar Man is also not available on DVD, at least not in the United States.)

Transformers 3 might actually show NASA in a positive light.

So now Michael Bay’s headed to the Cape, and at least part of the action will involve a shuttle launch. Perhaps at some point we’ll see giant robots climbing the launch towers and maybe even the VAB. Apparently, in the original Japanese animated Transformers series, there’s a Decepticon ridiculously named Astrotrain whose secret identity is a space shuttle, or a train (I don’t know, I don’t read Japanese, and the entire genre has always seemed so silly and stupid that I’ve never paid any attention to it). Maybe the crawler-transporter is a Constructicon, perhaps capable of teleporting and traveling through time. It probably will make no sense at all, because Bay doesn’t care about such trivia as plot and logic; he just wants to blow stuff up.

When government agencies grant filmmakers permission to film on government property and use government hardware, they almost always require script approval so that the government doesn’t look bad. In Armageddon, NASA got to save the planet and the NASA administrator was portrayed as a hero (although NASA’s asteroid survey program somehow failed to spot a Texas-sized rock until it was almost too late). Bay clearly loves military hardware, and his Transformer movies are practically recruiting films for all the time they devote to planes and tanks and ships. Transformers 3 might actually show NASA in a positive light.

Now there’s no point in reading symbolism into most human activities, and certainly no point in reading it into Michael Bay films. But it is at least worth noting that while Hollywood makes billions of dollars with movies involving space travel and alien robots, the American space program is heading toward an extended gap in its ability to launch astronauts into space. And of course, during this same gap, America’s robots will be landing on Mars, orbiting Jupiter and several asteroids, and zooming past Pluto. But the movie-going public isn’t very interested in those kinds of robots.

Although I hate Michael Bay with all my soul, if Crawlerbot throws Endeavourbot into the VAB and the building comes crashing down, maybe we’ll get lucky and the debris will crush Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox flat and end the series once and for all. Loudly, of course.

If that happens, I’ll probably go see it.