There was a movie-theatre moment eight years ago when I thought Michael Bay might one day grow into a semi-mature film artist. Maybe. To my delight and surprise the opening seconds of Pearl Harbor began with Hans Zimmer‘s music playing for nine beautiful seconds over a black screen — a semi-overture, I thought at first. But the black gave way to a shot of World War I-era biplanes cruising over cornfields during magic hour — a middle-American nostalgia scene. But that black-screen opener was still…well, mildly impressive.

This YouTube clip cuts off a couple of seconds’ worth of blackness so it doesn’t give the full effect. The first 45 to 50 seconds of this clip are a little too photogenic in a slick-TV-ad sort of way, but they’re otherwise engaging and certainly restrained by Bay standards. If only he’d held that black screen for another five seconds!

I asked Bay about the blackness at a press conference the next day. He talked about how he had to fight hard to begin the film this way, especially since it meant not starting this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film with the traditional highway-tree-lightning Bruckheimer logo.

It wasn’t much of an artistic call on Bay’s part but it was at least something, I felt. I came away from Pearl Harbor half-convinced that if Bay ever wanted wanted to move beyond shallow whambam blockbuster movies that he had the potential to do so.

I was inspired to write this after reading Kim Morgan‘s recent review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. She also suspects that Bay has more in his quiver than he’s commonly given credit for.

“After settling into the second hour of the movie, dismayed I had over another hour ahead of me, it started to come to me: Michael Bay is a surrealist. He may not know he is, he may not like that I’m calling him one, but this money-sucking action filmmaker extraordinaire would do well by Bunuel or Jodorowksy or Gilliam or hell, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (which is absurdist surrealism at its finest, especially the ingenious movie, and the characters would have featured brilliantly in this picture — better than Bay’s ‘jive talking’ bots).

“If the filmmaker had some chutzpah, if he truly tapped into the melting pocket-watch corner of his brain, if he understood his full dreamweaving potential (because I do believe Michael Bay can ‘get me through the night’), the next Transformers would be titled Un Chien Andalou LaBeouf.”