Few successful directors in Hollywood could be characterised as shrinking violets. But, even when judged by the flamboyant standards of his profession, Michael Bay stands out. It's not just that he's six foot two and skinny; rather it's the unrestrained glee he gets from directing critically reviled boys' own fantasies like The Rock (1996) and Armageddon (1998), and watching audiences lap them up around the world.
"Bombastic" and "brash" are the epithets that dog Bay. Still, if he's ebullient and just a little pleased with himself when he arrives at the Beverly Hills hotel I meet him in, then you get the sense that behind the wide smile and fast mouth lurks an altogether shyer person. Bay's career, though, was nurtured by Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, the producers who made excess the mantra of Eighties Hollywood and who were masters of the black art of hype. So, talking a good movie is second nature to him. In fact, the 36-year-old Bay has never made a film without Bruckheimer, and the pair are now back with their most ambitious project yet, Pearl Harbor. A three-hour war movie with the highest budget in Hollywood history - a reported $135m - it moves between the States and England, before climaxing with the recreation of the Japanese Navy's devastating surprise attack on the US Navy's Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii on 7 December, 1941.
Unashamedly manipulative and pro-American, it follows the template laid down by Titanic in revisiting a traumatic piece of history and using it as the hook for a modern epic with lots of action and an overblown love story - in this case between Ben Affleck's fighter pilot and Kate Beckinsale's nurse. "I kept saying to everyone, `I want to do a serious movie'," claims Bay. "Then one of my friends at Disney said, `Are you interested in the idea of a movie about Pearl Harbor?' and I'm like, `Who would be crazy enough to do something like that?'"
The answer is obvious. Pearl Harbor is the perfect vehicle for Bay, who has an undeniable eye for spectacular shots and a talent for organisation that enabled him to run 12 cameras and oversee a vast cast and crew and hundreds of extras. Not only that, it's also a chance for him to make a film that might appeal to people over the age of 18 - because, for all his boasts about Armageddon's $500m worldwide box office gross, Bay is touchy about the critical ridicule his past films have been subjected to.
"Of course, it's good to have respect; but Steven Spielberg, they used to go about him, `Oh, he's just a commercial film-maker,' and they used to thrash his name around. You know what? You've got to learn somewhere. They're stepping stones. Bad Boys [his debut feature] was a shitty script and we did it for no money. The Rock was fun because of the charisma between Sean Connery and Nic Cage. Armageddon was a fantasy made for 15-year-olds. This is a movie that I think has got a much broader appeal. It's serious," he stresses again.
Ironically, Spielberg's one huge flop was 1941, a misjudged comedy set in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. …