When casting locations for the third installment in the Transformers series, Michael Bay turned to Milwaulkee's beautiful Art Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan, to provide some aesthetic relief from the grisly mechanics of the Autobots. Santiago Calatravas first building in the United States steals the show with its' vaulted cathedral-like entrance hall and dramatic sail roof. The wings on the roof form an operable brise soleil which elegantly opens and closes throughout the day, giving Optimus Prime a lesson in grace.
It is surprising that Calatravas particular brand of magic is not seen more frequently in feature films. His characteristic sculptural volumes and expressed skeletons create a striking spectacle that has infinite cinematic potential, but apart from the odd sighting in advertisements, Calatravas buildings remain largely unrecorded by fictional film. Possibly it has to do with timing and the locations of his work - the combination of easy logistics and industry incentives hadn't quite come together until the Transformer franchise took up the challenge with it's enviable production budget. The Spielberg series has a history of using ambitious locations having filmed in Jordan, Egypt, and China in the previous chapters so a building close to home was not too much of a stretch.
The film is essentially another installment in the campaign between the Autobots and the Decepticons and again has Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) paired with an outrageously beautiful girlfriend (this time Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), whom he supposedly met when she was working at the Whitehouse. She now works for billionare Dylan Gould, played by Patrick Dempsey whose auto museum is housed in the Art Gallery. Sam describes the building as ‘the starship enterprise’ and Dylan responds that it leaks. One guess who turns out to be a bad egg. The star lineup in this movie includes Buzz Aldrion (yes) and Hollywood heavyweights John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, who compete to get the best lines. McDormand wins with “We cannot entrust national security to teenagers. Unless I missed a policy paper. Are we doing that now? No? Good.” Somewhat undermining the whole premise of the movie.
Given the prevalence of transport facilities in Calatrava's portfolio, an auto display is quite a believable use and probably a good suggestion for curators of the museum. It's also no wonder that most of Calatrava's celluloid credits have been in car advertisements. Transit centres, bus stations and bridges all provide plenty of mesmerizing opportunities to film beautiful cars gliding by a graceful background. His sculptural forms also evoke a sense of movement and the flashing by of repetitive structural elements reinforce notions of speed and momentum. If Victor Gruen can have a phrase to describe the effect his designs have on consumers then perhaps there should be one to describe Calatravas influence on auto sales. Just a thought.