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Atlas Shrugged … and I nodded off

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 - DVD Review
Release Date: 11/08/11 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 1 Clacks

Ayn Rand's novel 'Atlas Shrugged' comes to the big ... I mean small screen and it's fantastic ... if you're having a bout of insomnia.

"Atlas Shrugged" on DVD and Blu-ray

Ayn Rand wrote four novels in her lifetime. Until now, only one had been made into a movie — 1949’s The Fountainhead starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. Rand’s novels have proven notoriously difficult to adapt, and that film was not received warmly, although it seems to have somewhat of a cult following today.

This week, a new film adaptation of another of Rand’s novels comes to home video after a brief and very limited theatrical run — Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. I’ve never read the novel, so I’ll try to describe the plot of the film as best as I can: Oil prices are so outrageously high in 2016, that the train has become the preferred method of transportation. The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad Company seems to have a monopoly on the rail system, but a series of disasters and derailments have sent the company’s stock plunging while the company’s president sits idly by making deals with his cronies for more steel rails. James Taggert’s sister, Dagny, takes matters into her own hands and makes a deal with Henry Rearden to purchase his new, stronger, but untested steel. For some reason, the government is trying to make it impossible for this deal to transpire, with Congress passing a new law that forbids any one company from owning multiple businesses (so much for small government). Rearden has to start parceling out his various corporations, but he refuses to give up the steel company as he and Dagny forge ahead to get the new rails laid before her company loses any more business.

While all of this is happening, some mysterious guy in a trenchcoat and fedora, seen only in silhouette, is paying a visit to various billionaire businessmen, promising them a life of freedom if they step away from the business world, leaving the rest of the world with one question: Who is John Galt?

Unfortunately, that question isn’t answered in the movie, and will probably never be answered (at least cinematically). You read the title of the film correctly, Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. Don’t hold your breath for a Part 2 or Part 3 (the film in which we are finally supposed to see Galt in the flesh). I had heard that the movie was spectacularly bad, so I was willing to take the bullet and have a look at the DVD. The best I can say about the movie is that it makes a great sleep aid because I was ready to doze off after about 20 minutes. The movie really is incomprehensible and dull because nothing ever happens. People sit around and talk in lavishly appointed board rooms, restaurants, and bedrooms. There are beautifully shot landscapes where nothing happens. There is a not-too-badly rendered CGI train sequence that made me think of the infamous old TV series Supertrain (and check out the cardboard train in the still above), which I would happily watch again rather than this movie!

There are a lot of familiar TV actor faces throughout, and a lot of unfamiliar actors in the lead roles. It’s hard to say whether the actors are bad, or they just don’t have anything to work with. Taylor Schilling does her best as Dagny, but there are many times when she just flounders with all of the dialogue. Grant Bowler, whom I remember from Ugly Betty, is trying so hard to cover up his Aussie accent (and it slips a little here and there) that he is no more than a piece of wood. Rebecca Wisocky, on the other hand, chews every bit of scenery in sight as Rearden’s neglected wife (though it was nice to see Christina Pickles as his disapproving mother-in-law in an understated performance). The more seasoned actors like Jon Polito, Geoff Pierson, Armin Shimerman and Michael O’Keefe have glorified cameos but come off much better than any of the leads.

The film is lavish to look at with grand sets, but that’s the problem. There are virtually no exterior shots, so the whole thing becomes claustrophobic amidst all the confusion of what’s going on. Apparently, the rights to the film were about to expire and instead of letting that happen, the producer decided to make a film on the cheap (kind of like Roger Corman did with his unreleased Fantastic Four movie) so as not to lose the rights. But making a film that should have been huge with a cast of unknown, inexperienced actors in the lead roles is not the best way to go for success (apparently Rand had envisioned the book as a TV mini-series and was writing a script at the time of her death). I really had no idea what was happening throughout the movie, and the cliffhanger ending only made matters worse. I can only recommend Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 to those who truly enjoy bad movies. You could probably make a drinking game out of it whenever someone says “John Galt” or “steel.” For the uninitiated — or for those who actually admire Rand’s book — I would steer as far away from this movie as possible.

The DVD itself looks and sounds just fine, and includes a couple of extras. In one, the producer talks about Rand’s book at getting the film made which doesn’t really shed any light on the actual behind the scenes machinations of the production (there is a commentary track as well, but I don’t know if I can sit through the movie again just to give that a listen). Another extra is a slide show set to the “John Galt Theme.” Yawn. And we also have the result of some viral marketing campaign that asked people to record themselves saying “I am John Galt” for inclusion on the video. Surprisingly, people actually did, but I got the feeling from watching that a lot of them had no idea why they were saying that except to be included on the video. It goes on way too long and also is good for insomniacs.

Unless you’re a real hardcore Rand fan, or you’re just one of those people who can’t turn away from a train wreck (and there is a train wreck in the film — that happens off camera!), then you may want to brave a viewing of Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 (you’ll have to fill in the rest of the story after the credits roll). Everyone else … just run … run far away.


Photo Credit: The Strike Productions

Categories: DVDs, General, News, Reviews

12 Responses to “Atlas Shrugged … and I nodded off”

November 7, 2011 at 10:31 PM

Rand’s book WE THE LIVING was made into a film in the 1940’s without permission and re-edited by Rand later on. It is available on Amazon. And I should say that it’s quite excellent.

This Atlas movie is terrible, and contrary to what you say, the “hardcore” fans of Rand would be even further annoyed by this garbage than those who just “sort of” like her.

November 7, 2011 at 11:02 PM

I did not know that. I couldn’t find anything on IMDB and the only Amazon listing I see is for an Italian film (actually, there is a Russian version listed on IMDB from 1986). Sorry for overlooking that one.

I actually did see a review from a Rand fan and it wasn’t that bad, so I just informed my decision from that. I thought those more familiar with the material would have a better grasp of what was going on, but I suppose garbage is garbage no matter how much you might like the source material.

November 8, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Rand’s play, “Night of January 16th” was also filmed also.

November 8, 2011 at 10:20 AM

Why would someone who hasn’t even read the book write a review of this film? (And on top of that, not do his research regarding Rand’s previous work).

I’m sorry the film is not up to your standards, but rather than tear it apart for what it is not, why not discuss the trouble the producers went through (over 40 years!) just to get this film even made!

Appreciate it for what it is, not for what it isn’t. Damn, I really hate film critics.

November 8, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Because it’s a critique of the film. Simple as that. There are plenty of films made that are based on a book that stand on their own. If you have to read or watch supplementary material to enjoy another work that is not a direct sequel to a previous work in the same medium, and that work fails to entertain, the fault lies with the work, not the viewer.

November 8, 2011 at 5:52 PM

I have seen plenty of movies based on books I have not read and I have enjoyed them on their own merits, or hated them simply because they weren’t good movies. I have never read a Tolkien book, for example, but I enjoyed the heck out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A filmmaker’s job is to take the book and translate that to the screen so that people who have read the book can enjoy seeing those words up on the big screen, but also allows those who have not read the book to enjoy the experience as well. If movies based on books were only made for the people who actually read the books, there would be very small audiences for those films. As someone who watched the movie, it’s my job to let people know how the movie plays for the viewer. A great majority of people who admire Rand’s work absolutely hate this movie. People who know and understand what Rand was saying in the book had problems following the movie’s plot and dialogue. I’m not the only one. I can’t judge a movie for what it could have been having not seen that particular version, but only what is on screen before me. The producer of this particular film has only had the rights since the 90s, according to the “making of” included on the DVD, and I know the film was rushed into production so as to not lose those rights. Unfortunately, none of that was addressed in the bonus material (perhaps it’s in the commentary), and I found out some of this information by digging around online. Everyone has their own opinions about movies … this is mine. I write based on how what I watched affected me. From what I’ve heard from friends who have read the book and given me more details of the plot, I stand behind my assessment that this film is an incoherent mess that destroys much of Rand’s literary intentions.

November 8, 2011 at 11:23 AM

It’s a good movie, but not all of what Rand’s masterpiece deserves.

Taylor Schilling was terrifice.

November 8, 2011 at 11:23 AM

It’s a good movie, but not all of what Rand’s masterpiece deserves.

Taylor Schilling was terrific.

November 8, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Mr. Duncan’s “review” is an incompetent rant delivered by a man who admits openly he’s not read the book and begins his review with a major error (Two of her novels HAD been made into movies, not one) and does not understand the plot of this movie. There WERE outdoor scenes. The movie had a refreshing accuracy to the book. Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler were wonderful together. Having seen the movie and read the book the only real fact that this review reveals is the incredible naivete of the reviewer.

I loved the movie and when the train rockets through that beautiful, Fall, Colorado countryside I admit to tearing up. I can’t wait for Atlas Shrugged Part 2!

November 8, 2011 at 6:28 PM

We’ve already established that there has been another film made of Rand’s novel We the Living. In fact, there are two version of that film; one an Italian production and the other a Russian production. They’re hard to locate on IMDB, which is where I got my information. I will dig deeper next time to cover all my bases, but as it stands there has only been ONE other US-made film of one of Rand’s four novels.

As I explained in a comment above, a movie-goer should not have to have read a book to enjoy the movie. The filmmaker’s job is to make a movie accessible to a large audience if they want to make money so that they can continue to produce additional movies. I have seen many movies based on books I have not read and enjoyed them. I’ve seen movies based on books I have read and hated them for all the changes that had been made. Turning a book into a movie is not an easy chore. But a movie should stand on its own as a piece of art or entertainment, and in the end make viewers want to read the book. You say the movie is accurate to the book, but you are in the minority from the other reviews I’ve read. A viewer of the movie should not have to have had a course in the book to understand the plot of the movie. A good filmmaker should be able to present the story on screen without help from the book. I never read any of the Lord of the Rings books, but the film’s storytelling and character and plot development were so rich and deeply detailed that I didn’t need to have any familiarity with the books. On the other hand, many people who read The Help hated the movie because of its over-simplification of the book’s themes while those unfamiliar with the book enjoyed it on its own terms. A good story told well can sell itself without any previous knowledge of its source material. This movie was confusing and many important plot points, such as John Galt and why the government was passing laws to forbid corporations from owning more than one business, were lost in the movie. Many, many people who have read the book and are deeply familiar with it have had problems following the film’s version of the plot (check out Roger Ebert’s review, for example).

I didn’t say there weren’t any exterior shots, I said there were virtually none. I did mention the shot of the train which I said was rendered well, but except for that and the scene on the train bridge with Dagny and Rearden, and the last shot of the movie, there really weren’t any other exterior shots because of budgetary restrictions (and, by the way, since when has Wisconsin had a desert?). Yes, there are some exteriors but almost all of the main action of the film takes place indoors.

As a movie reviewer, I am looking at the movie as a stand-alone piece of work. A lot of people who haven’t read the book may have been curious about the movie especially in light of some recent politicians who demanded that their people read Rand’s books. People who might not want to tackle the novel themselves might get some enlightenment from the movie if it were any good. As a novice to Rand’s work speaking to other novices, the film is a confusing, dull jumble, and the more I hear from people who have read the book and have gone into more detail of the story, I stand by my assessment of the movie. It’s a bore that was produced on the cheap in about five weeks. For a story of this scale, that is simply not enough time to do the source material or its author any justice. As it stands now, I think you’re going to have a very, very long wait for Part 2.

November 9, 2011 at 3:20 PM

I don’t care what you say about the Atlas Shrugged Movie. The Movie was made. That is a huge accomplishment. The screenplay was a challenge to write but not nearly so difficult is finding someone willing to produce it. The Movie should have had a blockbuster budget. The Movie was refused a proper budget and a proper release, (only 500 theaters, get serious). And for the budget it did have the producers did a very nice job. I do not fault the producers for any lack of expensive effects. The Movie was made, that is all that matters.

November 9, 2011 at 6:01 PM

That kind of attitude is worrisome, because it seems to apply to a lot of things nowadays. We’ll just settle for something because it’s there, no matter how it turned out. I don’t think Rand would have “settled” for this version of her book on film, and the Rand estate only gave their permission for the film to be made, but didn’t cooperate in any way. But I guess, in a way, their permission was also a way of settling for what they knew would be a half-assed production just to get it made. Like I said above, this was a movie that deserved a huge budget to do the scale of the story justice. Maybe if the producer had relinquished the rights to film the book, another major producer/studio with the big bucks necessary to make the movie would have stepped in and really done it justice (or even gone the mini-series route that Rand had intended).

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