Friday, September 26, 2014

Atlas Shrugged, The Audience fell asleep

If you have followed me for a while you probably already know that I am somewhat of a fan and critic of the work of Ayn Rand. I love her stories, and her economic policies, but her stance on religion and refusal to admit she could be wrong? Eh, not so much. Still, list Atlas Shrugged among my all-time favorite books. Not just because of its central theme of economic liberty, but because of the near prophetic way she predicted what business life in America would be like 50 years before we got here. More troubling is her dire predictions about how much worse things will get if we do not change course now.

Her writings come from personal experience. The daughter of a baker, Rand saw her home and business stripped from her during the Bolshevik revolution. Despite the promises of the revolutionaries to the people, Rand saw their inability to create the better world that was promised. In fact, life got much worse. Her father was never able to find gainful or meaningful work again, and the family struggled to put food on the table. Angry, and reasonably bitter, Rand fled to America, and to her horror, she found our country headed in the exact same direction Russia had gone. But where Russia did it by violent revolution, America was being led there by so called “Progressives,” who were taking us there in baby steps.

Rand began to write as a warning to America of what was to come. A vocal critic of Progressives, she found herself the target of the left. Tragically, she wasn’t any more fond of Christianity than her Communist counterparts, and was quick to alienate what could have been a key ally in the war for individual liberty: The Religious Right.  
Rand had few fans in her day, but it was enough that her first book was made into a successful movie, The Fountain Head. This movie was so successful that Hollywood’s Al Ruddy (The Godfather, Million Dollar Baby) gladly pounced on Atlas Shrugged, but the deal fell apart when Rand refused to allow the production to reduce John Galt’s 60 page speech at the end of the book down to five minutes. Tragically, Rand fell victim to her own absolutism, and the original production died.

Bowler (left) and Schilling (Right) as Hank and Dagney
Some years later, John Aglialoro would acquire the rights from Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s legal heir. And to his credit, he made a darn good movie in Atlas Shrugged Pt. 1. Now the movie wasn’t perfect, but it did introduce the world to Taylor Schilling (now cast in the popular Orange is the New Black) and Grant Bowler (Now cast in the not as popular, but highly Libertarian space-epic Defiance.) The movie had its flaws, but the truth was that this movie was still good. It was worth paying to see. I had high hopes for the rest of the movies representing this classic book, but it was not to be.

Yeah, I slept through Samantha Mathis' performance too.
Atlas Shrugged Pt. 2 featured an all new cast, and while Jason Beghe did a serviceable job as Hank Reardon, he wasn’t as good as Grant Bowler’s knock out performance. Samantha Mathis was abysmal as Dagney Taggert. Still, the movie had its moments. There were some very well delivered speeches which caused my wife and I and the two other people in the theater to cheer. It was enough that I didn’t mind buying it when it hit blu ray.

Now we’re on to the third part. I wish Atlas Shrugged Part 3 had never been made. I truly do. I had serious doubts that the movie producers could deliver the vision Rand had for this third part, which involved a freedom loving, high tech metropolis, pirate raids, and a doomsday weapon manufactured by the government. Nevertheless, John Aglialoror kept assuring people this movie would be awesome, and it would improve upon the second one. I had expected that we would be back to form with this entry. Moreover, the news that Laura Regan, who had at least appeared in a larger budget film as the younger Audrey in Unbreakable, was replacing the craptacular Samantha Mathis gave me some hope that at least Dagney would be capable of emoting again.

Laura Regan proved that you could do worse than Samantha Mathis. This woman looks to be about
"Umm, John Boy, what was my line again?"
as old as Samantha Mathis, when Dagney should be a great deal younger (Taylor Schilling). Moreover, here she is playing a wealthy woman, and yet her shampoo is so cheap that her hair is dryer than the West Desert. Not to mention broken out into all kinds of split ends.

Rand’s grand vision of an Objectivist Utopia is reduced to a town that reminds me of Grantsville, Utah. Now that’s okay with me, I love Grantsville. I love it, because as a Jeffersonian Republican, I favor rural communities. What Galt’s Gulch was, was a thriving metropolis. Moreover, the people inhabiting Galt’s Gulch aren’t necessarily my age. It looked more like a retirement community to me than what Rand wrote about. Except for John Galt, played surprisingly competently by Kristopher Polaha, (Life Unexpected, North Shore) the only capable actor in the entire production. I wonder if his paycheck was so large that it ate the rest of the budget for the rest of this dung heap?

"All ya'all gatta work for yer beers!"
Now I had my own idea of what Galt would look like. Someone with the face and mannerisms of a Walt Disney, but the body of Hugh Jackman, based on my interpretation of Rand’s writings. Polaha wasn’t what I had expected. He was actually more of a hick. Again, I love rural communities, I may be a city boy on the exterior, but I love rural people and communities for a reason. They are nice, well mannered, and our towns are pretty quiet. As a teen, one plans their escape from such towns, because nothing exciting ever happens in places like Tooele. But then when you hit 30 you come running back exactly for that reason! So I am not complaining that Galt, and his Gulch were re-envisioned as a rural man and a rural community, only that this isn’t what Rand wrote, nor what I derived from the promises made by this film’s producers. Also, Ragnar Danneskj√∂ld, the pirate, only makes a very brief appearance, and many of his most important lines are lost.

Then there’s the doomsday weapon, Project F. In the book, this death ray was so volatile it had to have Reardon Metal to make it stable. That is why they wanted the metal so badly. That fact isn’t even mentioned in the film, where Project F is reduced to a glorified car battery they hook up Galt’s nipples to. I wish I was just being crass, but I am sadly being literal. Plus, Hank Reardon, a pivotal character in the book, is literally reduced to a phoned in performance. As in: one phone conversation… That’s it.

The most exciting parts of the third part of Rand’s book would have made compelling celluloid; however, these scenes are glanced over by still shots and a narrator who sounds an awful lot like Glenn Beck, trying not to sound like Glenn Beck. Beck, Wilkow, Hannity, and Ron Paul all have appearances though. Now, I love these guys (though Rand would have hated them due to their religious convictions), don’t get me wrong. However, their cameos were the only scenes worth watching, and were all in response to Galt’s speech... which was cut down from 60 pages in the book to 5 minutes in the movie. And here is where we circle back to Al Ruddy.

Rand broke from Ruddy precisely because he wanted to do what ended up being done any way. Rand’s absolutism has led to the movie based on her magnum opus starting with promise, but ending in disaster. Had she not been such an absolutist, so insistent on having her way, the producer of the Godfather would have produced this film a long time ago. And Al Ruddy has a long track record of absolute excellence. These movies could have been great. Instead you have one that’s good, one that’s a little worse than okay, and one that feels like it was made by  a local Church Road Show, rather than an actual movie studio.

While John Aglialoro had intended to argue on behalf of Rand’s beliefs on film, he instead ended up making the case against her absolutism, showing what can happen when you look a gift horse in the mouth. I am so angry with how bad this movie turned out, I want my money back and I want them to issue an apology to everyone who contributed on Kickstarter. Lastly, I want them to do this one over again, but this time get some real talent behind it. Get Grant Bowler and Taylor Schilling back, and do it right!

Assuming this movie does hit Blu Ray, I will probably pick it up out of the $5.00 bargain bin, but only to complete the trilogy. I will probably never watch this dung heap again.

0 out of 5 stars. Quite literally, the worst movie… no… thing… ever made, and that is coming from a Rand fan, supporter, and loving critic. Yes, worse than Batman and Robin.

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