Friday, May 6, 2011

Atlas Giggled

So we went to see this film Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. You may have heard of it. It's based on a book or something.

Can you tell this is going to be impossible for me to write without snark?

Let me get this out of the way: The Boy liked this movie. He said, "At first it was too much qq and not enough pew-pew," which I gather means something like "it started slowly, evoking concern in the viewer that it would never get off the ground, but when it finally got moving, it was interesting."

I always like to get The Boy's opinion first so mine doesn't influence him. In this case, I really had to bite my tongue. I've heard a lot about the book, and of course, you can't ever believe what you hear, because this movie has a MESSAGE, and it's a message book-reviewing commies have never liked. So they trash the book. And the movie could expect (and received) similar treatment.

Still, two words: Hot mess.

Wait, one word: Rifftrax.

Or two words: Cinematic Titanic.

Or a portmanteau: Fanfic.

I had this feeling when I was watching this movie that I was reading fan fiction. I realize it's an original story but the protagonist, Dagny Taggert, comes off as a Mary Sue. Seriously, you know who's good and who's bad based on how they feel about Dagny. And her dialog is stilted, to say the least, especially in the opening scenes.

It actually gets worse when Henry Rearden shows up, with his super-steel that's poised to save Dagny's railroad. This culminates in the most awkward sex scene since Watchmen.

I'm not inclined to blame the actors here. The dialog is awful. I mean, let's say I was trying to make a point about hating coffee, and wrote a dialogue where character A says "Yeah, it all went to hell when people started liking coffee!" and character B responds with "Why are people so crazy about coffee these days?" (Don't hurt me, Darcysport! It's just an example! Coffee is wonderful!)

Point is, Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler (Taggert and Rearden respectively) aren't looking good here. Some of the supporting actors do okay, I think largely because they have fewer actual words to speak. Patrick Fischler as Taggert's assistant does well, and the great Michael Lerner manages to power through as the villainous Wesley Mouch, while Armin Shimerman is compelling as the weaselly state scientist.

The frustrating thing is, there is a good story here and there are so many echoes with modern life. Basically, Dagny is trying to save her family railroad from the mismanagement of her brother, while Taggert has invented a new steel that can quadruple the load capacity for high speed transport. Dagny and Henry are constantly being flanked by their competitors who prefer to go to the government rather than compete fairly.

And all the while good, competent men are vanishing, leaving behind only the mysterious phrase "Who is John Galt?"

And the movie does get better when the train stuff starts. So, what holds this movie back?

  • Dialog, as noted.
  • Characterization. Dagny and Henry are off-putting. I assume this is according to the tenets of Objectivism. They not only are against altruism, they seem to have no comprehension of it. Besides ringing false, the two of them come off as almost Asperger's. 
  • Worldview. There seems to be the view not just that the big players are titans, but also that everyone else utterly depends on them. I don't doubt there are titans in the world, but if the last 15 years have shown us anything, it's that the economy is powered best by lots and lots of little players. Which brings us to...
  • Archaicness. Railroads? Steel? Really? Good lord, the government's machinations are so unConstitutional that—well, they look a lot like a health care mandate, only not quite as bad as that—and yet the whole focus on rails and steel and ore comes off as a little silly. 
  • Music. I'm not sure I blame the composer, but the music actually competes with the dialog for clunkiness, the way it's used to create emotion that really doesn't seem to be there. (Fun fact: Composer Elia Cmiral scored After Dark Horror Fest flicks Tooth and Nail and The Deaths of Ian Stone.)
Elia Cmiral also scored Battlefield Earth, which this movie reminds me of. It, too, was made over the course of many years, and it, too, was a hot mess worthy of Rifftrax. 

Ace of Spades was planning to do a review of this film, and chided his readers for not seeing it when it first came out, arguing that if conservatives want conservative movies, they need to support conservative movies.

This isn't a conservative movie, though. It's a movie about the perils of unlimited government and populism which, while I can get behind that and push with both hands, actually undermines its own case by making its leads be amoral.

I mean, I can't swear Dagny's had an abortion, but it wouldn't surprise me.

It seems to me that the stronger argument for limited government is that people do the right thing when left alone by the government, not people are as shallow as you think but that's no excuse for limiting freedom. I agree with the latter point, but it makes a crappy movie.

That said, the left-wing attacks on it that take it on from a philosophical POV have been largely absurd. The enemy in this film is the collusion of government with business. In no way are businesses in general the good guys here, just a few good guys fighting the world. 

I'll go see part 2 if they make it, but I can't really recommend it, except as a curiosity. It was really hard for me to sit through, actually, and I laughed out loud inappropriately at several points.

But I'm used to being the only guy laughing and, as I said, the Boy liked it.

UPDATE: Ace of Spades' review here.


  1. Sounds a lot like the book.

    The Boy liked this movie.

    Perhaps they should be marketing this movie to children!

  2. It is strange to see how books are adapted. That is why I am very impressed with "Game of Thrones" on HBO. It is extremely, extremely true to the books.

    I wonder if the boy likes it.


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