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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Atlas Shrugged, Part I

November 17th, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, Part I - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Atlas Shrugged, the novel, was written more than 50 years ago. Since then, there have been countless attempts to turn the novel into a movie, mini-series, etc. The most recent attempt began as a $100 million three-part epic that was going to star Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. That didn't pan out. Worse still, they were about to lose the rights to the novel, so they had to start filming at rather short notice. Atlas Shrugged, Part I was the result. Now many films and other creative works have been mired in develop hell for many, many years. This doesn't mean the end result is a dud, but it is a warning sign. I'm proceeding with caution, but should others follow?

The Movie

The film is set in 2016. The economy has collapsed, wars in the Middle East and spills in the Gulf of Mexico have left the United States without enough oil and gas prices have shot up to $37.50 a gallon. As a result, trains have reemerged as the most economical means of transportation. One of the major transcontinental railways, Taggart Transcontinental, has recently had a series of accidents resulting in one of the few successful businessmen, Ellis Wyatt, to go to their competition. The company has really gone downhill after the death of of the CEO, who was replaced by his son, James Taggart. Meanwhile, many of the great business leaders, like banker Michael "Midas" Mulligan, are simply disappearing. (He's the first of many to vanish throughout the movie.)

Dagny Taggart, James Taggart's sister and Vice-President in Charge of Operation of Taggart Transcontinental, is trying to save the company. She does so by going behind her brother's back to get a contract with Henry Rearden, who has come up with a new Rearden Metal. It's cheaper that steel, it's lighter than steel, it's stronger than steel, and it's 40% pixie dust, so you'll just have to clap to make the trains move. (Okay, it's not technically made of pixie dust, but it might as well be.) When Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden negotiate over the prices, I think there's supposed to be some sexual tension between the two, but it comes off weird. Then again, most of the dialogue has a strange inhuman quality to it. It's like whatever (it's a tossup between alien and robot) wrote it only briefly observed how humans interact. We also learn Henry Rearden is married, although he can't even remember when his wedding anniversary is. I think he's supposed to be the good guy, but he comes off as a complete jackass.

Meanwhile, there's a conspiracy in the government to screw over Henry Rearden that includes James Taggart, as well as Paul Larkin and Wesley Mouch, the latter two actually work for Henry Rearden. Government scientists are being told to say Rearden Metal is unsafe. New legislation will be enacted, so Henry Rearden can't own his own iron mines. Taggart Transcontinental will be given a monopoly over current lines, forcing Ellis Wyatt to come back to them. This part of the movie is for people who like to watch C-Span, but who also think conspiracy theories about Chemtrials and Fluoridation are merely there to cover-up the real conspiracies. The politics that take place in this world, again, lead me to believe it was written by someone with only a cursory understanding of humans.

Eventually Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden join forces to prove Rearden Metal is safe by building the rail line to Ellis Wyatt's oil fields. But with all these forces aligning against them, will they be able to succeed? Will they finally figure out who this John Galt fellow is?

For the answer to the second question, audiences will have to wait for part 2, but I don't think it will ever arrive. Even fans of the book will have a difficult time sitting through all 90 minutes of this movie. There is almost nothing in this movie that works. The dialogue in this movie is so clumsy that I don't blame the actors for their wooden delivery. At least I don't blame all of them. In some cases it is a combination of bad dialogue and wooden acting. What the film lacks in emotion, it tries to make up for with an intrusive score. The movie is incredibly repetitive with scene after scene of people sitting around talking and drinking inter-cut with scenes of railways being laid. The two leads have zero chemistry together. The characters are laughably thin and are either flawless heroes or duplicitous villains. There are too many preachy moments in the movie that likely won't even inspire the already converted.

The best parts of the movie are the shots of the scenery, at least when there's no unconvincing CG train in the way.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with two of the producers, John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, and the screenwriter, Brian Patrick O'Toole. They do admit to some of the problems that resulted from the short production schedule, but they are too praiseworthy over the final result. Road to Atlas Shrugged is a five-minute interview with John Aglialoro about Ayn Rand, the novel and getting the movie made. There is a four-minute slide show of production stills. And finally there's "I Am John Galt", which has people saying "I am John Galt" for 35 minutes. That's it. Seriously. I can't imagine anyone sitting through the whole thing, unless they were in it.

There are no exclusive extras on the Blu-ray, while the technical presentation was mixed. Like I said, the shots of the scenery look good, even great at times. Interior shots tend to reveal the limitations of the budget more. Although to be fair to the Blu-ray, most of the complaints have to deal with the way the movie was shot and not the encode. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. For the most part, the only sounds coming from the rear speakers will be score. The Blu-ray costs 35% more than the DVD, which is too much for this type of release.

The Verdict

If the choice comes down to all Objectivists going Galt and having to see the next two parts to this trilogy, I would choose the former every single time. Atlas Shrugged, Part I is a miss in every regard. It's cheap looking, the dialogue is wooden, as is the acting, the two leads have no chemistry and, at its very core, it is dull. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray are even worth renting.

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Filed under: Video Review, Atlas Shrugged: Part 1