Over the past two weeks I've been trying to create a few new series of blogs here on Screened, just things I could do on a weekly/bi-weekly bases covering a variety of topics, all with the intention of saluting great movies that have touched our lives... But then I started thinking, not all the movies I watch are good, matter of fact in my quest for good movies I tend to come across quite a few stinkers. It's like the old saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince (note to self, watch Princess and the Frog again). But sometimes I find a movie that's so bad that I just have to share it, either because it boggles the mind or its just hilarious. So because of that I've decided to start up this new series, Why Did I Watch That, where I cover some of the worst movies I've ever had the misfortune to watch. And to start it off I'm going to go with Atlas Shrugged Part 1, it seemed right, heck it even has the number one in the title.
Now this movie was based on the book of the same name by Ayn Rand, published back in 1957. Now I'm going to go ahead and address the elephant in the room (pun not intended) by letting you guys know that this book has become something of manual or guidebook for conservatives in America, especially in recent years. Basically the book preaches a sense of "survival of the fittest" when it comes to society and business and politics. That's a very basic explanation of it, I'd go into it further but this isn't a political blog, this is a film blog. So I'm going to attempt to put politics aside, and I'm going to talk about the movie and only the movie. Luckily for me, this movie, even when you take all political biases out of it, is still just plain bad.
Alright, here's what you need to know about Atlas Shrugged Part 1.
So this movie is set in the far off apocalyptic world of 2016, where the economy is so bad that people walk around wearing sandwich boards with their resumes on it, and guys in suits and ties stand around on the street waiting for... well something, I'm not quite sure why the homeless are so well dressed in this future. But forget about that, all you need to know about the future, four years from now, is that gas prices will be $37.50 a gallon. Okay, before we go any further, let's just examine that shall we? Gas at $37.50 a gallon. Gas prices weren't even that high in the Road Warrior. You see how crazy we've gone with gas prices at only four or five dollars a gallon? The moment that gas hits double digits per gallon you know people are going to be rioting pretty much twenty four seven. So when I hear that gas prices are 37.50, I expect everything to be on fire all the time. But no, not only is there a surprising lack of chaos, things actually seem nicer. Seriously there's a party every fifteen minutes in this movie, that doesn't sound like a bad world to me.
The "Hero" of the Movie
I said I wasn't going to get political with this, but I kind of have to in order to point out one of the biggest flaws of the movie. Basically this movie is trying to sell you on its philosophy, and the way it chooses to do that is through its protagonist Henry Rearden. This man owns roughly a dozen different businesses, but the prize of his collection is Rearden Steel. The film is about how he manages to invent Adamantium, or some other fictional lightweight indestructible metal. So why is Henry Rearden being the hero of the movie one of the film's biggest flaws? Because quite simply, Rearden could not be a bigger a$$hole. Here are some actual lines of dialogue from the movie.
Paul Larkin: "You sound like your only goal is to make money."
Henry Rearden: "My only goal IS to make money."
Phillip Rearden: "You don't really care about helping the underprivileged, do you?"
Henry Rearden: "No Phillip, I don't."
The hero of the film everyone, (slow clap) isn't he just great? And you might think, "Well sure, but that's him at the beginning of the movie right? Clearly he learns his lesson and stops being a total selfish jerk right?" Nope, this isn't one of those "the protagonist learns a lesson" kind of films. This is one of those "the whole world is flawed and only our protagonist knows how things should be" kind of movies. If you watch this and find yourself routing for Rearden during the movie, then you must have also read A Christmas Carol and interpreted it as a horror story about a wise and cunning businessman who is tormented by ghost until he finally snaps and goes insane. There's a scene in this movie where he is asked why does he put up with his brother in law and his wife who do nothing but go to balls and donate money to charities, and he says because they're like children who would die without him. Okay, that's what supervillains say, describing people as being beneath you and in need of you for their survival just because they care for others, that's the kind of thing Doctor Doom says before he opens a trap door.
So anyways, basically the government makes a new law that says that people can only own one company each (which once again, not to get political, but there is no way in hell that would ever happen, but I won't go into all that) so Rearden starts selling off all of his companies so he can keep his steel industry, and he then teams up with Dagney Taggart, who owns a railroad industry so he can use his new steel to replace the rails and they can create a train that can go over two hundred miles an hour, and surprise surprise, Taggart and Rearden end up getting it on. By the way, did I mention that Rearden is married? I thought that Taggart was as well, but about halfway through the movie I realized the person I thought was Taggart's husband was actually her brother, although in my defense, she and her brother have way more chemistry than she and Rearden ever have in this movie.
Who Is John Galt and Who Cares?
So throughout the movie we see these millionaires and billionaires start loosing business, which is very sad for them (although its hard for me to be sympathetic for them when throughout the movie we keep seeing regular working joes on the street starving and we're supposed to look at the billionaire and feel like they're the one who has it bad. I kept wondering why they kept showing poor people at all until about halfway through when it hit me the movie was trying to say "Dumbasses, you should have invented a new metal and made millions like I did.") but as these businessmen hit rock bottom, well rock bottom for them anyways, they're approached by a mystery man wearing a fedora and trenchcoat with a proposition, and after that they're mysteriously gone, each of them only leaving behind a letter saying "Who is John Galt?"
Now this is actually kind of cool, I'll admit this actually for a moment had me interested in where it would go... until they totally screwed it all up. In the beginning when they're just leaving notes behind with the question its pretty mysterious, but then there comes a scene where Dagney Taggart is asking one of her employees to stay when he wants to leave the company. She basically offers him everything, a raise, nicer office, anything he wants, and he just keeps saying no. Then when she asks what she could give him, he just leans in and says "Who is John Galt?" And then it cuts to the next scene... Alright, little tip to all the screenwriters out there, when you cut to a different scene, those characters don't stop existing. The moment he says "Who is John Galt?" he doesn't just disappear into a puff of smoke and then when it clears there's an open window with a curtain blowing in the wind. I wanted that scene to go on longer simply because I would have loved to have seen her ask, "I don't know, who is he?" "...What?" "Yeah you asked who is John Galt, who is he?" "Well... um, I can't tell you." "Oh so you don't know either?" "No I know." "Well then why did you ask me?" "I... because... look, just who is John Galt? That's all you need to know." "No that's not all I need to know, what on earth are you talking about? You know what, forget that promotion, go ahead and leave, you're fired." There, problem solved.
But instead Taggart doesn't ask any follow up questions and apparently just lets him walk out the door, and after that she becomes obsessed with John Galt. She even names her new state of the art train after him. Okay, for anyone out there who thought Taggart was a smart character, just think about the fact that she has no idea who this person is, but she still decides to name her new train that she hopes to save her company with after him. He could be a serial killer or a terrorist for all she knows, but she still decides to just name it after him, no questions asked. After that she decides that now she should probably finally figure out who he is, not before naming her train after him, but after it worked and made her famous. So she and Rearden travel all across America, just the two of them together in a car, crisscrossing the country, which... I'm sorry I can't let it go, GAS IS $37.50 A GALLON. These people had to have flushed hundreds of thousands of dollars on this trip just on gas alone and it never once comes up as an issue. And hell, at 37.50 a gallon every scene with them in a car should have ended with them coming to a roadblock and Lord Humongous telling them to get out of the car and "Just walk away." And let me just remind everyone right now that this book was made back in the fifties, back when the only way to find something like this out would have been to put your nose to the pavement and get to work. But this movie came out last year and was set in 2016, you know, when we have Google. So basically these two geniuses spent a fortune on gas, and days of their time, only to learn something they could have found out in five minutes for free by typing "John Galt" into a Google search. How are these two Titans of Industry when they don't even know how the internet works?
The Sequel... wait really? They're making a sequel?
Okay it's fairly obvious from the fact that this is called Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 that they intended to make a sequel, but the movie didn't even make back 25% of its budget, so it seemed like a pretty foolish idea. In fact its more than foolish, it's kind of a kick in the teeth to everything Ayn Rand stood for, as I said she believed in a survival of the fittest system when it came to society and the economy, where if you can't succeed then you shouldn't get to continue, and this movie did not succeed at all. And I know some people might say "Well it didn't get released on enough theaters." Yeah, Ayn Rand would still say that's BS, part of her philosophy was that there should be no evened playing field, and that if you can't compete with the big boys then you don't get to compete at all. So not only does making a sequel seem stupid, it seems like they didn't even watch their own movie.
However I was curious to see how much more was in this book than what we got to see, so I looked into it and apparently Part 1 showed us everything that was in the book except for the very end. And the end of the book is, and I swear to you this is true, a seventy page long speech (all one paragraph long in the original version) by John Galt explaining what he thinks is wrong with America and explaining the books themes (you know, in case you were wearing a helmet so that way they couldn't fully hammer it into your brain). So in other words, Part 2 of Atlas Shrugged is going to be one long monologue, which would come out to roughly ninety minutes by my estimate, and that's it. Oh boy, where can I get my ticket now? Ninety minutes of a mysterious man in a fedora telling me about his first world problems? Move over Avengers.
But hold on, this soap opera gets even crazier. Because while this movie was produced with no name actors for a "low budget" (I put that in quotes because only people who would make a movie celebrating billionaires would call twenty million a "low budget film") a few years back apparently a studio wanted to make this movie for sixty million with Angelina Jolie as Taggart. Why didn't this happen you ask? Because the guy who owned the rights to this book would not allow anyone to make this movie unless they included that seventy page long speech, word for word, in its entirety. He was offered a chance to make a decent film out of this, and he said no because the studio wouldn't let him include an hour and a half long monologue, which I can only assume was because everyone at the studio were within their right minds. Seriously, what was his plan here, to have the speech on a crawl at the bottom of the screen playing throughout the rest of the movie?
Well you know what, I say let him do it. He wants to make this sequel that is nothing but one guy talking about his hatred of the poor for ninety minutes? Good for him, I give you my blessing... on one condition. And that's that the speech has to all be done in one take. That's right looney tune, you want your propaganda film to come out, then you have to earn it. And when it does come out I promise you I'll write about it here on another installment of Why Did I Watch That?