Sunday, April 24, 2011

Atlas Shuddered


Atlas Shrugged has the dialogue quality of The Phantom Menace, the special effects of the 1978 Incredible Hulk TV series, the casting of Waterworld, the directorial timing of a home video, and the cinematography of something that picks a lot of awkward camera angles. I needed a Big Mac to wash the movie's taste out of my mouth.

The movie was 97 minutes long. There was time available to improve the three things in which this version severely lacked:
1) Using Rand's arguments,
2) Introducing us to the characters as Rand wrote them, and
3) Preparing us for the climax.

Rand's Arguments

Atlas Shrugged is one of the best books ever written. It's complex. It's intelligent. It's a philosophical allegory, and it's convincing. Ayn Rand wrote it to make an argument, time and time again, from all angles, and she did so extremely well. I recognize that it takes talent to make a good movie, even from an extraordinary book. But it takes a special kind of failure to ruin Atlas Shrugged.

Rand's arguments made the book great, but really weren't part of the movie. When John Aglialoro1 actually included any of Rand's arguments, he threw in some of the good lines but removed the context, making the dialogue painfully choppy and illogical.

You ruin the argument, and you've ruined the movie.

Aglialoro even cut the almost unending stream of whiny entitled pleas. They came from any number of talentless characters (here's looking at you 20th Century Motor Company), demanding a handout because they "never had a chance" (i.e. got fired for incompetence). The unproductive looting from the productive is the whole point of the book, and was not adequately addressed by the light-on-exposition news headline montages.

Speaking of not adequately addressing things …

Character Development

… the entire character of James Taggart is written as whiny and desperate, but portrayed as self-confident and somewhat relatable.

Similarly misrepresented, Dagny Taggart is written as confident, brilliant, tough-as-nails, and successful, but portrayed as vacant, unassertive, and a little dazed. In one particular scene, she takes what is supposed to be a confident "I'm telling you how it is" stand against her brother, but looks everywhere but at him. Confidence looks you in the eye.

Finally, let's take a deeper look at Francisco d'Anconia. He was cast as a scruffy, moderately handsome man whose wardrobe was at home in a local night club. The real d'Anconia is dashing, clean-shaven, full of intrigue, and stands "as if he wore a cape waving behind him in the wind." His shirts cost more than your wardrobe. Imagine Dos Equis' "Most interesting man in the world", but 25 years younger, without a beard, and with millions upon millions of dollars.

The movie showed the kind of guy you pick up in a bar. Francisco is the kind of man with whom rich women have affairs.

Confidence leans back. He slouched forward.

Stage presence is noticeable. There was none to notice.


Ignoring the mistreatment of Rand's ideologies and characters …

Plot & Climax (***spoiler alert**)

… this movie did a poor job of leading up to its climax (or what I am led to believe was the climax because of the music).

In the book, people talked regularly about how horrible it would be if the bridge made out of Reardon metal collapsed. In the movie, Aglialoro talked about the metal being "untested", but stubbornly refused to connect the dots about the bridge. He only even mentioned the bridge once. Small wonder, then, that the audience is entirely unprepared to stand up and cheer when the bridge doesn't collapse.

At least it ended fittingly; with a bloodcurdling scream.

1 Executive-turned-screenwriter because his rights to Atlas Shrugged were about to lapse and his actual screenwriter bailed.