Friday, April 27, 2012

Atlas Sucked

Some look at Atlas Shrugged and see a blueprint for an Objectivist Utopia. I look at Atlas Shrugged and see that shitty book I was forced to read in high school. It wasn't the book's political ideas that turned me off (they do today though). I was (and still am) a big fan of Robert Heinlein's The Man Who Sold The Moon, the tale of a bold entrepreneur who bypasses the limited visions of governments and bureaucrats the world over and creates space travel and the best part is that this is finally coming true.  No, what turned me off from the book is that, in my view, it sucks as much as anything can possibly suck and then some. I've always believed there was some good version out there that no one would show me that wasn't a series of train rides, business meetings and dull sex scenes all culminating in a 60 page speech informing most of the world's population that members of the world's elite class allow them to worship at their feet. And now there's a movie. Atlas Shrugged has the same problem that other books like Frank Herbert's Dune or Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun have. Atlas Shrugged is unfilmable. It simply cannot, as written, be adapted into an entertaining film. To make an entertaining film, the book would have to be radically altered. This fact, however, did not stop producer Harmon Kaslow and director Paul Johannson from giving it a shot, thus ignoring their inner voices and probably the outer voices of everyone they knew. Harmon Kaslow is a guy whose IMDB profile shows that he's made exactly zero movies that I've ever heard of and director Paul Johannson's directorial experience consists of directing nine episodes of One Tree Hill but these facts did not stop them from thinking they were up to the challenge of this near-impossible project. I haven't seen it so maybe they pulled it off. So, with no further ado, you may now read what I was thinking in real time as I watched Atlas Shrugged Part 1.

0:10:00 -- It's September 2, 2016 and shit is fucked up. Why is it fucked up? Is it because greedy bankers and Wall Street operatives created big piles of insanely overvalued financial instruments that collapsed the global economy when it was discovered that their actual value was approximately that of a Snickers bar? Oh no, it had nothing to do with that. The world has gone to hell because of price controls and excessive regulation like not letting oil companies set up wells in your living room though ultimately, the state of the world can be blamed on a society that refuses to recognize and exalt individual achievement. While all this is going on, a banker named Midas Mulligan who, as has already been established, had absolutely nothing to do with the state of the world is approached by a mysterious figure in a black trench coat whose name will later be revealed asJohn Galt (oh sorry, spoiler alert) that tells him it's a real shame the world's looters and moochers have kept him from building a 100 bazillion dollar fortune and that he's had to struggle by with only 80 bazillion. After that, we see that he's disappeared but there's no time to worry about that since a train derailed somewhere and that's when we meet railroad executive Dagny Taggart and her fuckwit brother, James (fans of the book know to start booing when you hear his name). Fuckwit James is the CEO of Taggart Transcontinental, the company whose train just jumped the tracks due to the countries decaying railroad infrastructure. Fuckwit James, whose compassion for his fellow man and concern for the collective good of society is running his company into the ground, has a plan to upgrade the rail system by purchasing new rails from the most incompetent metal manufacturer he could find, another total fuckwit named Oren Boyle. Incidentally, we should all praise Ayn Rand for making her villains total fuckwits and thus, easy to spot. Luckily, James' sister, Dagny, is on the case and announces that she will buy the new rails from Rearden Steel, a company that has developed a new super metal. James tries to show her detailed studies from metallurgical experts that cast doubt on the quality of Rearden's metal but Dagny is all, "ZOMG SCIENTISTS ARE GROSS," and decides to follow her own instincts. This is what she should do since Dagny is a Randian Superhuman, an elite class of people who know everything and are the "Atlas" of the title. Sadly, most of the world fails to recognize their total awesomeness and this flaw in humanity's character is pretty much the driving force of the plot. Let's keep watching. You'll see what I mean.

If you ever see this movie, get used to seeing Dagny's single expression. Also, she's supposedly wealthy yet her mobile is a cheap Blackberry knockoff. Well done, filmmakers.

22:00 -- The past twelve minutes made the beginning of this movie look positively action packed. Headlining this cast of nobodies are Taylor Shilling as Dagny and Grant Bowler (known to his biggest fans as, "Who?") as another Randian Superhuman, Hank Rearden. As I already said, Hank's company has developed a super duper mega awesome new metal that be used to drive trains as well being whipped into a wonderful dessert topping. Hank and Dagny have a meet-cute in Hank's office, something that looks like it was decorated by Sauron. I suppose this scene was meant to show that Hank and Dagny have real chemistry but only someone who flunked chemistry in school would think they had succeeded in doing so. Hank then goes home and presents his wife, in front of her friends, with a gift. We see how Hank really, truly understands women when she opens the box and sees a bracelet made out of hunks of his new metal. For some reason, she was expecting her wealthy husband to maybe present her with a diamond bracelet or something equally fancy but that is clearly looter-and-moocher thinking which, I guess, is what his wife and the rest of his dinner party guests are. Hank's own fuckwit brother, Philip, definitely is as he hits Hank up for a donation to his charity (BOOOOO!!!!), a donation Hank makes despite admitting that he hates the very idea of charity. He then sits down with his buddy, Paul Larkin. Even if you never read the book, you know Paul is a villain because, well, he's kind of a fuckwit. Sure enough, Paul meets up with Fuckwit James as well as incompetent steel manufacturer Oren Boyle and government regulation advocate Wesley Mouch. They all hatch a plan to break Rearden's monopoly on his new metal as well as passing a law that a person can only own one business. This law, by the way, seems to be completely unnecessary since things like multi-national conglomerates disappeared sometime between now and 2016. In the real world, Rearden Steel would have been owned by Taco Bell. Fellow fuckwits James and Oren also spot Francisco d'Anconia, an international playboy who will play a larger role later. He's Dagny's old boyfriend (spoiler alert).

Here's Fuckwit James pointing what he probably refers to as the Machine That Goes Ping.

0:35:00 -- After speedy, joyless sex with his wife, Hank literally sprints out of bed to get away from her. If you're wondering why Hank treats his wife the way he does, it's because he's a huge, mega-watt asshole but that's OK because, in this world, being a huge, mega-watt asshole is a virtue. He does show Dagny some tenderness when he speaks to her on the phone, something he never does for his wife (#MegaWattAsshole #Virtue). In the meantime, partly out of his compassion for the poor people of Mexico, Fuckwit James teamed up with Francisco d'Anconia to build a rail line from Texas to Francisco's ore mines in Mexico, something turned out to be an epically stupid idea since Mexico nationalized both the rails and the mines. The damage was mitigated by Francisco cutting the train service and Dagny canceling the project altogether, something good ol' F.W. Jimmy took credit for. While all this is going on, more of the world's competent people are disappearing, including one of Dagny's top executives. The only clue to their whereabouts is the cryptic statement, "Who is John Galt?" John Galt is the superest of the Randian Superhumans and he's taking these people away to his Gulch called Atlantis where they will withhold from the world both their awesome supremacy and supreme awesomeness until they're allowed to create an Objectivist Paradise (spoiler alert).

You really have to admire director Paul Johannson's ability to pick beautiful locations.

1:00:00 -- If it turns out there is a God and I meet Him when I die, the first thing I'll ask is what we poor mortals did to deserve being cursed with this movie. Hank is pissed at the new legislation meant to break up conglomerates but his wife actually expects him to wait a few hours to deal with it so they can go to their tenth anniversary party. Dagny and F.W. James also attend and Dagny instantly falls in love with that stupid metal bracelet Hank gave his wife and offers to exchange a diamond necklace. Francisco d'Anconia tells Hank something he told Dagny earlier, that he intentionally partnered with James and his team of Commie dumbasses because they were all lootie-moochie types and Francisco is secretly a member of member of the He-Man/Parasite-Haters Club. We even find out that Francisco is connected to Ragnar the Pirate. Have I mentioned Ragnar the Pirate yet? Ragnar Danneskjöld sounds like someone who should be the arch nemesis of Lisbeth Salander but he is, in fact, a pirate who literally steals from the poor so he can return the money to wealthy individuals like Hank Rearden who had it "stolen" through income taxes but all this won't happen until the Atlas Shrugged Part 2 comes out (spoiler alert). I'd honestly forgotten about him which is odd because he's the book's most ridiculous character and that's saying a lot considering that another of the characters wants to take all the world's smart people to an invisible gulch. Dagny is told that Francisco and Ragnar, in their youth, were part of a very promising trio with a third man who is not named. It was John Galt (spoiler alert). A propaganda campaign is started to discredit the magical Rearden Metal after Hank refuses to sell the rights to the government in the name of the public good and yeah, that sound you heard was every Rand fan, including the women, getting boners when Hank told off the petty bureaucrat who tried to buy the metal. Dagny decides to start her own company to finish the rail line in order to save the stock value of Taggart Transcontinental. The problems Dagny faces in this venture are the same problems every Randian Superhuman faces, that being everyone who isn't them is a damn idiot. Everyone is incapable of recognizing her innate superiority to them so they aren't willing to fill some moving vans with money and give it to her so she can finish her railroad.Will this be the end? Will the parasites defeat our brave objectivist and take over? Let's watch. They don't, by the way (spoiler alert).
Hank's office. Even the comic book The Metal Men didn't have this much metal.

1:20:00 -- The leader of the railroad union (BOOOOO!!!) tells Dagny he won't allow his workers to drive the new rails due to safety concerns over the metal. I apologize for not warning you about that as I imagine you literally shit yourself in anger over the idea that someone may not want to die so Dagny's crazy dream can come true. Luckily for her, this union rep is the biggest pussy ever who completely forgets his contractual rights and powers and simply folds beneath Dagny's stare that is both blank and withering. The new line which Dagny named the John Galt Line because she just did and shut up is about to have its maiden run despite massive safety concerns. They could just run some stress tests to find out but fuck that noise. Instead, they run a 20 car train at 250 MPH over the line that includes a rather suspect bridge but everything holds up and if the filmmakers actually thought this was suspenseful then they're even less competent than I thought. Hank and Dagny celebrate by having a sex scene similar to what you see in Lifetime movies while their partner, Ellis Wyatt, becomes the latest guy taken by John Galt. Hank suggests to Dagny that they go to Wisconsin to investigate some super motor that was designed but never built and then we see just how worthless Harmon Kaslow and Paul Johansson are as filmmakers because, as they travel through Wisconsin, they drive through a desert. Yes, they drive through the famed Deserts of Wisconsin. Why are there deserts in Wisconsin? Because the book said that Hank and Dagny go to Wisconsin but they didn't have any money in the budget to actually go to Wisconsin so instead of just saying that this motor was in Nevada, they altered the country's geography so that Wisconsin is now an arid wasteland instead of lakes, forests and dairy farms and hoped no one would notice, assuming they noticed themselves. As I said, the book would have to be radically altered to make an entertaining film but these douchebags were such slavish Rand fans that they couldn't even bring themselves to change an insignificant geographical detail. Anyhoo, Hank and Dagny arrive at the abandoned auto factory they were looking for and, after explaining that the factory closed down because it actually paid its workers a living wage instead of in slave wages paid out in scrip that could only be used at the company store, they find this stupid wonder motor sitting on a shelf and try to find out who designed it. It was John Galt. (spoiler alert).

WISCONSIN, BITCHES! I believe this is downtown Madison.

1:36:00 -- First off, I finally decided to watch this movie when I saw its run time and said, "96 minutes? That won't be so bad." In that 96 minutes, my psyche has been so irreparably damaged that it's now something H.P. Lovecraft would have described as, "Having risen from the Stygian depths, its very existence corrupting, its very nature blasphemous." This was, simply, a horrible movie made by incompetent filmmakers. Clunky dialogue, endless boardroom meetings, philosophical diatribes in place of action and, of course, the Deserts of Wisconsin all added up to something that actually outmatches the stupidity of that movie with the pretty vampire who beats the woman he loves but it's OK because she loved it and their werewolf friend who wants to mate with their newborn daughter. Oh well, let's get this over with. Hank and Dagny travel all over the damn place trying to find out who designed that motor until Dagny finally finds the professor whose assistant was the brains behind it all but the professor is being a huge dick and won't tell her that it was John Galt (spoiler alert). John Galt is actually there in the diner where the professor works but she doesn't get a chance to let her Galt sense kick in because of reports that the oil fields of her friend, Ellis Wyatt have blown up so she rushes over there so she can blankly stare at them. Meanwhile, James and his parasite buddies have pretty much taken over everything and gone full Commie with new regulations and taxes designed to punish success. Do you know what this all means? PART ONE IS OVER! YAY! Not dissuaded by their utter box office failure and lack of filmmaking prowess, Kaslow and company are releasing Part 2 this Fall under the belief that it will influence the election. It should since the eight people who saw Part 1 are reportedly not voting for Obama. I can't wait to see if they manage to get Part 3 made since the pitch to investors will have to include this sentence: "And then, at the end, John Galt makes an hour long speech telling everyone who's not him that they're just lumps of shit he scrapes off his shoe and that they should consider themselves lucky that he allows them to be fucked in the ass by him." Yeah, that should fill seats. Anyway, we now have forever committed to video the ideas that drive figures as diverse as former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and that guy at Tea Party rallies who holds up the sign saying, "KEEP THE GOVERNMENT'S HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE." Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to a benefit victims of Wisconsin desertification.

Dagny in a great deal of pain because she tried to change her expression.


miglet said...


I almost put it on my instant queue the other day out of curiosity.

You are my hero for watching it.

Michael Clear said...

I just glad this wasn't the part of the book with the long speech. I wonder how they're going to handle that though I feel confident in saying that "poorly" will figure prominently in any future descriptions.

Steven said...

Wow, aren't you shallow and in need of big budget Michael Bay gruel to feed your feeble attention span. These things you lambast this book and film for are the very things that actually go on in life to make the world turn. There are boardroom chess games that determine the fate of millions of people. While seemly boring to you, they are critical and carry far more weight in the outcome of the world and the outcome of people's lives than the latest blockbuster explosion. That's the true intensity of those situations you'd rather not watch or read. They are the moments that shape the world around you, but you close your eyes to them because they aren't glittery enough for you.

Michael Clear said...

I am aware of board rooms and their role in society. I am also aware of the fact that the board room and corporate meeting scenes in Atlas Shrugged were much an actual board meeting I was in recently where I struggled to stay awake. If you want to see movies that make board room meetings and other corporate activities look interesting, watch Wall Street or Network or Boiler Room. None of those were Michael Bay movies AND none of them had scenes where people drove through the deserts of Wisconsin.

I am truly, honestly sorry that the gang of incompetents who made this movie took what I am assuming is one of your favorite novels and fucked it up on such an epic scale. I really am. Blame them for the fact that it sucked, not me.

BT said...

I'm sorry Michael, but Steven is right. In fact, I'm about to pitch my new script to Hollywood any day now. It's an epic period piece, set in the '70s, and a true story to boot. The entire movie takes place in Bill Gates boyhood home, and involves him sitting silently at his kitchen table reading technical manuals to himself. It's 8.5 hours long, but you really get a feel for how things were in the real world.

Michael Clear said...

I won't like it because it's not a Michael Bay movie. Also, this guy clearly never read anything else I've ever written, much less my review of the last Transformers film.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review and critique of a misleading and damaging ideology. You wrote almost exactly what I was going to write, so now I don't have to. I really hope enough people read this. Please publicize it!!!