08 October 2013

Atlas Shrugged: Part Two: The Strike

A movie like Atlas Shrugged: Part Two: The Strike: Colons Colons Colons raises some important questions in the viewer:

  • Is our society really composed of a heroic handful of geniuses, surrounded by the mooching unwashed masses?
  • As time moves on from a work of fiction, at what point does a film adaptation have to bite the bullet and start making big changes?

And lastly:

  • Why would anyone inflict this movie on the world?

I don't have any answers.  All I have is hatred.

At the end of the last movie, railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel producer Hank Rearden struggled to keep their businesses going in the face of a crushing recession caused by mooching government officials, while also worrying about a mysterious figure who is visiting other major industrialists and forcing them to vanish off the face of the planet.  They also start having an affair, and plus there's some other stuff that's surprisingly irrelevant to the plot (also: it's boring).

In this movie (SPOILERS) nothing happens (WAIT WAS THAT A SPOILER?  I DON'T KNOW).  Dagny and Hank keep on sleeping together, the government keeps on being gradually more evil, and more geniuses vanish from their jobs.  The only actual events of any importance are a big train crash (caused by the government and general incompetence) and a big plane crash (caused by the dedicated work of many Chinese digital artists).

Such a minimal amount of plot is kind of amazing in a two-hour movie, but it's just reflective of the source material, Ayn Rand's dystopian novel.  This middle part of the novel is filled with gradual decline, long speeches, and tedious aptronyms (Wesley Mouch is the government moocher!).

The filmmakers might be able to plea their source when it comes to those limitations - what, were they going to leave out Francisco D'Anconia's sneering speeches? - but there are so very many other things that can only be their fault.

  • Thanks to absurdly poor lighting and cinematography, the movie has the atmosphere of  SyFy Original Movie Squidshark Tornado.  It actually looks like they used fluorescent overhead office lights from the 1970s.
  • The acting is a cruel joke, and may actually be subtle ironic mockery of the very idea of acting.  Samantha Mathis and Jason Beghe met in quiet conference somewhere and said, "Okay, you hang your breasts out there real good, and I'll talk in this gravelly voice, and then we'll just see if they buy it."
  • The soundtrack seems to be one single little beeping song, played slightly faster during travel scenes ("deedle dee dum dum dum we are on a train") and slightly slower during dramatic scenes ("deedle   dee     dum     dum    dum     we     are    still    on     a     train   for    some    reason").

There were also a lot of specific issues:

  • Even though the world was supposed to be in a catastrophic recession and there's supposed to be an atmosphere of oppressive, impending, universal failure, literally every scene in the movie takes place in a setting of staggering opulence: high tech-offices, private trains, private jets, grand ballrooms, corporate offices.  It's impossible to believe what we're told about this world, even if Dagny does see some homeless people from the window of her limo (totally real, I did not make that up).
  • The phrasing of the original book has been haphazardly updated, so that we're given a blend of fifties-era allusions (now impenetrable) and crass modern digs.  For example, President Thompson appoints a "recovery czar" to seize control of the economy, while protesters with an unusual concern for significant digits wave signs reading, "We are the 99.08%".  The movie was released a month before the 2012 general election - the clumsy attempts at being topical are just sad now.
  • One of the more unpleasant aspects of Ayn Rand's Objectivism is that the vast majority of people are unworthy leeches, getting in the way of the titanic heroes.  But that's only appealing when vague, when readers/teenagers can convince themselves that they're one of the exceptional elite.  When you make a movie, you have to actually show large crowds of grasping moochers - something that doesn't go down well with audiences ("Almost everyone in this country sucks!  Where are you going?  Hey, get back here and worship me!").  So this movie gives us a schizophrenic combination of zombie-leech crowds and grassroots people's-protest crowds, simultaneously demanding more and less government control.
I could go on, perhaps indefinitely - this thing is so terrible that it has opened up exciting new fields of study in terribleness.

Everything about Atlas Shrugged: Part Two: The Strike was a failure, and it was hilariously painful to watch.  It made $3 million on a a $10 million budget (financed by debt!), and that fate is entirely deserved.

I eagerly await Part Three, now that the Kickstarter begging has gotten underway.

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