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L. Neil Smith's
Number 621, May 29, 2011

"Anything less than freedom is not freedom, but something else."

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Atlas Shrugged: A Movie Review
by Sean Gangol

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Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

Recently, the first installment of the movie adaptation of the classic Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged was released in theaters. In 1992 an entrepreneur who happened to be a fan of the original novel, purchased the rights, hoping to make a faithful movie adaptation. For many years the project sat idle. At one point Angelina Jolie and Charlene Theorizan were interested in playing Dagny Taggart, the novel's main protagonist and there were talks of a mini-series, all of which never came to pass.

The entrepreneur who purchased the movie rights decided to fund the movie on his own, using actors who were lesser known. I have to admit that I had my own reservations about the movie. When I first saw the trailer of the movie, I was somewhat skeptical about the movie being set in the present (I would later find out that it took place in the near future), since Atlas Shrugged was published in the late fifties. I wasn't too enthusiastic about the casting of Taylor Schilling as Dagny either. It's not that I had anything against this particular actress; she just seemed different from the Dagny that I had pictured in the novel.

Since the makers of the movie couldn't find a distributor, the movie had a limited release in only 299 theaters. Luckily, there was a theater not too far from my home that showed the first installment. At the beginning of the movie, we see that it is set in the year 2016. We are given a brief overview of all the economic turmoil, some of which is happening now. Gas prices have sky rocketed to an unprecedented high and the economy has sunk into a depression.

The rest of the movie follows the novel almost exactly. Like the novel, we see some of society's most valuable entrepreneurs disappear after being confronted by some shadowy figure. The characters are also consistent with the novel. Grant Bowler does an excellent job portraying Hank Rearden, a capitalist who makes no bones about the fact that he works for his own self interest. The movie also captures the essence of his family life from the novel as well. We see that his family is a bunch of parasitic hypocrites who have no problem leaching off of his fortune, while criticizing him for his capitalistic ways.

Even though I was initially skeptical of the casting of Schilling as Dagny, I was pleasantly surprised by her performance. Once I got over the fact she didn't match the image that I had of the character, I was able to accept her. Some people thought she was wooden, but I thought Schilling did a good job capturing the personality of Dagny. She also seemed to have good chemistry with Bowler.

The makers of the movie also preserved the message of how human ingenuity can accomplish almost anything and how it could be easily stifled by power hungry bureaucrats. I was also glad that some of my favorite scenes from the book were able to make it into the movie. One of them was the part about how the government bullied a state run scientific organization to declare Rearden Metal unsafe by threatening to cut off their grants, which is reminiscent of the way the government forces certain organizations to jump on the global warming band wagon. I also liked the way that they handled the scene on the John Galt line. I almost got up and cheered when Dagny and Hank triumphed over the naysayers who said that Rearden Metal would never hold under the weight of the trains.

Since the movies are split into three segments, the last scene that we are left with is the disappearance of Ellis Wyatt, the oil tycoon (played by Graham Beckel). It is then that the shadow man, who confronts all the entrepreneurs before they disappear, is revealed as the great John Galt. As shown in the novel, the popular expression that is used by everybody in mainstream society "Who is John Galt?" is constantly brought up, but nobody seems to know what it actually means. Galt is actually a man who respects the rights of a man to be able reap the benefits of his own labor and has created an alternative society that he calls Atlantis. Before abandoning his life in mainstream society, Wyatt destroys his own oil fields and proclaims that he is on strike.

For a movie put together on a limited budget it actually flowed quite well. I was a little worried about the initial pacing of the movie. I was afraid that the movie would drag on the same way that the most recent Harry Potter movie did when it was split into two parts. I suppose that the situation was different with Atlas Shrugged. The only way to do the book justice is to split it up into three parts.

My only real disappointment with the movie was the reception it received. It has been panned by critics and has only made four million out of the fifteen million dollar budget. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. After all it was only released on 299 screens and advertisement outside the internet was almost nonexistent. The cast consisting mostly of unknowns probably didn't help either. I am not at all surprised that the critics have responded so negatively to the movie, considering that the entertainment industry is incredibly hostile towards capitalism (unless it suits their own purpose). Not that I ever put much stock in what the critics say. I have lost count of how many times I have had to walk out on a movie that was critically acclaimed.

The critics who really disappoint me the most are the fans of the original novel. I think what these people don't seem to realize is that a movie with a limited budget is going to have limited resources. It's not like Transformers where there is hundreds of millions of dollars backing it. You can only work within your means, and for a movie that had little to work with, Atlas Shrugged succeeded quite well. I just hope the lack of reception at the box office doesn't discourage the makers from completing the saga. There is nothing that I hate more then an unfinished saga. I think we can all agree that Ayn Rand's book deserves better then an incomplete adaptation.


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