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Friday, April 15, 2011

Chris sees ATLAS SHRUGGED, PART 1 and says it's a SPECTACULAR movie and the most elegant adaptation he's EVER beheld!

Six nights ago I was sitting in a theater in Asheville, North Carolina during ActionFest for a midnight screening of Hobo With A Shotgun, with a mostly male audience that didn't quite fill all the seats in the house.

A short while ago, I came back from the one theater in Greensboro, North Carolina that's showing Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 on its opening day, and I saw it with a MUCH bigger audience: this one made up of men and women and boy and girls of all ages... who sat in utter silence during the hour and 45 minutes that the movie run and then wildly applauded at the end with many asking "When does Part 2 come out?!?"

If tonight was any indication, then you read it here first dear readers: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is going to be a big, big sleeper hit at the box office.

But lemme preface this review by admitting that it was only a month and a half ago that I read Ayn Rand's masterpiece novel for the first time. Yeah, like in, ever. It was just one of those book that I wanted to read, but based on what others had said about it I thought it was too daunting a task until I found time to take a stab at it. But with this movie coming out, and some trusted associates telling me "Chris we can't believe you never read Atlas Shrugged before!" I finally bought a copy. It was during a stop at the friendly neighborhood Books A Million, purchasing Atlas Shrugged alongside The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and "Weird Al" Yankovic's new children's book When I Grow Up.

Guess which book, after reading it, that I already have on my short list of most influential works of literature ever after the Bible? Not that there's anything wrong with Yoda and Weird Al, but I digress...

So I'd known the basic story of Atlas Shrugged for a long time. Mostly 'cuz of snippets of it here and there on the Internet, like Francisco's "money speech". But I didn't understand Atlas Shrugged with the intimacy that comes with actually having read the book.

And now that I have, I can certainly attest that I came away from it an inestimably better person. That's not to say that I agreed with everything Rand preached in her novel. I have a serious problem with her fierce atheism. But I have arrived at my own solemn vow for living my life, and if there's any merit to what Rand was conveying through John Galt, I think it's only perfectly fitting that I can adhere to what I believe and have the utmost faith in that.

But anyhoo, having read Atlas Shrugged, I had heaps of high expectations for the film. And unfortunately I was bracing myself for the worst. There have been attempts to adapt this to film for forty years now, and for all of that effort I was girding myself to expect a half-hearted effort with cheesy production values along the lines of too many "evangelical Christian" movies that go straight to video and are an embarrassment to watch, much less produce...

I drastically underestimated director Paul Johansson and his crew. Because Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 ended up being a spectacular thrill ride that doesn't just stand toe to toe with everything else playing in cinemas right now, it surpasses them. This is a film about business and power and virtue and corruption on the same level as The Godfather and There Will Be Blood...

...and I'm gonna really be watching with giddy interest how people will be reacting to this movie. After reading some of the reviews and then witnessing the reaction at the cinema tonight, I can put it no clearer than this: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is gonna be a helluva litmus test.

If you've read the book, then you should go in knowing that Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 covers the span of the novel's Part 1, right up to its fiery and defiant ending (which is as violent a cliffhanger as I've seen in any movie). The film begins in 2016, and that's the one thing which I didn't like about this movie: it should have simply told us it was "A few years from now...", like Mad Max did. To me, giving a year like that in a science fiction movie (and I do consider Atlas Shrugged to be a science fiction novel about a dystopian near-future) is too much like a "sell by" date. But I can let it slide this time, 'cuz Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 - incredible though it may seem - is actually a very smart update of Rand's original novel. The first few minutes set up the situation: how worldwide economic turmoil has made rail transportation of people and goods one of the few reliable industries remaining. And in this America that may yet come to pass, there is no bigger railroad company than Taggart Transcontinental.

Well, there's not much else that I can comment about the story if you've read the book, because Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is almost certainly the most elegant adaptation of a novel that I've ever had the pleasure of watching. We see Dagny Taggart (played by Taylor Shilling) work against her brother's incompetence and political backstabbing to keep her family's company rolling and profitable. And that means taking a gamble when no one else will by contracting with Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler) to replace hundreds of miles of dilapidated rail across Colorado and Wyoming with new ones consisting of the newly-forged Rearden Metal.

And if they had lived in a sane world, what Dagny and Hank achieve would have been the beginning of a new renaissance of industry and science and transportation. It would have, were it not for a government of schemers and a societal "elite" that are bringing about such ridiculous laws as "the Anti Dog Eat Dog Act" which are stifling innovation "for the public good". And looming over it all is the rash of disappearances of industrialists: people like Midas Mulligan and Richard McNamara, who vanish without a trace... save one. The ubiquitous question that tantalizes from the common vulgar: "Who is John Galt?"

This is a mystery movie. This is an action movie. Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is a film that could not have been made in decades previous... and I like to believe that it's providential that it's coming out in theaters now, of all times. The acting is high caliber (I especially found Shilling's portrayal of Dagny to be spot-on perfect, as is Jsu Garcia's turn as Francisco D'Anconia and he is going to be a hoot to watch in Part 2, if this installment is any indication). The production values are stellar, and surprised me profusely. I was anticipating some terrible CGI work when it came time to see the first train of the John Galt Line make its run. It turned out to be a beautiful and triumphant sequence... but even that was dwarfed by the final scene of the film.

And when it got to the end, and that toad-strangler of a dangling thread that Part 2 cannot get here soon enough to pick up, I was... astonished. So were the two friends that I watched it with. Along with most of the audience, I would safely gauge.

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is the kind of film adaptation of a novel that most of us would demand to see but never expect to seriously happen. It is a rollickin' good film for any audience. This is assuredly a popcorn movie... but it's also one that's asking hard questions and demanding answers from those who watch it. In short: a film for the intellect as well as the eyeballs.

And I'll give it my highest recommendation. DON'T wait for the DVD or the Blu-ray for this one, folks. It's well worth seeing in its first run!


Marc said...

Off topic comment, I'm afraid, but the father of that little girl who kneeled and bowed to Darth Vader has posted an extended video:


So now we get a better close up of the cute little girl, plus an explanation as to how and why she did it. :-)

Larry said...

I think Jsu Garcia needs to slow down his delivery a bit, give Francisco D'Anconia a bit of brash and swagger. I thought he was too rushed.
Also, just one quibble, in the shot where you saw the side of the locomotive...there was no engineer!
Finally, I could have gone without Ellis Wyatt's monologue at the end, I thought the sign was quite enough.
So there are my three, and only three, criticisms of the entire film. It was extremely well done, the writers did a fantastic job of condensing the book (which can tend to be a bit wordy, to say the least) to a taut screenplay. Everything needed was there, and nothing that was left out damaged the story line. Even though I would have preferred more of an art deco theme with steam engines, the modern setting adds an impact that would otherwise be missing.
The shots of that train ride were...enormous is a good word I think. Absolutely spectacular.
So yeah...outstanding movie and I can't wait for Part 2!

Kyuzo said...

Holding at 8% on Rotten Tomatoes with a $1.7 million opening week take. Looks like you are a terrible movie reviewer and even worse prognosticator.

Chris Knight said...


ATLAS SHRUGGED, PART 1 opened on just less than 300 screens and averaged third behind RIO and SCREAM 4, with $5,590 per screen.

By any logical measure, that is a HUGE success for such a small opening. If it expands to more screens, I think this could become something like what MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING turned into some years ago: a small film that went on to make more than a hundred million dollars over a span of time due to word of mouth.

And Rotten Tomatoes?! You mean, *ahem*, "real" movie critics like Roger Ebert who gave a glowing review for CHE a few years ago when ATLAS SHRUGGED has already *TROUNCED* that movie's all-time box office take?!

THOSE movie critics?


Unknown said...

What a great review!!!!! This movie exceeded my expectations as well! I knew the critics would bash this movie the minute it came out! Unless it is their message then they hate it!! The movies I could name, but I don't have time or care enough to name them all that have a liberal minded message, but even when they are awful they give it a good review, and then make excuses why it did awful at the box office!! Opposite here, they trash it and then when it does good, trash that!! Sad!! Thank you for a review that actually was right on!! The acting was great and the story was told well!!!!! I am telling everyone I know to see it, because really it has gotten no press in the mainstream media!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It's a bit funny that Atlas Shrugged still DOES fit as a near-future work, because some of the creations in it STILL haven't been pulled off yet! Though Ayn Rand did hit it dead on the bull's-eye with the future usage of shale oil... ;)

I agree with Colleen's comment.
I'm a bit reminded of Ronald Reagan's remark about the government and the economy:
"If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." I suppose, for artistic works, that should be changed to "If it moves, mock it. If it keeps moving, ignore it. And if it stops moving, praise it." :P

Thanks for this review, by the way. I wasn't interested, both because I glimpsed the bad reviews (though, to be fair, I realized they probably came from loathers of the book) and because I wondered how in the world they could manage to adapt the book, but after reading your review, I wonder if I should go and watch it myself. :) So thank you again! And it's very good to hear about the reactions of the audience - hope it does become a massive sleeper hit!

"So fitting that on Income Tax Day here in the United States, that many who had never even heard of him before will be asking "Who is John Galt?""
BWAHAHAHAHA! I didn't even NOTICE that about the release date, although I knew there was SOMETHING I should have been remembering...

I wonder if that was intentional? ;)