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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atlas Sucked: Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt?




Screenplay by James Manera, Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro (based on the novel by Ayn Rand)
Directed by James Manera

Laura Regan:  Dagny Taggart (Mark III)
Greg German:  James Taggart (Mark III)
Joaquim de Almeida:  Francisco D'Anconia (Mark III)
Rob Morrow:  Henry Rearden (Mark III)
Louis Herthum:  Wesley Mouch (Mark III)
Kristoffer Polaha:  John Galt (Mark III)

With STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKI! as Dr. Hugh Akston

You can't keep a good terrible idea down. Despite the fact that the first two movies adapting Ayn Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged lost several million dollars between them, John Aglialoro went ahead and made a third movie to wrap up the story. This one made $846,000 in its theatrical run, which means that even the audiences that showed up to the first two ignored this one. That's got to sting--it can be taken for granted that critics are going to take a shit on this particular magnum opus. If Aglialoro and the other filmmakers thought they had a massive hit on their hands the first two times, the reception with the general public had to have cured that misconception in 2011. Looks like every single cast member declined to return also as well, so there are three completely different casts for three movies.

And I have to say I harbored a suspicion that this movie was going to be the barn-burning 65-page, one-paragraph speech from the end of the novel, delivered in real time by whoever was going to play John Galt this time. It'd be a cheap way to fill up the movie's running time and someone on YouTube would clip a segment out of it and dub in dialogue from another source in order to have John Galt rambling about having an onion on his belt, as was the style at the time, while taking the ferry to Shelbyville.

On to the film. An onscreen title announces that it takes place "the day after tomorrow", which means we're going to get massive flooding, Jake Gyllenhaal running away from cold weather and dire CGI wolves (not, sadly, CGI direwolves). Oh, no, wait, we're not getting that. We're getting a flashback to a 20th Century Motors workers' meeting narrated by a voiceover dude, with dialogue by characters as well. So it's a flashback to the future. Sort of like the beginning of Plan 9 from Outer Space that announces CRISWELL PREDICTS and then gives the viewer a rambling monologue in which Criswell does not actually predict a single thing. Turns out the children of the car company's owner took the reins after his death, and set up a Communistic salary structure (as hereditary billionaires often do). Everyone was supposed to work as hard as they could, but the people who said they needed the most money got paid a larger share than other workers.

One beefy-faced middle-aged line worker stands up to say he doesn't accept this newfangled way of "sharing" but we don't actually get to hear his no doubt awesome and persuasive speech. We do get to hear the vow to "stop the motor of the world", revealing that this man of courage and action who bravely walks off the job can be no other than John Galt himself. There is general consternation from the assembled workers as he leaves, and then the narrator says over the next twelve years lots of businesses collapsed. There's also a recap of the back story of the first two movies wherein gas is so expensive that planes and cars are no longer economically viable, but somehow trains are (this is a sop to the fans of the novel, since updating Taggart Transcontinental to be an airline would be a betrayal of Ayn Rand's defining moral principles.

The narrator continues, letting the viewer know that all the geniuses of business and finance who toiled endlessly to keep the country working have vanished and how Mister Midnight's John Galt's plan to wreck society because people share too much might actually be working. I'm positive the director didn't plan for it, but I found the start of the movie to be nostalgically comfortable. Stock footage of semi-related things? Portentous voiceovers? It's like I'm watching a Universal monster flick from 1958 instead of the third part of a failed literary adaptation.

And incidentally, for those of you who were wondering why on Earth the filmmakers would burn five minutes of precious running time with a recap of the first three movies (because there is no person alive who would watch this movie without already having seen the prior two entries in the trilogy):  It does happen. I've seen Death Wish 3 more than half a dozen times, but never watch part one or part two. Prologue over, it's time to revisit Dagny Taggart's plane crash (using some footage from the second film and some new material because we've got the third actress in three films playing the same part). I imagine there's a discount rack of James Taggarts and John Galts at the movie parts store right next to the shelf where the new model James Bonds are kept.

Anyway, the newest regeneration of Dagny Taggart has crashed her plane following a mysterious other plane, and John Galt his own damn self comes to the wreck to tell her not to move. Then he picks her up, making sure to move her neck and spine as much as humanly possible while taking her to get medical treatment. Totally awesome philosopher Dr. Akston shows up to get Dagny's luggage from the plane crash and cheer me up because it's always great to see Stephen Tobolowski in anything. Akston also tells Dagny that John Galt is the man who invented the arc reactor magical static electricity motor that she spent the last movie searching for. "Midas" Mulligan, a bank CEO, is also in this mysterious hidden valley ranch, and says hi to Dagny when she gets loaded into a pickup truck so she won't have to walk all the way to a doctor. Mulligan says that only Dagny and Hank Rearden were missing from the collection of unique billionaire tycoon geniuses who singlehandedly kept the American economy from collapse through their unappreciated efforts.

A neurosurgeon famous enough for Dagny to recognize his name even with a serious head injury shows up to make sure she's not going to die or anything. He's got an X-Ray tricorder that he invented himself, and wishes every doctor could have one but there's just too much regulation from the government to make that feasible (not mentioned:  Who would be paying for all the diagnostic iPads that every doctor in America should have?). Dagny doesn't have any serious injuries, though bathing her body in hard radiation for the diagnosis means she either won't be able to have kids or if she does, they'll look like melted Pokemon. Dagny demands to pay the medical bill herself, which at least means she has the iron-willed resolve and self-determination that Ayn Rand demonstrated in her own real life. Galt carries Dagny up to a bedroom and says it's her choice whether she's going to be a guest at his house or a prisoner (presumably in his sex dungeon).

Then it's time for more stock footage and narration. To sum up:  Rumors spread of Dagny's disappearance, people are in a bread line, the sun sets, a boat has partly tipped over and a still picture of a guy in a fisherman's cap stands in for pirate Ragnar Danneskjold's daring sea raid on a government relief ship. (Also, I should point out here that Part III appears to have been shot on video, while the first two movies looked more like they were filmed on real film.) Dagny and Galt go to a dinner party held at Midas Mulligan's (where the vanished-tycoon attendees are overwhelmingly white with the occasional Asian or black person in the background in a nonspeaking role). Dagny gets a standing golf-clap ovation from the assembled partygoers. Mulligan mentions that he fled from America when his banks were forced to make loans to people who couldn't pay them back (because the evil government forces wanted him to lose money, I guess). If that dialogue is taken directly from the novel, then consider just what kinds of loans banks would have to be forced by government action to make before the civil rights marches of the early 1960s. I'm guessing that the 1957 version of Mulligan's bank had "NO JEWS NO DOGS NO COLOREDS" signs on every teller window.

The neurosurgeon says he had to opt out of American society completely because politicians with no medical training were making decisions about medicine. Galt says all the genius CEOs that made America strong and productive went on strike, punishing the country with their absence. I'm pretty sure that if the CEO of McDonalds disappeared in the Rapture tomorrow, the various stores would still be able to sell McNuggets without his guidance and wisdom. Galt gives a speech about how charity is fine and all, but only if the person giving out the money gets to decide what people do with it. He also says he doesn't feel guilty about his success, and he shouldn't. But that haircut? Yes, he should be consumed with shame. The feathered half-mullet is a style whose time shall never come.

Ellis Wyatt, the oil tycoon who set his wells on fire before going on strike, introduces himself to Dagny (and the audience, because this version of the character looks like a background extra from the Grand Ole Opry's salute to Deadwood rather than the previous two movies' CEOs). Dagny chides him (she sounds kind of stoned in this scene, and the doctor from earlier says she didn't have a concussion) and Wyatt says he couldn't keep supporting a system that was trying to destroy him. Because billionaires have to put up with just so much shit. Then Mulligan joins in on their pity party and congratulates Dagny for running away from everything she ever knew because she wasn't appreciated enough.

Oh, cripes, it's another stock footage / still photo montage. Ragnar Dannaskjold doesn't even get a single picture in this one, but another picture of a boat represents him sinking a copper shipment, which means that power outages continue in America. Back at Galt's cabin, Dagny is told by her host that she should stay for a month to decide whether or not the outside world has anything for her to return to, but then (over breakfast, no less) Galt also tells her that nobody eats for free in his magical capitalist utopia. Also, while he's dropping news on her, he says they use gold for currency exclusively, not the corrupted statist construct known as "paper money". Dagny offers to work as Galt's personal maid and housekeeper for room, board and spending cash--which is actually pretty sensible, because it's not like they have a crying need for railroads in Galt's Gulch. I wonder who grew the oranges for their breakfast juice (and raised the pigs that became their delicious bacon, and grew the cotton that their fashionable blue-collar jeans and flannel shirts were made from, and so on and so on).

While driving Dagny around (did Ellis Wyatt personally refine the oil that Galt's Land Rover is burning?) they pass Francisco D'Anconia's swinging bachelor pad. Also, he's driving on a paved road with a double yellow line down the middle, which makes me wonder if Paul Ryan's family got the paving contract for the freeway there. A giant wad of striking tycoons hang out at a farmer's market exchanging gold coins for goods and services (and everyone's dressed like they're hoping for a callback from the L. L. Bean catalog people, which is how billionaires dress in the real world all the time). The elusive Ragnar Dannaskjold is there buying free-range antibiotic free chicken and he explains that he only stole from ships carrying things paid for by governments. He also doesn't pay for the apple he snagged from a picturesque wooden basket, the thieving sack of shit.

Speaking of shitbags, the third regeneration of James Taggart shows up in another montage to say that just because there's a shortage of copper wire, there's no reason to expect late shipments of Minnesota wheat via Taggart Transcontinental freight trains. I didn't know the trains needed copper wire, but I'm not a CEO in a movie. James also declares that his sister is dead following the disappearance of her plane--which I'm not entirely sure he knew she bought, or was flying. But roll with it.

The "Head of State", Mr. Thompson, is talking to his cabal of yes-men and ass-kissers about science, and how people shouldn't own science just because they invented a thing. He also says that it's a public right to share in scientific advancement, even if that means scientists don't make money off their achievements. The Ayn-Rand-didn't-want-to-call-him-the-President then alludes to a forthcoming speech that should be carried on "all the networks", mentions the ominous sounding "Project F", and says that drastic future measures will be necessary to protect the public.

But enough of that ill-defined political horseshit, let's go back to Dagny and Galt! John Galt praises Dagny's great-grandfather, who was in charge of the railroad back when Chinese slave labor daring innovation led to massive expansion. He also explains the history of Taggart Transcontinental to Dagny, who naturally wouldn't have known about the century-old family rail business that she used to run singlehandedly. They both talk about the still-standing Taggart Bridge that connects the two halves of the country, which means it's probably going to collapse by the end of the film. The only way they could make its demise more certain would be to mention that it had only two weeks to go until retirement or point out that it knows Charles Bronson. Galt says he personally invited everyone living in the Gulch other than Dagny, who got there by accident (but also by following leads on the clever people he'd invited there earlier). Galt tells Dagny that she's got to choose whether or not to stay, and we get a wonderfully flat line reading from Laura Regan:  "But I love the railroad my great-grandfather built". What's the exact opposite of selling a line? Because that is what just happened. Galt abruptly says good night and leaves Dagny to conk out in the guest room. The wood-beamed ceiling has carved encouragements from all the other tycoons and geniuses that stayed in Galt's guest bedroom, one of the rare examples of human sentiment to be found in any of the films.

The movie pauses for an interlude to tell the audience that Francisco D'Anconia destroyed the copper mines that had sustained his family business for centuries; with all the tunnels caved in there was no way to extract any more copper over the whole entire world. We get footage from the second film for this scene rather than just a picture of a gravel quarry standing in for an exploding copper mine.
Francisco himself shows up at Galt's rustic country cabin the next morning, He and Galt talk briefly before the strike's mastermind takes Dagny out to look at the super awesome free-energy motor he built to run the Gulch. Instead of "Speak, friend, and enter" as the passphrase to unlock the indestructible shed door that protects the valley's power plant, there's a phrase that's probably the Orange Lantern oath. Once Galt recites it the door opens automatically. He won't let Dagny in unless she swears the same vow of eternal selfishness, so she (and the audience) don't get to see the bigger version of the mystery engine from the second movie quite yet.

More driving and state-park scenery follows; the cinematic equivalent of sawdust in the bread flour. Dagny and John Galt get to know each other in a silent montage of routine power equipment maintenance and canoe-polishing. Both actors seem quite a bit more charming when we don't hear anything they're saying. Their candlelit dinner features Akston Vineyard wine; I don't know how long the strike's been going on but doesn't it take a while to grow grapes, stomp them into pulp, let it ferment and become wine, and then bottle the stuff? Or is Akston--who, remember, is a philosophy professor and not a viticulturist--just printing up labels and sticking them on bottles full of boxed wine? We may never get the true answer to this question. It does seem to be one of Rand's axioms that someone who is effective in one field (hereditary control of a corporation) is supposed to be fantastic at others (jet piloting); perhaps all of her super awesome runaways in Galt's Gulch are just supposed to be inherently great at everything they try to do. That's actually one of the most realistic parts of the film; after all, actors make great singers every single time they try it.

Back at the brand new D'Anconia mine (I do not know what the Gulch needs with a copper mine, but there is one), Dagny plans for a three-mile rail line that will help her ex-boyfriend's copper mine produce more ore more efficiently; I don't know who she's going to get to make the rails and lay the track, but she sure does have a little notebook with a sketch in it. She says the track can be laid down in ninety days; I guess Rand really does think anyone who is rich can automatically do anything they decide to do.

Over in the Akston vineyards (a bottle says 2012 on it, but the movie takes place in the future, so I guess it's a future 2012 just like the future dystopia of 1994 from The Apple), the professor explains to Dagny that society is run by incompetents with too much power because they believe you can take from one man and give to another. Akston believes that individual achievement is more important than what anyone can do for other people, and to prove it he has left the Gulch to live a life of total solitude and avoidance of the contaminating influence of doing anything near anyone else. Oh, wait, he didn't do that at all. Anyway, Akston talks about how people aren't entitled to be alive unless they earn it, and how all the CEOs and movers and shakers need to accept that they can't just keep doing things out of the goodness of their hearts to save all the peons that would be lost without guidance. Akston says the system only stays propped up because the achievers and builders want to keep producing (which is kind of odd, because Taggart Transcontinental doesn't actually produce anything--they don't make their own rails, they don't mine the coal that some engines use or refine the fuel that other ones do, and they don't build their own engines).

It's great seeing what a world-class "that guy" can do with this material, and Stephen Tobolowsky was worth twice his paycheck for this film. It's amazing what a competent actor can do with material that sounds like it was written as the prologue for the Robot Holocaust, and Tobolowsky is far, far, far too overqualified to be saying any of this garbage. But because he is a genuine trouper he commits to the role and sells the hell out of it. I hope he got a new car out of this.

Hey, time for another still photo and narration interlude! The President is still planning to give a speech. Hank Rearden is still looking for Dagny Taggart. The pine forests of wherever the stock footage was shot are green. Rearden does a flyover of the Gulch (hidden by a cheap special effect that looks more than a bit like the forcefield in The Cabin in the Woods); Ragnar Danneskjold recognizes the pilot from 9,000 feet below on the ground; that night, Galt and D'Anconia decide they need to move ahead with Operation:  Hank Rearden Needs To Be In Our Clubhouse while drinking moderately heavily. Later that night, Dagny and Galt talk about when he first started stalking her while eating cake.

The State Science Institute builds lethal crowd control weapons (illustrated by stock footage of existing weapons systems intended to be used against unarmed American civilians who get ideas above their station). And the Taggart Tunnel, still blocked by a landslide, is the only way to get from one side of the country to the other (apparently none of the moochers figured out how to take a train to the nearest depot on one side of the tunnel and drive over the mountains on existing roadways, then get on a train on the other side of the tunnel. It's inelegant, but it works much better than not doing anything). Then we go back to the John Galt Encounter Group Conversation Pit where everyone present wants to know if Dagny is going to go on strike with them or not.

Galt is planning to go back to New York City for some reason or other; Dagny has another day or so to decide whether or not she's joining the strikers (the movie does not raise the issue of whether she'll be allowed to leave if she wants to go back to the world, since she knows the location of Galt's Gulch and the evil forces of socialism and government control would sure like to get all its geniuses back--I imagine Galt, D'Anconia, Mulligan, Wyatt and all the others would be perfectly capable of living with themselves if they had to shoot Dagny in the back of the head eight or ten times and then throw her off a cliff). Anyway, Galt says if he returns to the world it will be so he can retrieve the only thing he wants for himself (which is probably the last Twinkie in existence). Mulligan predicts nationwide riots, food shortages, rolling power blackouts and--worst of all--a railroad bridge collapsing. When she hears about that last item on that list, Dagny realizes she can't let the world fall apart so badly that a railroad bridge will fall down and she has to go back to American civilization.

Galt makes Dagny pinky swear that she won't tell anyone about Galt's Gulch, and that she'll come up with some kind of explanation of where she's been for the last thirty days other than "I know who John Galt is now and he's living under a cheap effect of a hologram in Colorado"--she also isn't allowed back except by invitation. That night, Dagny and Galt converse through a closed bedroom door about whether or not it's a good idea for John Galt to go anywhere out of the Gulch since he's got to be an enemy of the state by now. He says he'll leave so he can stalk Dagny again in case she wants to return to Sulktropolis with the other billionaires in jean jackets.

Galt flies Dagny out of the Gulch after blindfolding her so she can't find the place again (although she found it the first time, so I'm not certain how much use that will be). There's some more foresty-mountainy travelogue footage at this point. I think the movie would be about half an hour shorter if all the re-establishing shots of houses, stock footage, and scenic views were excised. Add in the driving, flying and locomoting scenes and there might well be forty solid minutes of padding in a ninety-nine minute film.

Dagny's departure from the plane when it lands is shot in a manner that almost disguises that her departure and arrival were filmed on the same day, probably about ten minutes apart from each other, at the same location. She gets on a Taggart train and leaves for New York City; apparently none of the employees on the train recognize their CEO and she doesn't pull the "Do you know who I am?" routine to get a first-class seat. She gets back to the Big Apple and her brother plans to announce she's back; meanwhile, in a scene too thrilling to actually show, loyal Rearden Steel workers are killed by violent, government-sanctioned union thugs that try to take over a plant (as often really happened during the history of organized labor in the United States). And wheat from Minnesota is not getting shipped to the East Coast because there aren't enough working trains to get it there. Could things get any worse?

There's a lot of "meanwhile" in this movie, and here's another one. Meanwhile, the head of the State Science Institute takes a forced meeting with one of the Head of State's political operatives. The politician tells the science guy that the Head of State is expecting full cooperation with the new political order. Project F turns out to be about eight pieces of paper with some typing on it in a single folder; the scientist immediately recognizes a cheap prop depicted therein as some kind of torture device and is incensed that his research was used to build it. He buckles like a Pilgrim shoe when threatened by the government stooge and signs off on whatever Project F is supposed to be. I'm not entirely sure why the Head of State needed a science bureaucrat to approve of whatever was going on, or why the public would be okay with it if some grant proposal writer said it was okay, but whatever.

Back at Taggart HQ, the wonderfully named Cuffy Meigs (with a mandate from Washington) is ordering route cancellations and re-routings of existing Taggart lines. He wants something called the "grapefruit special" sent in while the recently returned Dagny wants that Minnesota wheat sent to market, damn it! Her brother James explains the Railroad Unification Act, which is meant to nationalize the railroad industry and make them redistribute their profits. Either James doesn't actually know anything about the act or he's dogshit at explaining it; either way, Dagny wants no part of it. Meanwhile, in California, a lineman for Taggart notices a bad signal on the line and calls Eddie Willers (Dagny's personal lieutenant for overseeing Taggart TC) to warn him that something's going to happen somewhere soon but not to give any information that might make it possible to prevent the catastrophe. Thanks, guy!

Back at the office, Dagny tries to make some profit and ship some wheat to market, but the government regulation makes this impossible. Jim made plans for the Taggart duo to go to a dinner at a shmancy hotel in New York City and pitch a plan to the Head of State to move some wheat to market; Dagny relents, grudgingly. All of the government apparatchiks are tuxedo-wearing white men smoking cigars and talking about how important it is to let Minnesota die to save the rest of the country--which doesn't even make sense in the world of the film; Minnesota is doing fine! They have tons of wheat and will be eating wheat and wheat byproducts for the next thirty years. It's everyone else who was hoping to get some grains in their diet that's looking at a future without hot dog buns and pizza crust. And considering the "share and share alike" government that the movie's railing against is likely to distribute Minnesota's wheat relatively evenly to everyone, nobody in Fictitious Abandoned Minnesota will be starving to death (though they're likely to want something other than wheat after some time).

Meigs also lets it drop that the real reason for keeping the rail lines open is so that peacekeeping troops can be moved around easily (which they couldn't do if there was wheat involved). Meigs talks about being courageous enough to kill thousands to save millions; other people at the table say that California wants to secede from the country and that two tax collectors were killed by the roving gangs that have taken over Oregon. All the tuxedoed government goons raise their brandy snifters in salute when they decide to let Minnesota fall while Dagny leaves, having gotten a call from Eddie Willers about a bunch of broken switches and immobile trains. Dagny's the only one awesome enough to figure out how to get the trains moving (by having people hold up individual signal lanterns along the affected parts of the route). She's giving orders to the crowd of track workers when she spots John Galt in the crowd and flees after dispatching her retirement-age white men to save the day.

Dagny runs down to a maintenance room in an underground tunnel; Galt pursues. They gaze into each others' eyes by the high voltage switches and their lips meet as they stand by an office table. Their soft-focus love scene consists of numerous dissolve shots of them kissing and / or embracing while someone noodles on a piano. Criminally, the movie does not show a train going into a tunnel in the one scene where it really, really should have. Sated, Dagny goes back above ground and has a giggle fit when an Alan Moore impersonator asks her who John Galt is.

Rearden's had all he can stand with this "taking care of other people" bullshit and joins the strike. Head of State Thompson promises that the economy is turning a corner, and that with hard work everything will turn out exactly like he planned. And Eddie Willers tells Jim Taggart's wife that he's an empty suit who took credit for all of Dagny's achievements. We don't actually get to see Rearden join the strike, hear the Presidential speech or watch Mrs. Taggart's realization; it's just another narrated segment meant to glue parts of the film together that they actually had the money and time to produce. Mrs. Taggart apparently took it really hard, because the chief economist for the Head of State, Dr. Floyd Ferris, is reading a newspaper during breakfast where her death is front page news. He calls Taggart in order to fail to extend his condolences and also extract a promise from James that his sister Dagny will be there for the Head of State's big speech.

James, for his part, has a flashback to all the cruel things he said about his wife's background as one of The Poors and how he was a genius who deserved all the money he had (which is the dialogue that makes him sound the most like Dagny or Hank Rearden or any of the characters on strike). Dagny has a flashback to Cheryl Taggart begging forgiveness for not knowing that Dagny actually ran the railroad and built the John Galt line while soap opera piano music tinkles on the soundtrack. I like to think that Cheryl immediately ran into traffic so she could die in a state of grace, having been granted absolution by Dagny for her sins against capitalism. We don't see anything of the sort; if I didn't know this was adapted from a novel I would have assumed the actress quit or got fired and they just cobbled together a scene to explain her absence without showing why she was gone.

Next it's time for the Head of State's big speech; Dagny realizes that her political enemies only love her for what she can do for them, and not for her innate genius. She walks off seconds before Thompson's big announcement. It's a moot point because the big speech is pre-empted by John Galt, who hacks into the airwaves to give a speech of his own. The "revolutionary gets his message out" scene is one of my favorite science-fiction tropes; after all, it was Telstar I that made it possible for the world to see what was going on below the Mason-Dixon line when cops used attack dogs on children.

A parenthetical note, here:  Mass communication kills fascists. My friend over at 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting once told me that the Soviet-era Red Army had three photocopiers for the entire organization, because the political structure was terrified of people being able to communicate with each other easily. Nicolae Caeusescu's regime in Romania was one where people needed a government permit in order to own a typewriter. So this future socialist dystopia would have to shrivel and die upon contact with the truth as Galt delivers it. This is the climax of the novel, the 68-page, one-paragraph rant about the virtues of selfishness. And with less than forty minutes to go in the running time it seems likely that Galt isn't going to be able to deliver the full tirade. But this would be the very moment that everyone in the audience was looking for--the insane bravery of the first striker hitting back at the decadent and useless government and showing people the way forward.

It's not a terrible speech, either, although it has to be delivered in an utterly unrecognizable world because Randian Bad Future America is one where CEOs are supposed to feel bad for being at the top of the heap, whereas here in the actual world Steve Jobs gets to be on the cover of Newsweek while a nation overlooks the Chinese slave labor that builds the gadgets that his company sells. Even if Donald Trump was capable of feeling shame, it wouldn't be the American government that wanted him to feel it. I'm also disappointed that the speech shows John Galt in a shadowy room where you can't see his mouth--I was hoping for a genuinely epic Bad Lip Reading video a few months after this film hit DVD. Sitting through all three films would have been worth it to see John Galt say "I think due to the presence of alcohol and its influences that had a lot to do with Chicken Beak Boy". Alas, it is not to be.

We get another fiction trope that I really like seeing as Galt gives his speech--the crowds of people in different locations watching it together, united by the message. It's hard to mess this up, and the filmmakers actually pull this off rather well. Galt wraps up his speech by telling the proletariat to rise up against their oppressors, which is a touch ironic coming from Ayn Rand, and dares them to be great in a world that respects achievement. They the film cuts to Sean Hannity talking about how awesome John Galt is for telling the truth. And when I think of courage in media and the willingness to tell the truth instead of a politically convenient and financially rewarding lie, Fox News would be the first and only name that would ever come to mind.

Also, I wonder if Hannity is jealous of Bill O'Reilly for getting a cameo in Iron Man 2 while he was stuck in this. On the one hand, the superhero film was loved by audiences as opposed to ignored and tolerated by critics instead of being reviled, but on the other hand the entire point of Bill O'Reilly's cameo in the Marvel flick is that the viewer is supposed to think he's a complete asshole. Half a dozen of one, six of the other.

Anyway, the people have heard Galt's message and they all want out of the doomed and corrupt system. And Glenn Beck shows up for a choppily edited cameo where he praises the hell out of Galt's message, calls himself a lunatic, and wears glasses that are way, way, way too small for his face. There's an (unseen and barely heard) crowd outside the White House chanting for Galt; the Head of State decides that something must be done. In a meeting with Dagny Taggart, Thompson says he's willing to cave in to Galt's demands--not that Galt has issued any--and Dagny tries to make herself understood as she says she doesn't know where to find the elusive revolutionary. And we get the third entry in the Cameo Pile-Up as Ron Paul talks about how sick the country is of endless war, government spying and economic doom. He doesn't get a chance to blame Jews for a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center before the clip ends, but they might have just run out of tape.

I'm not sure how to tie in the continued existence of Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and what certainly appeared to be a Fox News show in Liberal Socialist America; one would assume that at the very least the Fairness Doctrine would have been reimposed or that equal time for non-insane commentators would have been required. That's if the Head of State didn't take the easiest route and just jail anyone who disagreed with him (which is what real tyrant dictators do with their political enemies). It's one more element that cries out for some kind of explanation in a movie not particularly interested in giving any.

Back in her office, Dagny finds John Galt's name and address from the Taggart Transcontinental employee files and writes it down, then breaks the flash drive she was using to store the info. It's still in Taggart's central files, which means that one Head of State executive order later, the jackbooted government thugs would have it. Turns out Galt is living in a crummy inner-city apartment (according to the exterior shots) or a building with immaculately clean hallways and rooms (if you go by the interiors). Or the federal thugs could just follow Dagny when she finds where Galt is living and land on him with both feet, which Galt is expecting and planning for. He also tells Dagny she just signed up to be a double agent, because the Head of State knows that if he won't cooperate, they can threaten Dagny to ensure his compliance. They make a quick plan to keep Dagny safe and we get one little shot at a brand new (and significantly less impressive) prop of the magic static-electricity motor before the cops arrive. I understand that they needed to replace the cast twice (because the filmmakers literally did not know or try to find out how to cast a movie before doing the first sequel, and because they had so little money for the second one) but surely someone must have hung on to the arc reactor prop after the second movie was made! Well, I guess they didn't do that, because we get a few seconds to look at some kind of science-fair project with spinning tinfoil fan blades in a plastic cylinder before the cops show up.

John Galt is white, so they knock on the door before they break it down. Dagny lets them in and asks if she's going to get paid for turning Galt in; he sets his magic electric motor thingy to self-destruct and when the cops use a battering ram to get into the closet where he had it stored, there's nothing but ash (although the walls are not even lightly singed, which means Galt is smart enough to make an ecologically clean way to wipe out his invention, or the set dressers were told that they couldn't mark up the walls without losing the damage deposit on the room).

Over at the meeting with Head of State Thompson, Galt uses his cell phone (which the Head of State Security Service did not confiscate) to call Dagny and let her eavesdrop on the conference. Galt says he's open to a deal, which Thompson takes to mean that they can work together. Galt, naturally, wants to know what he's going to get out of the deal and Thompson is too oily to give him any actual information. Galt says the only thing he really needs or wants is for the government to get out of his way and stop holding everyone back with laws and regulations that interfere with business. Thompson offers Galt what he thinks the genius billionaire tycoon wants--Wesley Mouch's job running the country's economy. Galt, who just flexed his power by singlehandedly destroying the American system, says that's too much power for anyone to hold and spits on the offer. Thompson responds by having Galt dragged off to the State Science Institute (rather than someplace like, say, Camp X-Ray).

Before we can find out what happens to Galt, we need the narrator to interrupt by saying that the long-foreshadowed collapse of the Taggart Bridge has happened. It's too expensive to show in the movie, so we just get a still frame and voiceover explaining that regulation finally brought the majestic structure down. I'm not sure how a series of federal inspection standards can corrode metal, but that's why I'm not a striking tycoon taking my country back. Francisco and Dagny meet up when she takes a taxi to somewhere or other; she swears the Galt Youth Women's Auxiliary oath and they get back in the cab to go to stock footage of a helicopter and get back to their clubhouse (with a freshly painted NO PROLETARIANS ALLOWED sign on the front door, I'm sure).

Back at the SSI, they've got a visibly bruised John Galt chained to a wall and they're going to use that Project F torture device on him (free hacky joke:  Just show him this movie on a loop! He won't just break--he'll shatter!) in order to break his will. James Taggart wants to watch Galt's will get broken, which sounds a little petty and extremely creepy. But he's had a bad week, so I'll let it slide. Oh, and Galt is handcuffed to the torture rack in a crucifixion pose, in case nobody out their understood that he's the good guy being unfairly brutalized by an evil government. Some sparks and lightning bolts cover Galt when they turn the Project F device on but he completely fails to get super powers.

Outside the SSI office (on the roof at first, but also on the ground floor), Dagny pulls a gun on a security guard who has been so weakened by society's moral training that he says "I'm not supposed to make decisions about my life" when given the option of opening the door for her or taking a bullet. That's what I like about Ayn Rand's dialogue--it's so real and naturalistic. Anyway, she murders him and it turns out the door he was guarding wasn't even locked. D'Anconia, Ragnar Dannaskjold and Dagny make their way inside to rescue Galt. The guard's body evaporates between shots, as if the budget wouldn't cover the extra lying down on the ground for another scene.

In the torture chamber, Cuffy Meigs vapor-locks the torture console and it won't keep hurting Galt. James Taggart has a complete mental breakdown when Galt diagnoses the problem and tells them how to fix it; it turns out that the evil government can't even torture John Galt without his awesome brain telling them how to do it. The functionaries drag Taggart out of the room and Galt apparently wills himself to die while they're gone. Dagny kisses him when she shows up in the room and he gets rescued, which is an act so altruistic I was expecting him to excommunicate everyone in the assault party who got him out of the torture chamber. Ragnar and Francisco run off to pick up Eddie Willers while the chopper leaves (they have Midas Mulligan waiting to extract them; I now like to imagine real world CEOs doing action movie stuff. Maybe Bill Gates has sniper training or Roger Smith was a world-class kickboxer).

The terrorist conspirators make their way back to Galt's Gulch as the lights symbolically go out in the White House, and then the entire countryside. Dagny says it's the end, but Galt is a man, and therefore correct when he says it's the beginning. The last image is of the Statue of Liberty, torch still lit, as the helicopter with Galt in it flies away to escape the deaths of tens of millions of Americans as the society collapses. But the score is triumphant, so let's be happy. In that spirit, here's the end title card from Destination Moon, a much better science fiction film from the Fifties.


Granted, I don't have twenty million dollars of my own money to sink into a movie trilogy, but I'm appalled that John Aglialoro couldn't come up with anything better than this. There's only so much anyone could do to polish a turd, but some kind of visible effort towards that end would have been much appreciated. The director and crew had so little knowledge of filmmaking technique demonstrated that they might as well have been members of a cargo cult replicating the actions they'd seen other people doing to end up with a movie. The dialogue is wretched (and straight from the source, I'm sure) and the performances ranged from tolerable to histrionic to visibly bored (sometimes from the same actors in the same scenes). Other than the occasional smartphone showing up in someone's hands there was absolutely no effort made to think about what it would mean to set a 1957 work of politically motivated speculative fiction in 2016 (or ten years after that, or something).

And even better (or worse) than the filmmakers' lack of artistic talent, the film and their efforts to make it didn't live up to their own politics. After failing to recoup their money on the first two films (proving, in Randian terms, that their films were worthless pieces of shit) the producers turned to Kickstarter to beg money off of strangers via the internet in order to make the third one. Because what better way could one possibly demonstrate the value of their own stated personal and artistic principles than to stomp on them like a bright red Allosaurus when it became obvious even to the most deluded of souls that they were throwing good money after bad for another attempt at making a film?


Happily enough, that's exactly what I wish could happen to the DVDs I bought. I have learned who John Galt is, and he is a giant moron with a political and economic system that is utterly unworkable as long as human beings are involved. But don't take my word for it--I'm a nobody from nowhere who just wrote about 20,000 words on his low-readership B movie blog. Take it from former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who was also a first-wave Objectivist and former lover of Ayn Rand herself; he was in a position unique in human history to demonstrate to a mocking world that Galtian self-interest and markets freed from regulation would bring about prosperity unparalleled in human history. And even he said he fucked up when he expected that to happen. After the fact, and after the economic collapse of 2008, but you can't have everything.

At least some poor son of a bitch is going to leave B Fest 2016 with the DVDs. Although, with my luck, I'll be the one who winds up winning them and I'll have to take them back home with me on the Drive of Shame.

And anyone who wishes to tell me how wrong I am about this; I'm afraid you can't use the internet to do so. DARPAnet was indeed funded by the yahoos of the American government who can never get anything to work; it's now the communications network that has changed everything about world society, one cat picture at a time. You'll have to send a letter (but not by the USPS) or call (although not over the federally-funded lines or via cell phone, because those calls are sent on the public-use band of the electromagnetic spectrum that the FCC oversees). I think you're stuck with smoke signals or yelling. Good luck with either.

4 comments:

  1. Zowie. I can't begin to imagine the torture of having to sit through that cascade of decreasingly-funded nonsense, and to say "You're a better man than I" is an almost-criminal understatement.

    After an attempt a couple of years ago upon the book, I frankly can't understand how it manages to dazzle people with its philosophy; I gave it up as unreadable on purely literary grounds at the hundred-page mark, before the politics really got rolling. I was entertaining some thoughts of giving the films a try, but your brave sacrifice has saved at least one person the waste of those precious movie-watching hours.

    Plus, that's a keen Kirby Allosaurus!

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  2. I genuinely think that people that get impressed with ATLAS SHRUGGED as a work of fiction haven't read any other fiction. Sorta like the LEFT BEHIND books; if you think they're well written it's because you don't have a lot (or possibly anything) to compare and contrast them from your previous reading experiences.

    I tried reading the book about eleven years ago and gave up after 220 pages or so. it's unreadable garbage. But hey, if you want the capsule review I can recommend the Daylight Atheism blog; that guy is going through the book chapter by chapter and pointing out the ridiculousness of it. All the benefits of my reviews but shorter and smarter! http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/series/atlas-shrugged/

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  3. Headless Unicorn GuyMay 22, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    "The director and crew had so little knowledge of filmmaking technique demonstrated that they might as well have been members of a cargo cult replicating the actions they'd seen other people doing to end up with a movie. The dialogue is wretched (and straight from the source, I'm sure) and the performances ranged from tolerable to histrionic to visibly bored (sometimes from the same actors in the same scenes). Other than the occasional smartphone showing up in someone's hands there was absolutely no effort made to think about what it would mean to set a 1957 work of politically motivated speculative fiction in 2016 (or ten years after that, or something)."

    And you find all of this in another genre of movie, budget, True Belief "Witnessing", and all: CHRISTIANESE APOCALYPTIC, i.e. Left Behind, Thief in the Night, Megiddo Code, etc.

    "ATLAS SHRUGGED" IS "LEFT BEHIND" FOR BRIGHTS. WITH ALL THE TROPES, SHTICKS, ATTITUDES, AND BUDGET YOU'D EXPECT FROM SOMETHING LIKE "LEFT BEHIND". THEY'RE THE SAME STORY PITCHED TO AND FANSERVICING DIFFERENT AUDIENCES, MASTURBATING THEIR MAKERS WITH "I AM RIGHT! EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG!" FLATTERY.

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    1. Yeah, whenever people have an ideological axe to grind first and then make a work of art second you get some incredibly tone-deaf end results. I just saw BIRDEMIC this weekend so I've seen a similarly incompetent left-wing version of the same kind of thing.

      I'm pretty sure I made at least one Rapture reference in the reviews, but I'm not going back and re-reading the whole mess to confirm it.

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