BATTLEFIELD: TRAIN – AN ATLAS SHRUGGED MOVIE REVIEW

(Hi. Skip to the last paragraph if you're pressed for time.)

Most adults have had the experience of sitting through a live performance by small children wherein the low entertainment value is offset by the fact that among the performers is one's child (or grandchild, etc.) What would otherwise be excruciating is kinda cute because, well, look at little Billy! That's our boy. Now imagine that you have been dropped into a random grade school full of strangers and you must sit through the same Christmas play. None of the children are yours. It is two hours long. And it consists of children reading excerpts from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and instructional manuals from various home appliances. You've just watched Atlas Shrugged, and it didn't even cost you $9.

In fairness it did not cost me $9 either. For the first time in my 32 years I sneaked into a movie without paying, as it was clearly in my rational self-interest to do so. To financially reward the people who made this…thing…smacked a little too much of altruism. It turns out I paid precisely the right amount for this rush job of a film, the production quality of which falls somewhere between an infomercial and the pilot episode of an original series on the SyFy Network. This film was made in just a few months for very little money in 2010 after 40 years of "development hell" because the film rights were about to lapse; the owner wanted to get something from his investment before it was too late. Believe me (and every other reviewer), it shows. Nearly the entire film consists of two actors standing or sitting in a room talking to each other filmed in basic Shot-Reverse Shot or, even worse, a single camera at a totally flat angle. Director Paul Johansson's lack of directorial experience – which consists of a few episodes of a TV show called "One Tree Hill" – is painfully apparent and totally inexcusable.

I emphasize this because I intend to review the film, not Ms. Rand's philosophy. I'm afraid the Randroids pelting the internet with love for a film they probably haven't seen – note Rotten Tomatoes' 10% critics rating compared to an 86% "user" rating – are unable to make this not-so-fine distinction, as if admitting that the film is shit would discredit their idol (They are also attempting to claim that the film is being "suppressed", which I suppose is true in the same way that the distribution of Baby Geniuses 2 was "suppressed"). In most instances – The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Lord of the Rings, etc. – hardcore fans of written work are brutal on film adaptations thereof, more than eager to disparage the movie and catalogue the ways in which it fell short of the original artist's vision. Not so with Atlas, apparently. If I loved a novel like Objectivists love Atlas Shrugged I would be mortified to see such a shitshow released on the big screen bearing the same name. But if I loved a novel as horrendously written as Atlas Shrugged I very well might like movies this bad. More to the point, if I adhered to a cult-like philosophical movement that simultaneously celebrates the individual and tolerates absolutely no criticism of The Way and The Great Leader, I would follow all of the other lemmings off the cliff and applaud this film too.

I must address one common yet undeserved reviewer criticism: poor acting. I contend that these actors did as well as anyone could expect given the limitations of the source material; large portions of dialogue are lifted verbatim from the novel. Rand is to realistic dialogue between compelling characters what the Battle of the Somme was to military strategy. I'd like to see an actor who can perform well while delivering lines like "I know the metal will work; I studied engineering in college." Honestly, a few of the actors – Graham Beckel (Ellis Wyatt) and Edi Gathegi (the guy who was "Big Love" on House, here playing Eddie Willers) – were quite good. Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins couldn't have made this work. Acting was not the problem.

The director is. It is his responsibility to overcome the limitations of the source material, and in this case the limitations are legion. He must realize that Dagny Taggart (a transparent stand-in for Rand, of course, played here by a gorgeous blonde irrespective of the fact that Rand looked like Joe Pesci) has the sex appeal of a burning orphanage. He must realize that the Taggart-Rearden "romance" is only romantic inasmuch as Rearden does not forcibly rape her or throw acid in her face upon what their lawyers deem satisfactory completion of coitus. He must realize that a story set in the future emphasizing the crucial role of trains in the economy is patently ridiculous. He must realize that endless dialogue about motors and the forging of metal and the minutiae of running a railroad are incomprehensibly boring. And the director must do something about all of these flaws – perhaps deviate from the source material enough to make the characters do and say something that an actual human might consider saying or doing. Thus at their cores the film and novel share a fundamental flaw: they are incredibly, soul-crushingly, and unprecedentedly boring. The director's solution was to spice up the endless drudgery of scenes of two characters sitting in chairs talking about steel, legislative politicking, or trains by…showing montage scenes of railroad track being laid. Seriously.

Johansson shares Rand's appreciation for subtlety as well, as if the audience would not be able to identify the Bad Guy if not accompanied by villainous music, played by a physically repulsive actor, and spouting cartoonishly evil dialogue like "A federal tax! Will be applied to Colorado! To equalize the nation's economy!" (Also, what?) The politicians/lobbyists/etc are monstrously evil caricatures of every cheap stock villain in the Hollywood thriller universe: the fat, greedy lobbyist; the vain politician; the slimy, quasi-criminal union boss; the incompetent bureaucrat. With decent writing and acting, an audience can be told that the Heroes are Good without parading them around in halos or that the Villains are Bad without making them strum their fingers together and laugh evilly in the manner of robbers in a low budget Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

Counter-intuitively, then, the problem with this adaptation is that the film is very faithful to the novel, and the novel is probably the most poorly written work ever to be considered important. Ayn Rand may be your favorite philosopher, but she is an appalling writer. Her novels call into question whether she ever met another human being let alone spoke with one. With absolutely no understanding of how narrative, plot, character development, or exposition work, Rand produces fiction that sounds like it was written in Urdu and translated into English with the least reliable free online translator available. The few pleasant libertarian-objectivist types I have known over the years have admitted in candid moments that her fiction, while containing themes and ideas they found life-changing, borders on unreadable. How could a film be better? Thousand-page collections of obtuse, solipsistic monologues do not a good movie make.

Let me describe one key scene from the film's final act wherein Rearden and Taggart are attempting to track down the inventor of a revolutionary electric motor. Johansson handles this "quest" portion of the story with a hacky montage, essentially turning the last 15 minutes into an episode of Scooby Doo. After a series of events leads them to the abandoned Twentieth Century Motor Company factory (where blueprints for the amazing engine are hidden in a secret passageway…Velma and Shaggy had to move a bookcase to find it) the two pore over the diagrams. Then, in detailed, technical dialogue right out of a User's Manual, the characters listlessly trade lines describing how the motor works. As they walk around the factory Taggart wonders aloud what could have happened to TCMC. Rearden notes that they "flattened their wage scale, paying each according to his needs and not his ability" which quite naturally, Taggart responds, led to "the managers and more skilled workers leaving." Yes, Hank agrees, "and the ones who remained behind couldn't run the place."

Remember, these two just fucked. They are supposed to have great passion for one another. And in the span of 90 seconds they have read us an engineering blueprint and part of a fundraising pamphlet from the Von Mises Institute. This scene captures everything that makes this movie an insufferable experience of unpleasant length.

Battlefield: Earth is still my favorite film in the "so unbelievably bad you have to see it to believe it" genre, and it shares many similarities with Atlas. Both are cynical efforts to extract money from the wallets of blindly devoted followers of a patently silly belief system / cult of personality. Battlefield: Earth was made with the confidence that Scientologists would pay to see it no matter how bad it was, and I am afraid that the same motives underlie the decision to rush this sloppy, amateurish version of Atlas Shrugged into theaters. It ends with the disappeared Ellis Wyatt announcing in voiceover that the has gone Galt, emphatically stating "DON'T try to find me…I am ON STRIKE!" which caused the theater to erupt in an impromptu round of applause. The small crowd of office managers and dentists and petty bureaucrats so enjoyed identifying with the great Producer for two hours before heading home and preparing for another big day of running Northeast Georgia's fourth largest supplier of plumbing fixtures or filling out forms in the Office of Administrative Technicalities at the (public) University. And the cynical bastards who made this sad excuse for a film knew that no matter how much it sucked, society's frustrated, impotent petit bourgeoisie – lawyers, secretaries, cubicle dwellers, engineers, and assorted other educated, angry white people – would gladly hand over the price of admission for that brief thrill of feeling like society would give two flying shits if any of them joined Mr. Wyatt "on strike."

Atlas Shrugged: Part I is as good as anyone could expect a film based on the fiction of Ayn Rand to be. Shit begets shit.

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85 Responses to “BATTLEFIELD: TRAIN – AN ATLAS SHRUGGED MOVIE REVIEW”

  1. c u n d gulag Says:

    Yeah, I guess Atlas wasn't the only one who shrugged. I guess reviewers and audiences did too.

    God bless anyone Liberal who pays to see this thing. And good for you that you went Galt instead of paying. Or even watches it for free.

    Me?
    I wouldn’t watch it unless I were renditioned down to Gitmo and told I had to start talking or else I had a choice of either watching ‘Atlas Shrugged or getting water-boarded.
    And even then, I’m not so sure.
    I read her mind-rottingly boring, nihilist screeds 30 years ago in a misplaced youthful attempt one summer to see if Nietzsche’s adage ‘that whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger,’ was true.
    In retrospect, sticking by male private parts in a blender, and turning it to frappe, would have been less painful, and caused less long term emotional damage.
    And any sex scenes I might ever have been involved in after that, would be more realistic and emotionally satisfying than any ‘love’ scene in her insipid ode’s to utter, endless, unmitigated greed.
    Rand set out to turn Marx’s principle of “To each according to his contribution,”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_each_according_to_his_contribution
    onto it’s head – to take it away from rewarding labor, and assign it instead to the capitalists, since she felt that they were the only ones who contributed anything anyway.
    I’m surprised she didn’t volunteer to be Henry Ford’s ‘Suck & Fuck Bitch” in his doddering senility.
    It’s only after reading Rand that you realize her horrendous writing style makes anything by Karl Marx seem like a John LeCarre thriller. And if you’ve ever read Marx, you know what I’m talking about.
    She is the worst “major” writer in the history of the English language – with barely two-dimensional characters, jejune dialogue, the rare combination of childish, boring, and violent sex scenes, and endless monologues that make the reader who’s a believer in God say to Him/Her/It, ‘Look, if you’re going to take me anytime soon, please do it now, for fuck’s sake!!!’
    And yet one is driven to finish her books, both to prove ones own tolerance for endless masochism bordering just short of suicide (you almost need a ‘safe’ word for yourself), and to see how her books end – as train wrecks, which is at least appropriate. But who knew any writer could be so bad as to make an absolute train wreck of an ending boring?

    I’m against banning books and writers, but if there was one writer who I’d ban to stop the spread of ‘stupid’ in society, and in order to keep the human genome on a path towards positive Darwinian evolution, it would be Ayn fucking Rand.

  2. Goodcarver Says:

    Thank you very much-in 1966 I was a student at a nameless engineering University in Indiana, and my contemporaries were all reading and expounding at length about a popular author named Ayn Rand. I thought I really should read some of her as well, so I tried very, very hard to read Atlas Shrugged. After choking down at least one chapter (maybe less) I threw the book down in absolute disgust. It was SOOO boring and SOOO badly written!!! Absolutely intolerable! My contemporaries never heard from me how much I despised that crapola, as everyone was exulting about how GREAT it was. I'm pleased to read, almost half a century later, that I wasn't wrong about the lack of talent of A R,and for that, I again thank you very much!

  3. bb in GA Says:

    @geneg

    While Jesus pointedly stated that His followers should pay their taxes (render to Caesar), He coupled it with a call to give to God those things that belong to Him.

    Because, He didn't have much to say about governments or economic systems, we should be careful about making Him into either a Jeremiah Wright or a Donald Trump.

    The Christian communism you cite was a totally non-governmental voluntary free act (as free as non-citizens of the Roman Empire could be) – not a tax collected at the edge of the sword. This free choice aspect was highlighted in the sad story of Annanias and Saphirra.

    //bb

  4. Jado Says:

    As an engineer, it always surprises me to hear that engineers are known to be Randians. We get our noses ground into our mistakes every day – to think that any of us could consider ourselves "Producers" is ludicrous.

    Engineers know that wrenches and shovels fix what's wrong with pencil and paper. And we're the ones with the pencils.

  5. acer Says:

    @Jado:
    Programmers, as well, tend to be disproportionately libertarian. I think it comes from the notion that life is a machine that only does what you tell it to and can be mastered with the right codes and equations. A lot of people unthinkingly view the world through the prism of their occupations – when you hear the phrase "common sense," always ask what the speaker does for a living – and it bites, hard, for everybody.

  6. Batocchio Says:

    Entertaining, Ed. Thanks.

  7. Nineteen Kilo Says:

    While I relish both this review and the general flameout of the Glibertarian cult Bible, I am disappointed that no one who had read the book and posted here has made the following observation:

    In the right hands, Atlas Shrugged could be an eloquent damnation of Bush, et-al. All of the characters translate just fine from one side of Rand's intended "aisle" to the other. To wit:

    Crumbling Infrastructure
    Incompetent Cronyism
    The few competent people who haven't been offshored or downsized struggling to keep things held together with spit and baling wire
    Spoiled rich kids whining that their lives are too hard
    Secret deals in private clubs to enrich the already wealthy
    Hatred of science and competence
    Conspiracy to destroy alternative energy

    The Taggart Tunnel disaster is a prefect metaphor for the handling of Katrina and Rita.

    And another thing… Wyatt does a Saddam Hussein in Colorado and sets fire to an oilfield. He is never called to account for the environmental destruction: BP?

    And another thing… Everybody smokes and nobody gets cancer. Good thing they have health insurance, I guess.

    So much opportunity lost.

  8. Jazzidiot Says:

    You are brilliant, sir. I will henceforth think of Joe Pesci, and a burning orphanage whenever I encounter the name Ayn (how does one pronounce that, anyway?) Rand.

  9. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    I guess the name Atlas Shrugged is pretty apt. For example, you have a table with an uneven leg. Put Atlas under there and voila, it holds up the table.

  10. Patti Says:

    I found your Christmas Present:
    http://www.libertybracelet.com

    From the site: "The Liberty Bracelet was inspired by an innovative creation in Ayn Rand

  11. Nicholas Robinson Says:

    I don't know you, but I love you. This was the most hilarious review of a movie I've ever read, bar none. God, I wish you could come along with me on every movie I've ever watched and ever will watch.

    And I LOVE the Orwellian typeface and the handsome strutting taco-eating-gin-drinking Stalinist youth.

    Bravo!

  12. Luis Bunuel Says:

    Came for the rape. Left disappointed.

  13. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Please tell me just how the hell Atlas Shrugged could live up to this:

  14. kdez Says:

    "Ayn" rhymes with "swine." You're welcome.

  15. mr trail safety Says:

    Maybe the sequel will tear the lid off the 78rpm music industry!

  16. meromaine Says:

    I love you.

  17. Robert Says:

    Rand isn't a best selling author her foundation buys over 400,000 of her books every year to donate to schools and libraries "to keep her memory alive" her institute has been around since 19865 they have bought millions of her "bestsellers" not the public at large. Ayn Rand is a best selling VANITY press author. The movie is a flop because her following is artificially inflated with a lot people that don't exist.

    According to the Ayn Rand Institute:

    "The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) was founded in 1985 to promote the ideas of
    philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand (1905

  18. Robert Says:

    –1982). Miss Rand, best known for her
    novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, was a tireless advocate of
    reason, individual liberties, and the free enterprise system.
    In recent years, we have been pleased to see something of an “Ayn Rand
    Renaissance”—as evidenced in part by the following:

    * Sales of Ayn Rand’s books rose to more than 400,000 copies
    annually—twenty years after her death."

    But back in reality according to the New York Times it turns out she's just a vanity author with an institute that buys her books into the millions so it can propagate the "bestseller" propaganda.

    "Every year, 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels are offered free to Advanced Placement high school programs. They are paid for by the Ayn Rand Institute, whose director, Yaron Brook, said the mission was “to keep Rand alive.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/15/business/15atlas.html?_r=4&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print

  19. kathequa Says:

    "Counter-intuitively, then, the problem with this adaptation is that the film is very faithful to the novel, and the novel is probably the most poorly written work ever to be considered important. Ayn Rand may be your favorite philosopher, but she is an appalling writer."

    Thank you for that!

  20. Rook Says:

    I figured it might provide a parable of Ayn Rand

  21. Rook Says:

    I figured it might provide a parable of Ayn Rand’s philosophy that I could discuss. For me, that philosophy reduces itself to: "I’m on board; pull up the lifeline."

    Ebert is a genius.

  22. Anonymous Prime Says:

    re: jokes or questions regarding the pronunciation of Ms. Rand's first name:

    The joke I heard was that it rhymed with "MINE MINE MINE!"

  23. Wit Memo Says:

    It's cocaine writing, the way she grabs hold of a turn of phrase and beats you over the head with it for paragraphs and pages

  24. Wit Memo Says:

    …mystics of muscle, mystics of the spirit, looters, “the zero.” It’s like getting Cornered at a Party by a drunk who’s just done a few lines and can’t get enough of his own brilliant ideas. And it really was cocaine writing: she needed speed to finish the darn thing, good ol' fashion 1950s speed

  25. jim Says:

    Review WIN!

    Loveliest irony of all: her abysmal writing only retains any popularity by virtue of saying exactly what naive &/or greedy people want to hear, & she has nothing original of merit to contribute when she says it – thus by her own system's dogma, Rand is a non-productive parasite.

    Coked-up, chain-smoking & brown-nosing crony capitalists is no way to go through life, girl.

  26. robert Says:

    a very excellently written review and wildly entertaining as well.

  27. pidru Says:

    Is there really any wonder why the bible and Atlas Shrugged are the two best selling books in America?

    Joe Pesci!!! ROTFL

  28. sarah Says:

    this review made me laugh so hard i cried. thanks!

  29. Usenet Says:

    I agree with some points that are made in this article. But the movie in AN ATLAS SHRUGGED was really good I thought.

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    thanks

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