Review: Atlas Shrugged, Part One DVD

Atlas Shrugged DVDSTUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: Paul Johansson | CAST: Taylor Schilling, Matthew Marsden, Grant Bowler, Edi Gathegi , Graham Beckel, Jsu Garcia, Michael Lerner
RELEASE DATE: 11/8/2011 | PRICE: DVD $22.98, Blu-ray $29.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, slideshow
SPECS: PG-13 | 97 min. | Drama mystery | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Perhaps the greatest entertainment value to be found in the film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that printed political propaganda, no matter how contemptible, sounds funny when recited as earnest dialogue.  At least, it did to me.  If your sense of humor isn’t like mine, you’re in for an uphill, feels-longer-than-97-minutes slog through Part One of this proposed trilogy.

Taylor Schilling is executive Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.

The narrative of Ayn Rand’s excruciating 1957 morality play, which details the utter social disintegration in store once corporate CEOs get tired of carrying our freeloading asses, is brought to competent life by television director Paul Johansson (TV’s One Tree Hill). Johansson hews closely to its source material, although he relies a bit too much on the made-for-TV-movie convention of newspaper headlines and TV “news footage” to deliver exposition. Grant Bowler (TV’s True Blood) is the flinty-eyed and pulchritudinous Hank Reardon (one envisions Rand drooling all over her Slam Book when she wrote this guy), a steel magnate whose new metal will revolutionize the future—that is, unless pesky oversight agencies with their “regulations” and “concern for public safety” keep him from realizing his vision.  Taylor Schilling (TV’s Mercy) plays fetching young railroad executive Dagny Taggart in a performance my husband described as “cool” and “steely,” whereas I felt it was “flat” and “perfunctory.”  So perhaps I should compromise by saying that she fulfills the requirements of the role, which essentially ask her to spend a lot of time looking Very Determined and also Very Pretty. Matthew Marsden (Resident Evil: Extinction) portrays her brother James, who’s fighting Dagny for control of their railroad company so he can…give it all away to the Communists. Or something. This is a Randian universe, after all.

The pacing and camera work feel more like a TV miniseries than a feature film, although there are some genuinely  handsome shots of a futuristic bullet train (the movie, like the book, is set in 2016) slicing through lush landscapes atop newly minted Reardon Steel. The landscapes are so lush, in fact, that they nearly convinced me that Rand was right, and that oil refineries and mining companies and factory executives would do their level best to protect the environment all on their own without any regulation whatsoever, if only the rest of us would just give them a fair chance to do so. Almost.

Bonus features include “I Am John Galt,” a compilation—initially launced as an online promotional campaign—of hundreds of hollow-eyed Rand devotees reciting the sentence, “I Am John Galt” in a format that I’m sure will be promptly co-opted by the Church of Scientology. Also included the featurette “Road to Atlas Shrugged,” in which producer/co-writer John Aglialoro professes what appears to be genuine bewilderment that so many major Hollywood players spent so many years turning this project down. Possibly they realized that an adaptation of a novel whose message is essentially, “Bank CEOs Work Hard So You Don’t Have To (You Parasite)” is, perhaps, ever so slightly tone-deaf during these troubled times that Rand and her more benighted disciples (*cough* Alan Greenspan *cough*) have wrought upon us.


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About Gwen

Gwen Cooper is a movie and TV lover and the author of Homer's Odyssey (no, not the one you're thinking of).