Review of ‘Atlas Shrugged Part II’: Finding “Atlantis” within America
Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is a bold, ambitious film that is about gigantic ideas, and is grand in its geography. It is limited only in the fact that due to the nature of the material from Ayn Rand’s classic book, it has had to operate with very small budgets more akin to modern independent films. As a person who attends independent film festivals with great enthusiasm I am amazed when a handful of very creative film makers produce a film where they are the directors, editor, actors, sound engineers, marketing department, financiers, and special effect technicians. Because Hollywood doesn’t have the temperament for conservative films, or figures of a pro capitalism message like Ayn Rand, they have not made films like what was released nationwide on October 12, 2012 in the great new independent film Atlas Shrugged Part 2. Hollywood will produce pictures like the new Matt Damon film “Promised Land” which is an environmentalist project that will prove far more restrained with boring dialogue than Atlas Shrugged, yet it gets made and has the star power from the Hollywood machine because the message is one that the entertainment industry enjoys, leaving only one memorandum of social collectivism to resonate from movie town in Southern California. Every other film produced through the rest of the world becomes an independent film which Atlas Shrugged Part 2 certainly is. Many working in modern Hollywood forget that the machine they enjoy today in a robust entertainment industry was built on the backs of filmmakers such as Douglas Fairbanks, Walt Disney, and Cecil B. Demille, whom Ayn Rand worked for as a screen writer. So it should come as no surprise that Atlas Shrugged written in 1957 is more like the great Disney film Island at the Top of the World than the polar opposite of Oliver Stone’s anti-capitalist film Wall Street.
Independent films have emerged over the last couple of decades in film festivals like Cannes in France, and Sundance in The United States to provide a format for stories that Hollywood doesn’t buy for the big stage to be seen by an audience in a theater. Because of the improvement in shooting techniques that has exploded due to the conversation of film to digital technology, filmmakers now have tremendous freedom to make whatever movie they wish, and Hollywood has incentivized such creative endeavors by sending agents and producers to film festivals to purchase ambitious films to show during the autumn and winter marketing periods making independent film a process of film making that is like panning for gold in California during the days of the great Gold Rush. The weakness in independent film is that Hollywood still controls the process. Always on the minds of independent filmmakers is to keep the content of their films on target with the kinds of projects that the big studios are buying, because investors hope for a Hollywood distribution deal.
Atlas Shrugged Part II is an independent film that was made in a lightning fast manner. It was green lit in the winter of 2012 and released in the fall. It is a very ambitious film with great special effects, especially for an indie film, most notably a train wreck that was far more powerful than the big budget studio train wreck in the film Unbreakable, and a flight action sequence that reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s Firefox. Critics of Atlas Shrugged Part II might be tempted to say that technology has come along that would allow kids to make special effects on their Mac’s as well as what was seen in Atlas Shrugged Part II, and that ‘s true. But those comments are also leaked from the Hollywood community run by labor unions who are very concerned that Independent films will put them out of business at some point in the future because more and more films are being made out of Hollywood, to avoid inflated unions demands. (ALL UNIONS USE SUCH TACTICS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO.) One such film is the upcoming Hobbit by Peter Jackson, which is essentially an independent film with a big studio backing, and a lot of money to pour into the best special effects that money, and time can buy.
Atlas Shrugged does not have the luxury of money, time, or the safety net of Hollywood. In order for Atlas to be made into a film John Aglialaro, Harmon Kaslow and a handful of financial backers had to create a studio, and the entire infrastructure of film production just to make the movie, because Hollywood didn’t want anything to do with the film. With that said, there were some sentimental actors from years gone by in entertainment like Biff from Back to the Future, who played a bureaucratic board member. There was also the pleasant face Steven Keaton from the 80’s TV show Family Ties along with a number of surprising cameos. Every frame of Atlas Shrugged Part 2 oozed with ambition, including some impressive crane shots that I found very technically stimulating from the vantage point of behind the line camera talent. If Atlas played first in a film festival where Hollywood could control the process of the film being shown to the public, there would be a lot of praise for Atlas Shrugged Part II. But the producers of AS2 are not playing tidily winks, they are taking a real crack at penetrating the entertainment culture of Hollywood which makes films with a noticeably left leaning political message, and rejects films that speak to the political right—as though Hollywood believes they can control mass culture with such restriction. The filmmakers of Atlas Shrugged Part 2 went from a screenplay in December to shooting in the spring, to post production duties in the late summer to distribution in the fall, and they did it at a level with the big boys of Hollywood like Warner Brothers, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, and other well known powerhouses.
I can think of many films put out by those big studios in years past that had cheesy special effects and bad acting, neither of which Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is guilty of. But the level of modern audience expectation, particularly among young people with the memories resembling an insect are very high without context against the history of film. Production values in all films and television have increased, and studios have evolved raising their internal expectations. But since Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is a measure onto itself the filmmakers are going through this process independently. The technological gap seen in Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is quite dramatic in relation to Part 2. The filmmakers of Atlas 2 graduated into a new technical level from the previous film to this one. CLICK HERE TO SEE MY REVIEW OF PART 1. The big studios went through the same process in the 80’s and 90’s that the makers of Atlas Shrugged are laboring through presently.
It is not the fault of John Aglialaro or Harmon Kaslow that they have had to learn as they go. The filmmakers of Atlas just wanted to see a film version of the great Ayn Rand literary classic, and nobody had tried to make it work in the past, mainly because the role of many filmmakers in Hollywood resorted themselves to controlling the social message of humanity. This is why filmmakers like George Lucas set up his operation near San Francisco and Clint Eastwood ran Malpaso from Carmel, another San Franciscan suburb. Peter Jackson operates out of New Zealand, so the filmmakers of Atlas Shrugged Part 2 are in good company with their film strategy. The internal politics of Hollywood make it difficult to function creatively, so filmmakers to preserve their own integrity move away from Hollywood so they don’t end up like Steven Spielberg, caught in a creative vortex that consumes all their ingenuity with Hollywood progressive culture. Spielberg makes great movies, but he could do better, as he has in the past. I am looking forward to his new film Lincoln, but he lost his magic touch when he allowed Hollywood to sap him dry, beginning with his first Academy Award for Schindler’s List. I thought of Steven Spielberg while watching Atlas Shrugged Part 2 when Richard Halley the concert pianist was performing before a crowded auditorium and when the curtain closed, Halley left the stage and disappeared for unknown reasons. The reason that Halley left was he realized that the audience had lost their ability to really appreciate his art, so he did what all the rest of the great minds of Atlas Shrugged did, they left society. Spielberg stayed in Hollywood much the way Hank Rearden refused to leave after others had left for the same reasons Halley did in the film. Hank stayed because he just couldn’t quit, and he let himself be manipulated off his emotional high ground. It is those kinds of messages that the Hollywood machine despises because there is more truth than any of them care to reveal publicly.
All these qualifiers are necessary so that historical context can be applied to just how big of a deal Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is to the film industry. Aglialaro and company have done the unthinkable, they decided to enter the filmmaking market completely outside the controls that were put in place with nearly 100 years of filmmaking, and it has ruffled the feathers of virtually everyone in show business. With that said, the product put on screen was very good. In the screening that I was at, people openly laughed when Dagny had to fill up her car with gas that was $40 dollars per gallon. And the train crash was visually stunning. The plane chase I thought was remarkably good, and John Galt’s plane was very advanced. It reminded me of something that belonged in Star Wars. The tension through-out the story was intense. People who haven’t read the book might find some of the events too quick and fragmented, but a lot of material is covered, and the filmmakers did a good job of presenting the most abbreviated versions possible. The “money speech” that is so well loved from the book was done powerfully, and Rearden’s court appearance was very effective offering a commentary that is directly pertinent to the politics of our current day. But for me the best parts of the movie were the mystery surrounding the mysterious engine introduced very early in the story. Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is a love story, a story of political struggle, an argument in favor of capitalism, but it is also wonderful science fiction adventure resembling a type of film that does not get made any more in Hollywood. I found myself mesmerized watching this mysterious engine come to life throughout the film as Dagny tracks down the creator. I found myself smiling when Dagny met the former employee of a factory where the engine she discovered was built, which gave her insight into the kind of man who built it.
I thought Samantha Mathis did a great job as Dagny. It is repulsive that many Hollywood insiders have made fun of her middle-aged appearance in the film, as she played the part of a very tenacious woman, that is strong willed, independent, vulnerable at times, but deeply passionate about always looking toward the next great thing. If Atlas Shrugged Part 2 were a big studio film by Paramount or Warner and played by Charlize Theron the role would win an Academy Award, but Mathis’ role in Atlas will be rejected by Hollywood because the film was made outside of their control. Samantha Mathis did a wonderful job and was cast realistically which was refreshing to see for a change.
Even with all the pressure, it was nice to see the filmmakers having fun with the film this time around. They obviously loosened up a bit with the script, and that made this film a noticeable improvement over the last, which was good in its own way. Atlas Shrugged as a novel is a very heady piece of work which is a challenge for anybody to put into visual form. In this film, the decision to abbreviate the material with humor was a dramatic improvement. I expected to like the film, but I didn’t expect it to have so many fun moments that drew laughs.
For those who don’t know the story of Atlas Shrugged, I won’t ruin it here. But the ending of AS2 was particularly powerful, and very satisfying. The filmmakers pulled off a stunt that the Disney Studios attempted to do with their animated 2001 film Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Atlas Shrugged Part 2 with all the discussion of political commentary, and left versus right dialogue, is a superhero story about the origin of Atlantis. And in Ayn Rand’s classic novel, Atlantis was not geographic, but metaphorical. The story of Atlas Shrugged is at a fundamental level an observation of political methods, but more than that it is the classic analysis as to why many believe in the mythical city of Atlantis, as described by Plato to hold the key to all civilization. All human societies over known history have fallen short of their utopian aims, and Atlas Shrugged is a study as to why. The adventurous journey shown in Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is all about finding the metaphorical city of Atlantis in the classical sense, and modern equivalent. The film is essentially a treasure hunt that must break free of the political shackles which hold humanity to the archaic diatribes of collectivism keeping us from seeing the answers right in front of our faces.
All through Atlas Shrugged Part 2 I thought of the many films I loved growing up, such as The Island at the Top of the World, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Around the World in 80 Days. Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is an adventure film trying to break free of the shackles imposed by a government obsessed with socialism–trying to answer all life’s solutions beyond the grip that has stopped the magic motor of humanity from being developed culminating during the movie. The answer to these problems is in Atlantis, which is what Dagny is trying to discover with all the gusto of any great adventure story. The film itself, like the characters in the movie is trying to break free of the kind of shackles that have prevented filmmaking and society to create a real life Atlantis. The ambition and great love for the Ayn Rand’s original material can be seen in every frame of film presented with great passion. Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is a good honest movie that is telling an intense story about superheroes and treasure hunts. It just so happens that the villains are all too reminiscent of the kind of politicians that currently occupy our government with all the collective greed that has ruined every civilization on planet earth from Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Incan Empire, The Mayans, all the cultures of the Indus Valley, on down through every culture man has ever created since—Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is an examination into the answer of how to avoid such a peril in America. And the answer is in a metaphorical and actual Atlantis, which the viewer gets to discover tragically and rapturously at the end of this very good film.
I would recommend repeated viewings of Atlas Shrugged Part 2, especially if the content of the book is not known before hand. Critics will not like the film for many of the same reasons that they did not like George Lucas’s Red Tails, which I adored (SEE MY REVIEW HERE). Many of the young people working in the media today were teenagers in the 90’s and have never seen a movie made before the computer age, so they expect to be entertained with special effects, not a powerful story so they measure everything in their lives off those faulty standards. But their weaknesses in perception do not make a film bad or good–they are not qualified to measure the worth of a treasure hunt, because so many people have given up on looking for the treasures in life. When it is asked, “Who is John Galt” it is the same as asking, “Where are the treasures that can save mankind.”
This is the ambitious quest of Atlas Shrugged Part 2 and the film makers hit the mark squarely. They did a wonderful job with the film and made a picture that is worth seeing several times. It’s a unique work of art that has a lot of style and grace but more than anything it oozes a love for Ayn Rand and a celebration of her ideas. I wish every movie made in America had just a fraction of the passion shown in Atlas Shrugged Part 2 because if they did, America would become the Atlantis described in Plato’s writings. And this is the point of this very good film, it’s not just a warning of political science, it’s an offering into why the willing shackles mankind places upon their own hearts and minds are done so methodically, and is the reason the “men of the mind” in Atlas Shrugged are dropping the world and leaving to live and thrive in a world of their own making. Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is the latest edition in a long line of adventure films that seeks to cut off the chains of politics and emotional bondage away so that the viewer can touch the face of genius and relish in what the entire world could be if only mankind had the courage to become—John Galt.
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