I Watched Atlas Shrugged Part III So You Don’t Have To

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proIf there was anything that Ayn Rand loved more than her friends’ husbands, it was the free market. This was not a view shared by the producers of Atlas Shrugged Part III.

Very few people asked for Atlas Shrugged to be adapted into a film, let alone three films. The first installment earned less than five million dollars at the box office, and only a few million more on DVD. It failed to recoup even half its budget and was critically panned across the board. Nevertheless, the producers pushed forward with their plan, even if they couldn’t bring back the director, most of the crew, and all of the cast. The second film was financed through a debt sale and filmed over a single month, the dying gasp of a dream that should have never been brought into reality.¬†Part II debuted on three times as many screens as Part I, likely due to its release near the 2012 election and the hope that money could be made off of the politically charged subject matter. Nope. Part II bombed even harder than the first installment, barely squeaking out over three million dollars.

The promotional materials for Far Cry 3 have taught us that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. So, naturally, the producers of the first two Atlas Shrugged films made a third one.

“How?” you ask, and I don’t have a good answer. No one with any sense would invest in a project like this–the third film of a trilogy that twice failed to earn a profit and consists, notoriously, of the worst parts of the book it is based on. Atlas Shrugged isn’t a masterpiece from the start, but it falls apart spectacularly in the last third, mostly because of a 70 page speech by one of the worst Mary Sue characters to ever be realized outside of fanfiction.net.

Part III reportedly cost 10 million dollars to produce, which is considerably cheaper than the first two films but still 10 million dollars more than anyone should have been willing to pay. To top that off, a kickstarter campaign was drawn into the mix. Allegedly, none of the money was used to actually produce the film, which begs an important question: where did it go? The page is really vague on that–“expanding the production and marketing” is the official wording. The producers elaborate on this in their video and FAQ, stating that the main purpose is to allow fans to be “part of Atlas Shrugged history.”

In other words, the kickstarter was a way to take money from people who were willing to give it. And can you really blame the producers when there were six people who paid $7,500 to have their name written on John Galt’s wall in the film?

rewards The idea of paying a bunch of money to get your name associated with the prime mover capitalist heroes of Atlas Shrugged is maybe the most amazing thing to come out of this whole series of terrible movies. It’s so dumb and it’s even vaguely even predatory, though I can’t feel sorry for the prey of this particular scam. And maybe, in the end, they’re onto something. Anyone who had their name put up on that wall has something in common with Ellis Wyatt: they basically set a bunch of money on fire.

In keeping with the fine tradition of continuity, the entire film has been recast once again. Gone is Samantha Mathis as Dagny Taggart, replaced by Laura Regan who you might recognize as (a) Harry’s wife on Mad Men or (b) the actress who portrays Robin Wright’s character in Unbreakable during flashbacks. That’s how little there is to say about her. Hank Rearden is no longer a mob boss, but played by Rob Morrow (in theory; we’ll get to that later). And the standout of Part II, Patrick Fabian, is sadly missing in action as James Taggart, but gleefully replaced by yet another in the revolving door of unsettling expressive actors, Greg Germann. Or, as you probably know him, Fish from Ally McBeal.

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Everyone else has been recast as well, including Ray Wise as President Thompson. Which is a hell of a disappointment because President Thompson is actually in this film for more than a minute and Wise is sorely missed.

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I Watched Atlas Shrugged Part 2 So You Don’t Have To

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Atlas Shrugged Part I: Full Post

proIt shouldn’t surprise anyone that Atlas Shrugged Part I was box office poison. It was a dry adaptation of the first third of an unfilmable book, starring Taylor Schilling pre-Orange Is The New Black. The studio presumed that it would find success because it courted a conservative market that is largely ignored by Hollywood. This was a huge miscalculation, because nakedly conservative films have (typically) been driven to profitability by church groups and Rand isn’t exactly a fan of religion. Also, while plenty of Republican politicians cite Atlas Shrugged as an influence, I’d wager that most either (1) haven’t read it or (2) didn’t understand it because otherwise they’d have to realize modern American political conservatism has way more in common with the regulatory capture and obstructionism of the villains than the ambitious drive of the protagonists. Socialism wasn’t the only windmill Rand tilted at with Atlas Shrugged, after all.

The misguided quest to film a book that didn’t need to be filmed should have ended with the failure of Part I. The free market spoke. But the producers didn’t listen. They still had a vision to complete, even if it would have to be reduced in scope and, hilariously, funded by selling debt. The entire cast was replaced. Jason Beghe took over for Grant Bowler as Hank Reardon. And Taylor Schilling was swapped out for Samantha Mathis, who is probably best known by readers of this blog as Daisy from the Super Mario Brothers Movie.

Sorry, Sam, but it looks like talking to a puppet dinosaur won't be the career low point you assumed.

Sorry, Sam, but it looks like talking to a puppet dinosaur won’t be the career low point you assumed.

When we last saw our heroes, Hank Rearden was fuming over yet another set of governmental regulations that would make it illegal to produce his “Rearden Metal”, which may or may not just be a type of steel. And Dagny Taggart was screaming at a burning oil field after tycoon Ellis Wyatt decided to torch all his product rather than let the government tax the state of Colorado. Wyatt then disappeared with a mysterious fedora-wearing dude, John Galt, whose very name has become a rhetorical question that no one has an answer for, because this world is very much like our own but does not have Google.

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I Watched Atlas Shrugged Part I So You Don’t Have To

proA disclaimer: I don’t hate Ayn Rand. Or, at least, I don’t hate her in the performative way that someone who falls on the left of social/political lines is supposed to hate her. Rand’s prose is mediocre, her characters hollow, her futurism half-baked, and the way that Objectivism has been twisted and weaponized in modern politics is horrific. However, at the core of everything Rand wrote was a brutal honesty that I just can’t bring myself to hate. Rand offers a window into the selfish, greedy part of humanity that is usually hidden, rejected, or couched in relentless apology. And very rarely she makes a good point, like a squirrel with a bad haircut finding single acorn after gathering a dozen rusty nails. Her unflinching acceptance of the human¬†id causes her to stumble into some useful insights into the futility and self-absorption of guilt.

That said, engaging with most of Ayn Rand’s ideas is like smacking around an empty pinata. Sure, it’s fun to swing a bat, but ultimately by hitting the pinata you’re admitting that you think there’s something of worth inside it. So this post isn’t going to be about Objectivism, it’s going to be about a bad movie.

A really bad movie.

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