Tuesday, April 24, 2012

At Long Last...

My Review of
 Atlas Shrugged

The mind can be an action hero. Oh yes it can.

ALWAYS KNEW IT WOULDN'T WORK. We're on a new schedule here, not that you should care, but it involves the alarm going off at 4 am. You can do it for days at a time, but sooner or later the body rebels. My wife handles it by sleeping for 12 hours a night on weekends, but I'm yawing all over the place. Sometimes I crash as early as eight o'clock, and other nights I can't even get sleepy. So last night after my wife went to bed at a reasonable hour, I watched Atlas Shrugged on my iPad. And today I can't keep my eyes open. Sigh.

Brizoni already reviewed it here, and he's much more of a fan than I am, but I'm moved to write this because we don't quite agree about what wrong. He blamed the SyFy production values. I have a different take.

I don't think the production values were all that bad. I have four objections to what was done. 1) Setting, 2) Casting, 3) Casting, and 4) Casting.

Brizoni caught the problem but misunderstood it. He called for an adaptation rather than a transliteration. Meaning that he saw the clunkiness of Rand's dialogue when he was confronted with it. Good for him. He's a smart boy.

Thing is, and this is the good news for all you Randians, the movie convinced me there is a movie to be made from Atlas Shrugged. This just wasn't it.

They tried to make it topical, with multiple references to the kinds of economic crises the Obama administration is perpetuating or creating. Which isn't inaccurate, just wrong-footed. Distracting. Like watching an episode of Law & Order where you wince at every snide allusion to the Bush administration. I get what they're referring to, and I even agree, but it's so ham-handed I can't stand it. Give me a movie, not a series of conservative one-liners.

You've got to begin by trusting the work. Atlas Shrugged is not about Obama, no matter how well he reflects the mindset being attacked. It's a work of philosophy, an allegory. a parable. In other words, it's a comic book or, to put it more kindly, a graphic novel. It's the 300 of the mind. It requires enormous gyrations of logic to put railroads at the center of a contemporary economic crisis. So don't do it. Make Sin City or Dark City instead.

Accept that Atlas Shrugged is like 1984, a place in the imponderable past where a wrong turn was taken. Trust the audience to make the connections. They will or they won't, but make a damn movie they'll remember anyway. Romanticize the trains, which isn't hard to do, and lionize the woman who was determined to keep them running.

Make it a dark, timeless, hyper-dramatic world, where Manhattan looks like Gotham City, and forget all about contemporary celebrity and society culture. Follow Dagny.

Which leads to my three other objections. Find actors who have the chops to play the lead characters or don't make the movie at all. It's that important. Eschew for once the Hollywood cliche of the underage girl-power executive and the dashing male tycoon who looks like he belongs in a soap opera, not a Shakespearean tragedy. Find the dangerous ones, the smoldering ones, the camera magnets who become the black holes into which all audience attention is funneled. If you have to, lie to them about what they're doing. The audition is not a political science test.

For me, it's imperative that Dagny Taggart be an action star. Claudia Black. Rhona Mitra. Yeah. Brits. Not young but still choice and absolutely commanding, violence suppressed and channelled. The tycoons, Reardon and Francisco, should be equally strong. Make your own nominations. I'm guessing they'll be Brits too.

The movie they've made is glop. Not because of bad CGI, but because they missed the point and made an op-ed instead of a story. "Who is John Galt?" should be a throwaway line, as it is in the book, not a scene-killing non sequitur. Make a movie bout keeping the railroads going because everything depends on it, and don't bother arguing why. That's the reality you're accepting when you pay for your ticket. Period.

All the political shenanigans should be in the background, a constant chaff of weak-minded bureaucrats who keep changing the rules. Make them look pale and keep them in the background. This movie is not about political dialogue. It's about making people fall in love with the ones who consistently make things happen regardless.

And, uh, yeah, if that means junking all of Rand's dialogue, do it. Find the story that is buried in her political manifesto, put it on the screen, and make a goddam movie.

Just don't betray her ideas.

Because she'll come back from the dead and kill you.

P.S. I started with the music because it's the right music for the story. If you want a movie clip instead, here it is.

See? Awfulness is its own signature.

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