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Paul Johansson
Taylor Schilling, Edi Gathegi, Geoff Pierson, Paul Johansson, Patrick Fischler, Michael O'Keefe, Matthew Marsden
Writing Credits:
Ayn Rand (novel), John Aglialoro, Brian Patrick O'Toole

Who is John Galt?

Ayn Rand's timeless novel of rational self-interest comes to life for a new millennium.". The year is 2016, and America is on the verge of economic disaster. The greatest citizens are being targeted, and dark forces are working to bring about America’s final days. Our only hope for salvation lies with Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden, rugged individualists whose bold ideas may have the power to spark a revolution and reclaim to the American Dream.

Box Office:
$6.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.686 million on 299 screens.
Domestic Gross
$4.563 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/8/2011

• Audio Commentary with Producer Harmon Kaslow and Screenwriters John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole
• “Road to Atlas Shrugged” Featurette
• “I Am John Galt” Featurette
• “The John Galt Theme” Slideshow
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Atlas Shrugged: Part One [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 25, 2011)

Though often regarded as “unfilmable”, Ayn Rand’s famed and controversial 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged indeed made it to the big screen in 2011 – well, part of it, at least. Atlas Shrugged Part One takes on only a portion of the 1100-plus page book; in theory, Parts Two and Three will tell the rest of the tale.

I say “in theory” because it remains unclear if the series will continue. Shrugged Part One made next to nothing at the box office and received consistently negative reviews. Since Part One cost little to make, the producers may be able to go ahead with the next two flicks, but as far as I can tell, as of November 2011, the series’ future prospects remain questionable.

Normally I wouldn’t be too keen to check out a box office dud that earned miserable reviews, but the polarizing/controversial nature of the tale intrigued me. Set in the year 2016, Shrugged depicts an America crippled by an ongoing economic depression. As stocks flop and gas prices soar past $40 per gallon, the railroad becomes the dominant form of transportation, and Taggart Transcontinental serves as the leading line.

However, some costly and damaging derailments threaten their position. CEO James Taggart (Matthew Marsden) wants to use government-approved providers to fix the faltering rails and refuses to pursue other means even though the company’s waited for more than a year to get their order filled.

Instead, his sister – and Transcontinental VP in Charge of Operation – Dagny (Taylor Schilling) takes the bull by the horns and invests in an independent contractor who makes a metal that’s lighter and more efficient. She gets the material from Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) – and the pair eventually launch a romance.

James Taggart works behind the scenes with politicians to keep the entrenched order in place while they sabotage Rearden and other threats to the hegemony. In the meantime, various technological and economic movers and shakers start to vanish, all with the mysterious question “who is John Galt?” on their lips.

The answer: who the frack cares? Someone, I suppose, but I don’t, mostly because the answer gets wrapped in such an incompetent, obvious piece of work.

As with all adaptations of literary works, it can be tough to separate a movie’s failures from the source’s weaknesses. I never read Shrugged so I can’t address how many of its faults stem from the book and how many come unique for the movie.

All I do know is that the Shrugged Part One flops in most imaginable ways. As a film, it’s a mess. Director Paul Johansson shows little skill behind the camera, and his choices actively harm the movie. In particular, he displays no intuitive sense of visual styling. We get one awkward shot after another and some of the choppiest editing on record.

Conversations provide the most galling issues in the visual domain. Almost without fail, these consist of bland medium shots of one participant that then cut straight to the other. And back again. And again. And again. Occasionally Johansson goes crazy on us and spins the camera a wee bit, but usually the image remains stiff and clumsy.

The same goes for the performances. Shrugged actually boasts a pretty decent cast of supporting actors, as you’ll find talents such as Jon Polito and Michael Lerner along for the ride. They get nothing to do other than twist their virtual mustaches, and the leads display little to no talent.

In particular, Schilling is a dud. She’s lovely but can’t display any range at all. Perhaps that’s appropriate, as Dagny comes described as someone without much emotional life, but she still looks flat and uninspired. Her go-to look seems to be “pout” and that’s about it.

Not that I expect even the most talented actors could overcome the flaws of the script. Shrugged isn’t a story: it’s a political screed disguised as a narrative. The tale does little more than extol Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” philosophy without end.

This does little to deliver a narrative with any nuance. Time and again, we see and are told about the Evil Government’s attempts to control the lives of the citizenry and to institute a socialist state – those people are bad. In the meantime, Dagny, Henry and a few others strive to push forward with a more individualistic society in which unfettered economic opportunities lead to Darwinian success – they’re good.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think Shrugged was a 90-minute political ad financed by the Tea Party. It couldn’t be more obvious if it tried, and it sticks us with one clumsy mini-speech after another, such as when Dagny asks “Why all these stupid altruistic urges? It’s not charitable or fair!”

Sigh. I don’t want to turn my review into a political discussion, but I can’t imagine anyone other than the most dedicated “get the gubbermint outta my life!” sort will take much pleasure from the movie’s message, especially given its clunkiness. Even if one agrees with the film’s concepts, one should be turned off by the insanely heavy-handed manner in which it delivers its thoughts. There’s no possible room for interpretation here; everything’s pure black or white without a hint of gray.

The God-awful dialogue doesn’t help. In fact, I’m loathe to refer to the movie’s lines as “dialogue”. Those elements exist as stilted exposition and anti-government propaganda. The occasional attempt at something non-political doesn’t fare much better, but since the vast majority of the movie’s speech exists to further its agenda, that’s not a real concern.

I wouldn’t be so offended at the flicks’ ham-fisted nature if it wasn’t simply such a bad movie. But lousy Shrugged is. Whatever one thinks of the source novel and its message, this is pretty atrocious filmmaking.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Atlas Shrugged Part One appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This wasn’t a flawless presentation, but it usually looked good.

Overall sharpness satisfied. A few wide shots could be a bit soft, but those weren’t an isse. Instead, most of the flick was accurate and concise. I noticed no shimmering or jaggies, and print flaws remained absent.

Colors worked fine. The film opted for an amber tint, and the hues looked rich and appealing within those stylistic choices. Blacks looked deep and dense, but shadows tended to be lackluster; low-light shots – occasionally exacerbated by day-for-night filters – seemed somewhat thick. Those weren’t a big issue, though, as the shadows were decent most of the time. This was a good but not great image.

Although I discerned no serious flaws with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Shrugged, it failed to merit a grade above a “B“. Part of that stemmed from the mix’s general lack of involvement. Some of the train sequences added punch, but the majority of the movie concentrated on atmosphere. Given the story’s dialogue-heavy orientation, that was fine; the flick didn’t really need a lot of sonic pyrotechnics.

Audio quality was fine. Speech was consistently natural and distinctive, and I noticed no edginess or other concerns. Music demonstrated good range and clarity, as the score was bright and acceptably bold. Effects also came across well. They seemed clean and accurate, and they kicked in decent low-end material when necessary. Ultimately, the soundtrack was good enough to earn a “B“.

A few extras fill out the set. We launch with an audio commentary from producer Harmon Kaslow, producer/co-screenwriter John Aglialoro and co-screenwriter Brian Patrick O’Toole. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of the project's long, slow path to the screen, adaptation and script/story/character issues, sets and locations, cast and crew, music, and some other areas.

For the most part, the commentary offers a fairly good overview of the production. We get a decent feel for the various topics and learn a reasonable amount the film’s creation. I especially like the aspects that address the adaptation of the novel and changes made along the way.

But – and you knew a “but” was coming – some problems arise along the way. At times, Aglialoro tends to simply narrate the movie, and that trend becomes more dominant as the movie progresses; the first half of the commentary works significantly better than the second half.

In addition, I think the track suffers from too much editorial content. Granted, one could argue that it’s unreasonable to expect a Shrugged discussion that leaves out its social and political ramifications, but I kinda sorta hoped that’d be the case here, especially since we go well past the end of the first act before this side of the chat becomes a factor.

But become a factor it does, as the participants – mainly Aglialoro – make their opinions more than clear. Of course, one would expect folks who adapted Shrugged to share its beliefs, but I think these come out in a rather abrasive and arrogant manner. Aglialoro nears “spittle-inflected” territory as he eschews his worldview, as he comes across as a pretty angry guy, especially when he slams the critics who panned his movie.

Curiously, Aglialoro and the others seem to believe the film flopped for reasons other than its quality, as they believe critics attacked it for political reasons and nothing else. I can’t speak for others, but I came down hard on Shrugged due to my belief that it’s an incompetently made flick; even if I agreed with its politics, that wouldn’t make it a good film.

Clearly the commentary participants think they made a great flick, so I guess they have to come up with conspiracy theories to explain its critical and commercial failure. But if they’re true Rand disciples, shouldn’t they just accept that the free market spoke and no one wanted to see their movie? And that maybe it just wasn’t good and failed to find an audience because of that? Methinks some hypocrisy appears here.

Two featurettes follow. Road to Atlas Shrugged goes for five minutes, 13 seconds and includes notes from Aglialoro. He discusses Ayn Rand, the philosophy of Objectivism, and the movie’s path to the screen. Aglialoro tells us some minor production basics but mostly talks about the greatness of the story, Rand, Objectivism and the flick. This ends up as little more than promotion.

With the 35-minute, 11-second I Am John Galt, we start with an opening from the movie’s online marketing director. We see his online appeal to the flick’s Facebook fans to shoot clips of themselves saying “I am John Galt” – and that’s what we get here. This is more than half an hour of people saying the same line over and over and over again. I’m sure the people who participated enjoyed the chance to get their Blu-ray/DVD moment of fame, but viewing doesn’t get duller than this.

”The John Galt Theme” Slideshow fills three minutes, 39 seconds. It features the “Galt Theme” to accompany shots from the film. It’s not a great collection of stills but it’s decent.

The disc opens with ads for Fox World Cinema, Another Earth, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Whistleblower. No trailer for Shrugged shows up here.

Fans of Atlas Shrugged Part One defend its weaknesses as products of its low budget. I didn’t realize that lack of money causes crummy editing, clunky dialogue and a total lack of narrative flow. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture and audio along with mediocre supplements. Shrugged isn’t a movie – it’s a political rant packaged in amateurish cinematic clothing.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.9166 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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