Let me be absolutely clear: I can’t stand the writing and philosophy of Ayn Rand. I attempted to read Atlas Shrugged, getting 63 pages deep before I threw the book across the room and yelled, “Who talks like that?” I have, however, seen each of the cinematic adaptations, each installment worse than the next. Seeking closure for the story that I had absolutely no interest in, I ventured to the theater to see Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?. Absolutely the nadir of an already dreadful series, Atlas Shrugged continues its baffling trademark of recasting every role between installments. Where the prior installments tried, though failed, to maintain some semblance of cinematic aesthetic, Atlas Shrugged 3: Beyond Thunderdome abandons any pretense of visual or narrative coherence in favor of 90 minutes of banal politics accentuated with plodding speeches.
The kindest thing you can say about Atlas Shrugged 3 is that it’s a movie – even then I think that’s pushing it. It’s like Coleman Francis, Ed Wood, and Hal Warren collaborated in order to adapt a chain e-mail to the screen. Much in the way that Manos: The Hands of Fate was made by Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas, the Atlas Shrugged trilogy was spearheaded by John Aglialoro, the CEO of a fitness equipment company, who co-wrote 2 of 3 installments as well as producing the entirety of the trilogy. Also like Manos, Atlas Shrugged 3 features numerous scenes of people driving, the screen fading between a forested landscape and another forested landscape. A number of scenes, including the unbelievably laughable sex scene, take place in low lighting, but are shot so incompetently that the screen is filled digital noise, like the image was overlayed with the static from a television.
Since the film feels like a polemic by Ed Wood it’s all but impossible to take its politics seriously, or even concede that there may be a point buried within. This isn’t a film that has a story with political elements because there isn’t really a story. It’s just a collection of scenes where people talk about their worldviews with the humanity of a glitchy robot. To give you an understanding of the film’s political nuance, it features cameos by Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Grover Norquist, and Ron Paul. Oh, and the denizens of Galt’s Gulch don’t use money, they use gold.
The political and philosophical nature of the film are presented in bubble. It’s easy to use fiction as a basis for a political belief if it makes no concessions to reality. It’d be like using Star Trek as empirical evidence for the virtues of a classless society. (There has been an attempt to create a real life Galt’s Gulch in Chile and it has been a disaster) Galt’s Gulch is the utopia that is powered by a device of pure fantasy – a motor which converts atmospheric energy to electricity. Paved roads, cell reception, and the endless supply of booze just exist without any consideration as to where they came from. Some supplies delivered to the Gulch are done so by a pirate who operates under the belief that since the materials were being poached by the government it is perfectly moral for him to steal them back – an ultra-right-wing Robin Hood. There’s also no thought given to the labor that creates the amenities of the Gulch – the titans of industry just sit around drinking wine and scotch while discussing their great value, but who runs away from society to work in a mine or pave roads? For a film that is so against any form of labor unions, it is incapable of understanding the irony that its heroes are employing union tactics against society with their strike. Adding an additional layer of unintentional irony, the film’s main protagonist, Dagny Taggert, gains her fortune and influence through nepotism while everyone surrounding her lament the cronyism surrounding them.
As deplorable as I may find its politics, nothing is more offensive than its utter incompetence with cinematic form and simple coherence. It’s tough to keep track of who is who from prior installments because they’ve all been recast for the 3rd time – I’m sparing the poor cast further embarrassment by not naming them. Characters of little consequence are killed off, then presented in a flashback, as if that’ll explain their importance after the fact. As the main male protagonist for the first 2 films, Hank Reardon is a non-entity, maybe having all of 1 minute of screen time. Director James Manera, who’s only prior directing experience was nearly 20 years ago on an episode of Nash Bridges, brings nothing to the table, let alone a simple understanding of narrative momentum. Apparently, all the quality writers and directors were on strike.