It is very hard to read an honest opinion about Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike from any venue, as most will bring their political biases into the equation. On the one hand, you have the fervent followers of Ayn Rand and her political philosophy, Objectivism, not to mention the economic beliefs she espoused which have influenced many on the political Right in America. The film is less about story and characters than traditional Hollywood entertainment. It is more about promoting certain ideas and concepts from Rand’s most famous book, Atlas Shrugged.
This is the second part of a planned three-part franchise. The first film was largely a flop and due to problems securing financing, the producers had to re-cast all the roles from the first film for this direct sequel that continues the story. Do not expect a complete story by any means, as the movie ends on a huge cliffhanger expected to be continued in the third and final film of the franchise.
Most have claimed over the years that Atlas Shrugged was unadaptable for film and they may have been correct, this adaptation only partially works if you don’t know anything about Ayn Rand’s philosophies going in as a viewer. Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis) is the CEO of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad that provides the last remaining source of transportation in a dystopian future where gas is over $40 per gallon. She is the hero protagonist in a fight where the villains are government bureaucrats and lawmakers that have passed something called the Fair Share law. It is a thinly-veiled critique of socialist policies, in which the strong businesses in the film are trying to rebel against for the good of the country. Much of it is only loosely grounded in our reality, though it does cover economic issues pertinent to our current political discourse.
Dagny is on the hunt for a rumored motor that could solve the world’s energy crisis. Standing in her way are government cronies and the mysterious disappearances of the world’s most talented people. Her partner in all of this is Henry Rearden (Jason Beghe), billionaire owner of Rearden Steel. Having invented a revolutionary new metal on his own, the government wants it for its own purposes. He also happens to be carrying on a love affair with Dagny as the story unfolds, behind his wife’s back. That side story seems to have been mainly left on the cutting room floor as we only get brief glimpses of their love affair. In all of this, viewers will become annoyed by the repeated catchphrase ripped from the novel uttered over and over again, “Who is John Galt?”
I can’t recommend Atlas Shrugged Part II solely by itself, without someone having seen the first film and also having a passing familiarity with the tenets of Objectivism. Even at that threshold, the movie’s storytelling only sporadically works as compelling entertainment. The last act is where the script falls apart, as it becomes apparent you will need to see an unproduced third film to finish out the story. Characters act less like real humans and more at times like vehicles meant to recite speeches of weighty dialogue, though the production values are quite good for a low-budget film. It’s probably not the epic that fans of Atlas Shrugged imagined, but people that share Rand’s world-view will certainly find something of interest in the movie.
Atlas Shrugged Part II has been filmed with one of the best digital cameras in existence for current movies, the Arri Alexa. Fox has encoded the pristine image with stellar compression parameters, creating a nearly reference transfer on Blu-ray. What prevents this Blu-ray from reaching the equivalent of perfect picture quality is endemic to the movie’s creation, the wide usage of digital composites and green-screen work to construct the reality of the film’s futuristic technology.
The main feature runs 111 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC video encode is flawless, averaging a very strong 31.33 Mbps without a hint of banding or macroblocking. It certainly helps the picture’s clarity, replicating the digitally-shot feature’s high-quality resolution and pleasing degree of sharpness. Depth and dimensionality are a touch flat, but that is not out of the ordinary for digital video. The only question remaining about the transfer is the choice to present the film on Blu-ray in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, re-framed from its original 2.35:1 composition.
There are no signs any wayward processing has been performed on the movie’s digital intermediate. The lack of ringing and absolutely fantastic detail in close-ups, indicate the transfer has been left untouched by filtering of any kind. Contrast is pitch-perfect and backed by deep black levels.
Where the image softens up a bit is in the CGI used for FX and the digitally-imposed backgrounds. Set in the near future, Atlas Shrugged uses an inordinate amount of digital composites to create its settings. Most of the time it is smoothly implemented and most will disregard the artificial backgrounds as they blend into the physical sets, but there are a few scenes where everything looks too clean and anti-septic. Aliasing does pose a problem at times, particularly around the outlines of the actors against the CGI backgrounds.
A 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is the only audio option offered on this Blu-ray. Thankfully, it’s a robust mix that takes full advantage of a modern home theater system. Chris Bacon’s score gets spread across the front and rear channels, receding into the background for the immersive action sequences with plenty of bass and directionality. The movie opens with an impressive audio demonstration of jets chasing each other, creating as much impact as one might expect from the newest summer blockbuster.
Fidelity is perfectly clean and the verbose dialogue is impeccably rendered, mixed together with the Foley effects and instrumental score in total balance. While the recording is not quite as powerful as the latest action blockbusters, this is a soundtrack that acquits itself nicely for an action drama with a heavy emphasis on dialogue. Three subtitle options are offered, all of which are presented in a white font: English SDH, Spanish, French.
Fox has included a smattering of extra features for Atlas Shrugged Part II, though nothing of real consequence except the featured deleted scenes are that interesting. Some input from the writers on how they went about adapting the complex novel to the screen might have proved illuminating. That was covered in the audio commentary on Part I, but there are no commentaries to be found on this sequel.
Behind The Scenes of Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike (08:48 in 1080P) – This is a complete and raw look at the on-set production of one scene in the film, the leak and explosion at Henry Rearden’s steel factory. From the initial stunt blocking to how they eventually incorporated VFX for the finished product, most of what it takes to get a scene made for a modern movie is covered.
Sean Hannity Extended Segment (03:13 in 1080P) – The longer cut of the scene featuring Sean Hannity’s cameo in the film. It features a number of recognizable commentators from Fox News, including Juan Williams and Bob Beckel.
Deleted Scenes (14:43 in 1080P) – While some of these scenes were likely unnecessary and cut for time, I think their inclusion into the film would have strengthened the flow of the choppy narrative. The bulk of the deleted scenes revolve around the love affair between Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart. I understand why they cut out the more tender elements for a movie more interested in rhetoric and ideas, but it might have humanized the characters a little more.
Sneak Peek (various times in 1080P) – Trailers for Hitchcock: The Movie and Broken City are provided on the disc’s menu. In addition, trailers for the Fox Blu-ray experience and A Late Quartet precede the main feature which can be skipped by the user.
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