Atlas Shrugged Part 1: Movie Review
Despite its failings, Part 1 of the Atlas Shrugged movie is important for two reasons.
One, it shows it can be done and, two, it spreads Ayn Rand’s ideas to a larger swath of the population than would otherwise have been exposed to them.
Before being brought to the screen, everyone thought adapting Rand’s epic novel about the fundamental clash between the free market and government and between individuals and the collective, would be nigh on impossible. For a while that actually seemed to be the case. The movie languished in development purgatory for 54 years with dozens of attempts to bring it to life. All of them failed.
That this unabashedly libertarian movie was made, and that it is as entertaining and fast paced as it is, is a testament to millionaire (and movie rights owner) John Aglialoro’s determination and guts. The film moves along at a fairly good clip for a story that takes place almost entirely within boardrooms and at dinner parties, and it succeeds admirably in not watering down Rand’s message and political beliefs.
The effect this movie has already had on the general culture can also not be understated. Within days of its opening night, the book had risen to number four on the Amazon bestseller list. Shortly thereafter it was at number one. On the day the movie was released (April 15, fittingly) the term “Atlas Shrugged” trended worldwide on Twitter (hardly a bastion of free market thinking) and hundreds of bloggers and dozens of mainstream media outlets weighed in on the movie and on Rand herself.
In fact, the movie has already convinced several of my previously reticent friends to read the book, and it’s happily sparked a national conversation about the objectivist novel and about Rand’s ideas.
Unfortunately, the movie version of Rand’s magnum opus does have its share of failings. Uneven acting and occasionally shoddy screenwriting combine to make the movie come off as unpolished. There are moments during the film that I literally had to look away from the screen in embarrassment (rather like watching an episode of “The Office,” only unintentional in this case). Granted, I can only think of two specific such moments, but that they are in the film at all shows it needed to undergo a longer period of editing and re-shooting.
In fact, any time director Paul Johansson shows up on screen (as John Galt) should definitely be re-shot with a different actor and better, less heavy-handed lines.
Of course, there are other concerns leveled at the movie, such as what it left out, and casting choices that do not jibe with readers’ mental images of the characters (for instance, the fact that Dagny is a blonde, as opposed to a brunette in the book). These types of complaints are minor, and I had no issue with the types of directorial choices that any movie maker must must make when adapting a beloved book to the screen.
Negatives aside, the movie also had some impressive accomplishments. Several scenes, like the running of the John Galt Line and Dagny’s discovery of Wyatt’s Torch made me want to cheer; they did so well at capturing the spirit of the novel. Particularly well done were the scenes with Hank Rearden and his wife and family, and the onscreen appearances of Ellis Wyatt.
And, of course, technically the movie is gorgeous. It looks far better than one would assume a $10 million budget would allow. It’s scored excellently, and the high definition cameras used to film it give it the production values of a much bigger budget picture.
On the whole the movie came across as a well done rough-draft. It showed that it can be done, and, given a little longer in the editing room, could really have been great. I’d love to see a “special edition” version with some of the scenes re-written and re-shot to clean up the acting and dialog issues.
The good news is it’s already had a positive effect on the wider culture by spreading Rand’s ideas, and one can only hope it continues to do so.
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is 102 minutes and rated PG-13. You can buy tickets online through the official Atlas Shrugged website, www.atlasshruggedpart1.com.
Parts 2 and 3 are scheduled to debut on April 15, 2012, and 2013 respectively.
A scene from the movie: “Hank Rearden comes home.”
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