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The Movie

April 29th, 2011 by Myrhaf · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

I saw Atlas Shrugged Part 1. There were 21 of us in the theater at an 8:05pm showing on Friday night. 21 is a lot more than were in the house for Kill The Irishman or The Way Back.

I liked it. It’s not the great work of art the novel deserves, but it has enough of the original in it to be entertaining and interesting.

I was struck by how realistic the story is. Atlas Shrugged might be the most realistic novel ever written. It’s amazing how the egalitarians in the movie sound like they stepped right out of the Obama administration. Compared to the mindless dreck that Hollywood usually churns out, it’s great just to see a movie that makes sense and has ideas.

Instead of thinking of what might have been, I just took the movie as it is. One can focus on the negatives, but I was more thrilled by the positives. Rand’s story is powerful enough to make a flawed dramatization still moving.

I hope the producer makes enough money to go ahead with part 2, and I hope he learns from the criticism to do a better job. If they had just followed the novel and made a three-hour movie, as this screenwriter suggests, it would have been so much better. Maybe they can get it right in part 2.

Most of the criticism is the same trash you get whenever intellectuals write about Ayn Rand. You can dispose of any review that says Rand is a bad writer, the story is for adolescents, Rand is a Nietzschean and last, any review that finds it important to note that Ayn Rand slept with Nathaniel Branden. That’s just the ad hominem nonsense you get from the left and the right — from people who have little understanding of her ideas.

Other criticism has been from fans of the novel who are disappointed at how far short the film falls. These critics make a lot of good points. There are problems with the script and some characters, such as Jim Taggart, are woefully miscast.

I say go see the movie. It’s good enough to see. Let us hope it spreads by word of mouth, because movie box office can only be good for novel sales, and that is what our culture desperately needs.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, I think less of the movie than I first did. The screenwriting and directing are far, far less competent than I judged them to be. It is a bad movie, especially when compared to the book.

The worst thing is not that it’s monstrous or criminally offensive to Ayn Rand’s ideas, but that it is just so… ordinary. It is a product of our gray, value-deprived culture. The movie is a measure of just how bad off our culture still is.

If a filmmaker with first-rate vision and intelligence ever makes the movie this novel deserves, then we will see in sharp relief how awful this first attempt was. And we will feel outrage because a good dramatization will show that this feeble effort is not the best we can expect, although it is the likely product of a culture of mediocrity.

Still — book sales. If the movie gets people to read the book, that’s a good thing.

11 Comments so far ↓

  • Mike

    I just saw it earlier this evening. Only ten people in the theater… but the entire place was pretty dead. I guess this weekend if you’re not Fast & Furious 5, you don’t get the crowds.

    NO SPOILERS HERE. Though the book is 50+ years old, so what can ya do. As Penny Arcade said, there’s a time limit on that kind of thing. Their example: Passion of the Christ. Guess what? At the end? Jesus DIES.

    Overall, I thought they gave AS a good college try, and succeeded on some levels and failed on others. I can’t call it a success, but it was a huge relief to see it written, filmed, and acted earnestly, and not with a wink and a nod and self-deprecating nihilism.

    The primary successes were conceptual. For example, how do you make trains relevant in a movie set in 2016-2017? Make gas cost $37.50 per gallon after inflation and mideast war. Absolutely fantastic idea! (Not a spoiler; this was part of the film’s opening infodump.) The presentation of the disappearances was slick. In general, the critical scenes worked, most notably d’Anconia’s meeting with Rearden at the party. I feared for how that interaction might be butchered — it is, to me, the key interaction in all of Book One — and then it played out and I could only think to myself, “Damn, that was great!”

    The primary failures were preparatory. The screenwriters just didn’t execute. Too much on-the-nose dialogue, WAY too much infodump in dialogue (which is a shame because some of the simulated media turned other areas of infodump into very effective set-up), and wow, what a cringeworthy Big No by Dagny. It made Vader’s Big No in Episode III seem dignified.

    But the one big sin the movie committed was that it gave away too much, too soon. It whetted the audience’s appetite with a mystery, and then just gave away the ending, a la Data in Star Trek playing Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck. Stuff that the reader didn’t learn until part THREE was spoiled outright with on-the-nose dialogue in Part I… and badly.

    In short, I praise the production staff (especially with so little money to work with, and CGI that stood up well to much bigger-budgeted films of only a decade or so ago) and the actors (who did what they could with the adaptation they were wedged into), but I heap criticism on the director and especially the screenwriting tandem. Most of the problems with AS part I were born on the scripted page well in advance of the exposure of a single frame of (digital) celluloid.

    Plenty of good scripts get bungled into bad movies, but few bad scripts improve at any point further in the process. This script needed another couple hundred man-hours of development, and it might have become something truly extraordinary. By way of comparison, Pixar scripts get multiple man-YEARS of development, and they get polished to near-perfection.

  • Myrhaf

    Wait, Jesus dies? DAMN YOU!

    (When people ask me if I’ve read the Bible, I tell them I saw the movie.)

    It strikes me that the actor playing Jim Taggart seems like a nice guy who is just a little bit of a screw up — kind of the way Hal Jordan looks in the Green Lantern trailer. This makes Dagny seem way over the top when she threatens to destroy him. This is an example of how miscasting can be disastrous.

  • Myrhaf

    Actually, Mike, I liked Dagny’s “NO!” If this were a play, that would be the Act I curtain line. I say go for the drama. Don’t play it cool.

  • TW

    I just saw it, and it was much better than I was expecting. I had heard that the acting was bad, and I found that’s not true at all.

    I did find Dagny’s NO! a little embarrassing, however, and I thought the part where they discovered the atmospheric static motor and its plans to be clumsy. It seemed too hastily done.

    In general, however, I was pleased. The audience even applauded a little at the end, which I done think I’ve ever seen happen in a movie theater before.

  • TW

    Oh, I wanted to add that I thought Rebecca Wisocky made a *wonderful* Lilian Rearden. She had that perfect louche, decadent elegance that makes you see both what Rearden saw in her at first, and what he hates in her now.

  • Joey

    It’s a difficult phenomenon for anyone who reads this blog to believe to be true, but there are plenty of people who read the book and still don’t see it as anything more than a political tome.

    Keep in mind that Atlas Shrugged sold just as many (if not more) copies (in proportion to the population’s size at the time) when it was released in the 50’s than it is doing today. Where is the legacy of that today? And worse, back then, people weren’t as likely to be turning to the story in reactionary desperation, as they are now.

    The only people who are going to be compelled by this film to read the book are people who won’t find the book as compelling as they should. The rest of the population is either hopeless (and probably won’t know of, or want to see, the film in the first place), or they’ve already read the novel and love it.

    I don’t know how to remedy this, but it’s real, and until we figure it out, Objectivists should hold their ammo and “not fire until they can see the whites of their eyes.”

    Unfortunately, with the release of this film, that isn’t what happened.

  • Andrew Dalton

    “It’s a difficult phenomenon for anyone who reads this blog to believe to be true, but there are plenty of people who read the book and still don’t see it as anything more than a political tome.”

    Old hat. Of course the cultural impact of Atlas Shrugged has not yet matched its success in sales. Who thinks otherwise?

    As for the future … yes, one can imagine scenarios in which more people read the book but get nothing from it — but until we have evidence that this is happening, there’s no sense wringing one’s hands over it.

  • joey,

    Dalton,

    Evidence? Okay: the direction of the culture from 1957 to 2011.

  • Andrew Dalton

    No, evidence that the current interest in the book will be fruitless.

  • Joey

    Right. Sorry, I misunderstood.

    As to your point, it’s baseless epistemologically. It’s like asking why we should put someone in jail for a crime when he’s only committed that crime once. Just because he committed doesn’t give us good reason to believe that he’ll do it again if he’s left free to roam. You’re arguing from empiricism.

    More specifically though, in a sense you’re correct: at some point in the future, people just may soak in Objectivism doing the same things they’ve done in the past that haven’t taken. I doubt it will be the immediate future, however.

    For one thing the culture isn’t all that much different than the 50’s. It’s worse, definitely, but not worse enough. I have a theory about why Americans in the 18th century, uniquely, created the country they did. Of course it had a lot to do with the Englightenment ideas floating around at the time, but every country in the West was exposed to them. Americans, however, were uniquely exposed to the hardships of nature. Living on a virgin continent in hamlets and, at best, small towns (the “big cities” of the day) literally compelled them to take those ideas more seriously than their counterparts in Europe.

    Anyway, my point is that I think it will have to get a lot worse before it gets ANY better. Objectivism will the “enlighenment ideas” floating around, and “raw nature” will be the destructive, standard-of-living-lowering effects of today’s dominant cultural and political trends.

  • Joe Z

    I’m so waiting for the reboot.