I finally got around to seeing “Atlas Shrugged- Part I” this week. I went with a friend who is as much a fan of the book as I am.
You really have to begin any critique of the movie by discussing its relationship to the book. Although Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” is probably the most influential book in my life (I’ve read it 5 times), it isn’t great literature. The characters aren’t well developed. The heroes are larger than life, and the villians are without redeeming values. The plot is linear, and takes considerable time to develop the major points, sidetracked as it is by periodic polemics.
The second problem is the fan base and the rights ownership. The book is controlled by the Ayn Rand Institute, who has always insisted on substantial control of any movie. The fan base is fanatic. It shows in the critics ratings of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, compared with the 11,000 fan ratings which average 81%. These fans wanted to see the book exactly as written, much like the followers of Lord of the Rings.
They got what they wanted with only some minor tweaking. Thank goodness the pseudo-rape scenes every time Dagney has relations have been tenderized. Necessary updates in technology are seamless. Cell phones are ubiquitous. (Why do Dagney and Hank drive an undisguised Toyota? A slap at the UAW?)
So what results is more of a book-on-video than something written for the screen. It’s like some older movies where a Broadway play is just acted out in front of a camera. This is a clearly a book where the characters “come to life.”
Compression of a huge book into a movie, even a movie in three parts, is always a challenge of editing and time. Parts of the movie feel like the plot is just being described. “Say, there’s Frisco D’Antonia” (a Mexican in the film) “He has the San Sebastian Mines. I invested because he always makes money.” (2 minutes later on TV) “Special News Report- The San Sebastian Mines have collapsed!”
It’s low budget ($20 million). The multiple helicopter shots of a train going through the mountains are filler. There are a few anomalies- like the first John Galt run being a modern Amtrak liner. One critic compared it to a made-for-TV movie. While some locations are really good, these filler shots sometimes give it that feel.
The politics, however, are just as fresh in the movie as they remain in the 54 year old book. There is less suspension of disbelief at the back room dealing, corrupt lobbying or blatant manipulation of the law to favor insiders than was needed in 1957. A lot less.
It’s also eerily familiar to watch the media witch hunt that surrounds Reardon Metal. No facts, no evidence, no real data is necessary to publicize the “opinions” of unnamed “experts.” Opponents with obvious political and financial agendas are given air time to describe their concerns about “the public good.”
This is where, I thought while watching, life most imitates art. The virulent trashing of the movie (it’s first week in release, the Rotten Tomato critic meter had it at 6% approval- an unheard-of low rating), was completely out of proportion to what it is. Here are a few comments:
- “An eye-rollingly clumsy amble through a Middle Earth of Monopolists for the rest of us.”
- “Ayn Rand’s monumental 1,168-page, 1957 novel gets the low-budget, no-talent treatment and sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal.”
- “This Sharktopus-budget-level cheap, badly-acted, clumsily-written and stiffly-directed movie…”
- “Serves up a perfect society based on abdication by the rest of us to a snobby affluent egghead elite, in a sort of brazen brainocracy.”
Wait a minute. What happened to the impartial expertise of the movie critic? Since when do they rant about the subject of the movie? In the name of free speech, critics are more than willing to forgive brutality, gore, sadism, rape, gratuitous sex, corruption and deceit. When did they start trashing a film’s point of view?
“Atlas Shrugged-Part I” isn’t a great film. It probably isn’t even a very enjoyable movie for non-Rand fans. It is not, however, “Ishtar,” “Battlefield Earth,” or “Heaven’s Gate.” It’s merely a simple story made from a simple (if exhaustingly long) book.
Could the fact that 85% of media employees self-identify as “liberal” have anything to do with it? Is this a Reardon-Metal style smear campaign to influence public opinion? Perish the thought. No one can believe that such things actually happen in real life…right?