Last week I went with a friend to see Atlas Shrugged. Like many others I was disappointed; however, I was glad it was made. I just wish it were done differently. I understand how difficult it is to create a viable movie from a novel. One of the wonderful things about reading a book is how your imagination takes over and draws images of what the author describes. The less the author describes in detail the more the reader must exercise his or her imagination. Some movies got the casting and visual elements spot on with how I imagined the characters and scenes. As an example, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings did a wonderful job with meeting my expectations. They also worked hard to make these movies long enough to encompass as much of the story as feasible. These are just two aspects of Atlas Shrugged that fell short of my expectations.
I have read Atlas Shrugged many times. The first time I read it I drank in each and every word, I spent a long time digesting the story and enjoyed each moment. Then years later, when I read the book again, I skipped over a lot of the book in favor of reading just the dialog between characters. By skipping the descriptive elements and the speeches and concentrating on nothing but dialog between people, the story was much more engaging and manageable. I was hoping that the movie would be like that. Since I filled in all the gaps from previous knowledge, the movie had everything going for it, but still fell short. I wish the movie had more of the dialog from the novel. Sure it is dated and somewhat preachy, but that is what the author intended. I can’t honestly say what the movie would have been like for someone who didn’t read the book first.
By the way the author actually talked like the characters in her novels.
The film also skipped over too much material too quickly to do the novel justice. I think it would take about four to six movies to cover the novel properly. Like HP or LOTR, it should have had faith in its subject mater and not tried to encompass too much in one film. It felt like it jumped past elements that were important. It felt like the film was a 6 hour movie edited down to 90 minutes for television.
Like anyone else, I had a vision of exactly what the characters in the novel would look like. Ayn Rand did a good job of outlining how characters appeared through direct and indirect descriptions. Individual readers will probably have a different vision of which actor should have played each character. That said, I think the movie could have done better in casting a number of its actors. Ellis Wyatt in particular was completely opposite of what I expected. Hank Reardon wasn’t right either; he should have been tall, blond, and gaunt. He was much too cheerful to represent who I pictured in the novel. Lillian Reardon was the only person who was spot on with who I expected to see. Dagney Taggert was real close to who I pictured in my mind, however she should have been a brunette. Just my opinion, my imagination is different than yours.
Many critics who were critical of the movie (most) fried it for wooden acting, poor editing, etc… I can forgive a lot of that in favor of a good story. I guess that is why I am a fan of “B” movies and old 50s and 60s sci-fi films. So I came into the theater to watch Atlas Shrugged with the same attitude I have when I sit down to watch Planet of the Apes, or Plan 9 from outer space. I expected poor acting and low budget sets, but I was willing to accept this in favor seeing Dagney and Hank, Francisco and Ragnar. I like the story, but the movie wasn’t faithful to the concepts, the actors were not right for the roles, and the movie cut out all the interesting parts of the novel.
That said, I am glad that the film was made. The main reason is that it will get more people to read Atlas Shrugged. Which I feel is a good thing. I don’t want to get into a discussion about the merits or shortcomings of Objectivism. However, it has many positive aspects that I personally subscribe to so naturally I am gratified that other people may be exposed to this philosophy as well.
So in conclusion I would give the film two out of five stars. If you plan on seeing it, do yourself a favor and read the novel first and then wait for the movie to show up in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. I paid matinee price because I am a huge fan of Ayn Rand’s work and couldn’t wait. My hope is that Atlas Shrugged 2 will be filmed and in doing so they re-edit and clean up Atlas Shrugged 1. Or better yet, make it a series for Cable television. The movie could be considered a pilot episode. I figure it has much more material than 24 or Lost and it would allow time for the actors to grow into their charactors.