I remember the trailers for the movie based on Nabokov's scandalous Lolita. The tag line was "How did they make a movie of Lolita!?" The answer was that they changed the title character from a barely-pubescent girl to a teenager, thus gutting the story of everything that was really shocking and offensive about it.
Thank God the people who made Atlas Shrugged, Part I did not do that. In this I think their small budget worked in their favor. Big budget movies are made by cowards who cringe in fear of losing money by being controversial. A big Hollywood budget with high production values would have killed this thing as dead as John Edwards' presidential ambitions.
The greatest thing about this film is that it was made at all. Sitting in a theater we have been in countless times, Deborah and I were both thinking "Oh my God! I can't believe what I am hearing! Did that character really say what I think she said? Omigod omigod!" (In the comments section of his blog, animation legend Eddie Fitzgerald told me, "I kept expecting the police to come in and shut the film down.") The story of how they managed to slip past the media Borg will probably make an interesting book some day.
Some comments on specific aspects:
Script: I've seen some comments on the web that say that every line of dialogue is from the book. This is completely wrong. The dialogue has been to a significant extent re-written, as it probably should have been. Book dialogue is not movie dialogue. However, some of my favorite lines from Part I are preserved intact ("He said you bore him, Mr. Taggart"). The longest philosophical speech in it lasts, I think, less than thirty seconds. It, though, seems to be word for word from the book, and that, too seems right to me.
Casting: Nobody looks like I imagined them when I read the book. I found out in recent years that Rand said that with the philosopher Hugh Akston she had in mind someone like Ortega y Gasset. This is actually how I had always imagined him: older, balding, dignified. The actor who plays him in the film is nothing like that. I guess I don't mind it, but they clearly weren't even trying for that kind of faithfulness to the text. Making Eddie Willers black was an interesting touch.
Acting: Very good. The biggest single acting challenge I think was projecting sexual chemistry between Dagny and Rearden in business meetings where they were clearly focused on other things. Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler carry it off with taste and style.
Production values: The things that had to look great (the John Galt line ride and the Wyatt oilfied fire) do look great. Other things (eg., the Taggart Transcontinental Building and Wyatt's house) are skimped on. It has the production values, I would say, of an extremely good made-for-TV-movie.
Cinematography: Very good. There is a fair amount of tight camera work to hide skimpy production values, but that's as it had to be.
Pacing: Very fast. Almost too fast, in a movie that is supposed to make you think.
Overall: As AR says in another context, it's had its face lifted, but not its spine or its spirit.