Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Atlas Shrugged Movie

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.


Neera said...

"He said you bore him, Mr. Taggart". That's one of my favorite lines too! And I love the way Dagny turns on her heel and says, "I'll name it the J G line!" (or words to that effect). But changing Paul's "people say all you care about is your metal and making money" to "people say all you care about is making money" is a gratuitous "slur" on the character! And I was v. upset that they had left out the flashbacks to Dagny's and Francisco's childhood/adolescence together - some of the most beautiful and poignant scenes in the novel.

Lester Hunt said...

Neera: Thanks for dropping by! I hadn't noticed the omission of "...your metal and...." Don't you think that when HR answers "but I *am* only interested in making money" the audience hears it as a sort of hyperbole? -- As to omitted scenes, I guess the one that disappointed me the most was Francisco playing marbles.

Neera said...

"Francisco playing marbles" - yes, that too! I said that to Larry on our way home from the movie last night. That whole scene in the novel is so charged w. emotion and sexual tension - what were they thinking of when they omitted it?! And why the change in the interaction - Dagny wouldn't offer herself to F. for the sake of a loan!

Lester Hunt said...

Hm. You think she was offering sex for money? You may be right but if so I missed it. I thought she was simply appealing to whatever is left of what he once felt for her.

Actually, I think the reason the marbles-playing bit was gone was that this scene was moved to the hotel dining area. That might have been done for reasons of compression. This was the evening when she had Eddie make two dinner appointments, one with HR and the other with Frisco.

(I'm trusting my failing memory here!)

Max said...

Melissa and I made it to the late showing last night after all. Our first impression was that we're very happy that they didn't make the film with the intention of actively subverting the ideas in the book.

I agree with your take on it, except that for some reason, Rearden looks exactly as I had imagined. (And I always imagined Dagny as a blonde, even though the book describes her very clearly as a brunette.)

I also agree with Neera that the childhood scenes would have made the movie better. Mostly I wish they had twice as much money as they did, because more money is what it takes for a film to show us things instead of telling us about them. (Twenty million would not have been enough to give it the big-budget problems you mentioned.)

Someday, someone is going to make an amazing movie that's set in the original novel's 1930s-1950s era, with Rachmaninoff's 2nd concerto serving as the score. It'll be rendered mostly on computers, which will make it even more stylized and awesome. Maybe it'll even be six parts? But it will probably take twenty more years for CGI costs to come down even more. Until then, there are some great scenes in this film to tide me over, so I'm happy.

Lester Hunt said...

Max: I'm glad you made it on the first day after all. Yes, some day they may do it perfectly. You may live to see it. Me, probably not. a
Again, mahzel tov.

Ann said...

I KNEW you would offer a review, Lester, and I've been lurking at your site waiting for it. :-) i can't wait to see the film. I wonder, will they make a trilogy given that this is just Part 1? I'm SO delighted that the original conception of a couple of years ago, with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie cast as the principals with the airline business replacing trains and the war in Iraq thinly veiled as an additional theme did not come to pass. That would have been a disaster.

Lester Hunt said...

Yes, this is a completely different screenplay from the Pitt/Jolie project. ... I guess the downside of doing without them is that there was a lot less money than there otherwise would be. As I explain above, though, this in a way is a good thing. Most of my favorite movies were low budget, or relatively low budget products.

[This includes my most favorite of all: Letter from and Unknown Woman. For the opera scene, they had to borrow a set from Phantom of the Opera. Young Lisa's apartment and Stefan's next door apartment were actually the same set, just dressed differently. Etc.]

Still, I admit that with a story where the "spectacle" (in Aristotle's sense) is important, it would be nice if it did not look like a TV movie. The good thing about ticket sales going as well as they are {despite attempts on the part of the critics to put an end to this) is that it will be easier to raise money for the next installments.

Taggart tunnel distaster coming up! And it needs to look good!