I was the second person in line outside theater #13 (?) at the MJR Theater in Sterling Heights, awaiting the 7:20 PM showing of Atlas Shrugged. By the time the film started, I had counted approximately seventy-five people in the audience.
Where to start? First, if you’ve read the novel, you know that Atlas Shrugged (AS) is a monster-sized novel. over 1,000 pages and the print is small to boot. There’s a TON of material in this story. Worse, much of the most meaningful story as told by Rand occurs in the minds of the characters which then explains their actions. This meaningful information is difficult to get out on to the screen.
Secondly, and I may not have every exact detail on this accurate, but.. this movie was allegedly made for ten million dollars, which is to say, next to nothing. The story goes something like this. A group of people including the producer of this movie procured the rights to make the film from the estate of Ayn Rand. How long they had them, I do not know. But supposedly the rights were to expire within a couple of months and if the film had not started, the rights would revert back to the Rand’s estate and we’d probably be waiting a few more decades for AS to come to the big screen. So, instead with only a few months to go, a script was written, characters cast and filming began. Both the screenwriter and director are relatively inexperienced.
Even in three parts, AS may prove to be too much material to be adapted to the big screen, at least too much for three parts, if part one is any indication. As I watched the film, my mind was equally focused on two different tasks. Task number one was simply to enjoy the film as a fan of the story. I very much did enjoy the shift in time period to 2016 as opposed to 1950 or so. The second task I tried to keep in mind was watching the movie as if I had not read the book. My recommendation: read the book before seeing the movie. The material is simply doled out so fast that I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of viewers who haven’t read the book. Clearly at least some of the audience members at my showing had not read the book. This was evident by sincere whispers of “who is that guy?” when clearly the character on the screen was John Galt.
At times the dialogue is a bit contrived, but not too badly. At other times, it matches the book verbatim. And at other times, it is dialogue in the spirit of AS splashed with a hint of the twenty-first century. Random things I noticed… Frisco calling Dagny “Slug” with audience having been given no reason why. It is revealed in the film that as young adults they were lovers. It was not revealed that they had indeed been childhood friends and Slug was Frisco’s nickname for Dagny.
I ***VERY MUCH *** like the casting of the characters of Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler), Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) and especially Francisco d’Anconia (Jsu Garcia). Though Bowler makes Rearden more charming and less “intimidating” than the book-version of Rearden, he is still excellent in the role of Rearden. In the case of Taylor Schilling, she does an admirable job portraying Dagny Taggart. That she is extremely attractive certainly didn’t hurt the cause. However, at least to my mind’s eye, Jsu Garcia’s appearance comes the closest to what I expected Francisco d’Anconia to look like (and he’s my favorite character from the book as well!). Other characters were nowhere close to what I visualized them as…Ellis Wyatt, nope, Owen Kellog, no way and Paul Larkin.. NOT! Especially troublesome is John Galt himself. While we see him only in the shadows I could tell he’s tall and normal-to-a-bit-larger-than-normal build. With Paul Johansson as John Galt, believability could be in doubt in parts 2 and 3. Remember, John Galt is the man whom Dagny has been searching for her whole life.. the man at the end of the railroad tracks. In the book, Galt is very slim and slight in stature (maybe 5′ 10″, tops. Johansson looks like an NBA-power-forward in a trench coat and hat. How this resolves itself will remain to be seen.
One quirky little minor thing that I really enjoyed was the appearance for all of one minute by Rearden’s secretary, Gwen Ives. Her appearance is short but extremely enjoyable. She’s like a twenty-something clubber, but very competent in her job and the brief interplay between her and Rearden is cool.
Lastly, the first run of the John Galt Line on the Rio Norte Line is actually quite magnificent, especially when they cross the new, ultra-modern bridge made of Rearden Steel. Dagny is so relieved that the track and bridge held together she gasps and hugs Rearden, which is of course is a harbinger of their activity later that same night.
In the end, AS Part 1, can be in no way a “short cut” to “get” what Rand was trying to say in the book. Rather, I view it more as a visual reward, long over due for those devotees of the book who already “get it” and simply want to give their overworked “mind’s eye” a rest. They can finally relax and watch the timeless story retooled for the 21st century. If you’ve read the book (at least once), you’ll enjoy the movie. If not, you may be scratching your head and wondering why this story has such a devoted following.