April 25, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: Not Great, But Damned Good

Hatched by Dave Ross
Movie review by David Ross

Atlas Shrugged is not a great movie, but I agree with the critic who wrote over the weekend that it is interesting enough that it might generate interest in making a movie of Ayn Rand’s novel that could be great.

After all, how many remakes have we seen of Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn, and, for God’s sake, the Three Musketeers? How many Gulliver’s Travels? Or when you get down to it, how many Hamlets, Romeo and Juliets, and Julius Caesars? Lots! And only some of them are really, really good. Some of them are downright rank! There were even a couple of tries, albeit via animation, before Hollywood got down to making a really good version of Lord of the Rings.

I’m not saying that only movies that have gargantuan budgets are worth seeing, but with a movie about what may be one of the most important books of the 20th century needs something a little more ambitious than a made-for-TV budget. It needs someone of the stature of John Williams or Danny Elfman to compose a truly stirring, memorable score. Rand deserves a rising heroic lyrical score that will remind listeners of Rachmaninoff, the only composer she ever mentioned as having admired.

Recently the wonderful Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books by Stig Larson were brought to the screen in Swedish versions. They generated enough interest that now they are being made in English versions with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the leading roles. That’s not to say that the Swedish versions were no good, but I am anxious to see what Hollywood does with these obsessively interesting and page turning stories.

The fact that Rand’s magnificent novel has finally been brought to the screen does not mean that we have to settle for this being the only time. If fans of the book generate enough buzz about the movie, and movie people in general show enough interest in what is, at its core, a philosophical masterpiece with a ripping good story that could be very exciting on screen -- we will get the movie that this book deserves. According to early reports, the number of theaters showing Part I has increased due to the buzz from people who saw it earlier this week.

Don’t think that I’m ragging on this movie. Not for a moment. It is amazing to see Atlas Shrugged brought to the screen in any form, and to see it in a coherent form that presents the story in a straight-forward manner is, to put it mildly, exhilarating. However it is a movie that, I fear, will only appeal to people who are already in a place philosophically where they can relate to it. Yes Rand Paul is probably going to fall over in a swoon the first time somebody says, portentously, “Who is John Galt?” And I’m afraid that they overdo it a little with the portentious and pretentious way that everyone says that. Reminds me of the early days of CNN when you would hear James Earl Jones intone “This is CNN!”

But for Joe Slobotnik, or even Joe the Plumber, who might be ready to hear a little objectivism, a lot of this will fly straight over their heads. I know because I deliberately saw the movie with someone who is not a liberal, and who leans rightwing for the most part, but who found the movie kind of tedious. I’m not going to be like all the “fans” of the movie who will refuse to hear anything bad about it because, damn it, it’s just so important that it even exists!

The movie I saw suffers from having far too many scenes that take place in boardrooms and, strangely enough, not enough talk about the actual philosophy of the book. The cast is very good, especially Taylor Schilling, playing a leggy, sexy, yet supremely competent Dagny Taggart, and Grant Bowler as Hank Rearden, inventor of the super metal which, being a Randian hero, he names after himself. Some of the bit parts, especially of the villainous and aptly named Wesley Mouch, played by Michael Lerner as a dead ringer for Barney Frank, are very well cast.

Probably the most impressive scene in the movie is when after moving heaven and earth Dagny and Hank take a ride on the Galt line railroad and across a beautifully realized bridge made with Rearden metal. That the scene owes a lot to CGI is one of the reasons I would like to see this movie done with a bigger budget.

However, for the moment this is the only Atlas Shrugged we have, so let’s enjoy it. If director Paul Johansson, who stars as a mysterious John Galt -- who has a habit of accosting creative, productive people in the middle of the night and persuading them to disappear -- raises enough money from this first movie he says he will make the two sequels. I’m hoping he raises the money. And in the current political atmosphere, where the government just ordered Boeing not to build a plant in a state other than Washington in order to escape striking unions, Atlas Shrugged may find its audience.

Hatched by Dave Ross on this day, April 25, 2011, at the time of 1:24 PM

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