Today, I attended a pre-release screening of Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 in Washington DC. As many fans of Ayn Rand’s monumental work of the same name, I had approached the release of the film with both excitement and a touch of anxiety. This is not just some Hollywood film to be liked or not liked–this film is being measured by a virtually impossible standard of living up Miss Rand’s genius. After some brief comments by the film’s producers and a few other folks, the packed theater went stone silent as the screen came to life.
The first few minutes are spent laying the “background” to the film. The film opens in September of 2016 in an America falling apart at the seams because of a world oil shortage–causing $34/gal gasoline–and continued government growth and interference. It is stated that railroads are the only way to get around that can be afforded by anyone other than the rich. This particular part of the setup was unnecessary since the movie as presented would have been fully believable since Taggart Transcontinental was really only portrayed as a freight train company. Nevertheless, the setup complete, the movie opens.
I have to say that Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden were truly spot-on actors for casting in these roles. Both delivered believable and genuine performances. In fact, every character who appeared on screen was well cast and well acted. I have seen a number of pre-release criticisms that all of the cast are “only television actors” but I see no justification for criticism. I was not the slightest bit disappointed by the actor choices–and rather, I thoroughly enjoyed the acting skill demonstrated.
On the side of “how did the actors compare to what I had envisioned when I read the book”, I was only surprised by Matthew Marsden as James Taggart and by Jsu Garcia as Francisco d’Anconia–both because they were a little younger than I had envisioned. But, my assumptions aside, both men acted well and filled the roles well.
The most memorable visual of the film for me was the running of the John Galt Line’s first train at 250 mph through Colorado–and across a stunningly beautiful Readen Metal suspension bridge. The cinematography in that portion of the film was superbly done–and caused me to envision what railroads and industry in the United States would actually be like–if not for constant government interference and looters (but I digress…)
The only really jarring part of the film–which I am unsure whether it could have been avoided–is that in several parts, the scenes change so quickly, the viewer has the impression of riding on the very train that was being portrayed, without enough time to see some things clearly as they shoot by the window. But, as I said, I am unsure if this could have been avoided since there was sooooo much material to cover in such a short span of time. I entitled this review “Don’t Blink” because I am quite serious–do not blink too much during the film, or you will miss something important.
Towards the end of the film, there was a frantic search for the inventor of the motor found in the ruins of the 20th Century Motor company factory–and I say “frantic” not because of the storyline, but because the locations and scenes change and move so quickly–without sufficient explanation. It was literally a 10 second scene to the effect of, “oh, he’s in…” and suddenly, Dagny and Hank are in the next city, etc.
Another odd treatment for me was the “80′s style computer text typing on the screen” every time someone went “MISSING:” It was a little tabloid-TV-missing-girl-on-the-milk-carton for me–though not a major drawback, just a “huh?” kind of thing.
As much as I was worried about how faithful the movie would be to Ayn Rand’s meaning and intent with the story–I am no longer worried. Despite the liberties taken to set the film into the not-distant future, I do not believe that Miss Rand’s meaning was watered down in any way. I can say with confidence that I do not worry that the film will give the wrong impression of the philosophy behind it. It is certainly a mere surface scratch on something far larger–but a pretty well placed and executed introduction.
The musical score was good–but did not stand out as much as I might have expected. After all the descriptions of Richard Halley in the book, I miss that aspect of the book’s storyline–but perhaps more will come in the future parts of the film. The only place that the music seemed to come towards the foreground was during the run of the John Galt Line train through the river valleys. The combination of the visual with the music swept the audience along with the train in its triumphant run–but as someone else said, “when the train stopped, so did the scene.”
Some might ask, “Was this a ‘great’ film?” and I am unsure how to answer–so I shall break it down:
* Was the film entertaining and enjoyable? Certainly!
* Was the casting well chosen? Definitely!
* Did I believe the characters? Yes!
* Was the cinematography well done? Yes!
* Was the music good? The music was good, but it is not a soundtrack that I will be rushing out to buy.
* Was the script faithful to the book? Yes, I think the story is faithful, even with the 2016 timeline updates. But perhaps this is what keeps me from declaring the film “great”… I know many elements had to be cut due to time constraints, but the movie was only 106 minutes long– why not go for 140 or so and give more detail? And the transitions I mentioned earlier were simply jarring/rough in places.
Overall, I was happy to see the film and very much enjoyed watching it. I will encourage others to see it– both because of the book on which it is based and also because it was simply a well-made film with an interesting story line and good acting. I am looking forward to the full release on April 15th and even more to the production of Part II, since Part I ends at such an “unfinished” point.
Go and see this film.
by Eriks Goodwin-Pfister on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 9:02pm
This review is fully original work and is copyright 2011 by Eriks Goodwin-Pfister. Permission to reproduce this review as a whole and without edits is granted, on the condition that the byline and copyright notice remain intact. Please send me a link to anywhere it is published. Thank you for respecting my intellectual property rights. :-)