Detractors of Atlas Shrugged would never be pleased with any faithful adaptation of the novel, and so this movie’s primary audience is those who enjoyed the novel, are generally sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s ideas, or both. (If their response is positive, then the word-of-mouth buzz should attract the curiosity of many people who aren’t yet familiar with the novel.)
On this front, it looks like Aglialoro & Co. have scored a direct hit. The early reviews are quite positive.
In addition to David Kelley’s review and Hans Schantz’s pre-review, both of which were generally glowing, we now have reviews from Andrew Brietbart’s Big Hollywood, Matt Welch at the Reason blog, and Rand biographer Barbara Branden. Each responded favorably to the full movie they saw at the invitation-only preview on Thursday in Los Angeles.
The direction is solid and surprisingly ambitious at times. I was struck by the scene of Hank Rearden’s anniversary party which starts with one long shot that goes on for maybe two full minutes (or more?). We’re talking a moving camera shot that included handoffs to several characters as they move through a crowded room full of background action and some cool focus pulls as well. The film geek in me was reminded of Hitchcock’s Rope in which he tried to make the entire film appear as one long take (but was limited by the cameras which could only hold about 10 minutes of film). Anyway, I was impressed by the shot. I’d love to know how many takes it took to get it just right. Kudos to director Paul Johansson for showing us something without overdoing it.
I have to say a word about the special effects and the music as well. The main effects work comes in a sequence late in the film when Hank and Dagny run the John Galt line. It’s clearly CGI, but very well done. Both Scott and I remarked what a great job they did with the design of the transcontinental bridge.
It was every bit as beautiful as the book made it sound and looked absolutely believable on screen. Well done. Music is a significant part of the novel and I thought the score served the film well, especially in the second half of the film as the emotion ratchets up and the music begins to intrude (pleasantly) on the proceedings.
The overall impression is of a very well crafted indie film. The budget (around $10 million according to this site) is sufficient but obviously precluded some of the grand sets and throwaway beauty shots that a $30-40 million bankroll would have made possible. Still, the story is the star here and once that gets going it seems to pick up speed right until the end. In fact, I was actually surprised when it was over that the time had gone by so quickly.
Matt Welch at Reason.com notes that all the Objectivists he talked to gave the movie a hearty thumbs up:
My five-word movie review as someone who hasn’t read the book is that lovers, haters will both enjoy (for different reasons, obviously). You cared about the story and the protagonists, the look and sound were mostly (and surprisingly) handsome, Dagny in particular and Hank were good, and there are some pretty awesome capitalism, bitches!-style moments. Felt a bit like they were speeding through the material, and so characters (and ever-present cable news shows that cared deeply about the construction of rail lines) did a lot of heavy expositional lifting that didn’t much resemble dialogue or news broadcasts. The bad guys sometimes seemed cartoonishly venal rather than arriving at their badness through some sort of logic. I didn’t really understand why Dagny put up with her no-good brother for even one second.
Every Shrugged reader I talked to yesterday said that the adaptation was pretty dang faithful to the source material, and I didn’t see a single thumb down.
Finally, Ayn Rand biographer Barbara Branden says the movie is spectacularly good:
I am delighted, overwhelmed, and stunned.
Yesterday, I saw Atlas Shrugged Part I, the movie. In advance, I was tense and worried. What if it was terrible? In that case, no one would consider a remake for years, if ever. I didn’t think it would be terrible, especially after I saw a clip from the film : the scene where Rearden comes home to his family after the first pouring of Rearden Metal. The scene was very good indeed. But….
The movie is not so-so, it is not OK, it is not rather good — it is spectacularly good. I won’t go into detail; for this, see David Kelley’s review with which I am in agreement — except that he rather understates the film’s virtues.
The script is excellent, as is the acting. The music is first rate, and immensely adds to the tension that the action and the tempo of the film create. Visually, it is very beautiful. And wait until you experience the first run of the John Galt Line!
The film’s greatest virtue is that, from the first moment, one steps into the world of Atlas Shrugged. The writers whose works live across time share an essential characteristic: their unique and personal stamp, their unique and personal spirit, emanates from every page of their writing, and one knows it could have been created by no other sense of life, no other intellect. The literary universe of Dostoevsky, for instance, its tone, its emotional quality, is instantly recognizable and can never be confused with that of Henry James or Victor Hugo or Oscar Wilde or Thomas Wolfe. And so wtih Ayn Rand: one turns the pages of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and one has entered a self-consistent new planet, formed in the image of the world view and the values that were hers alone.
To a remarkable degree, the movie captures the spirit, the sense of life, that was Ayn Rand’s alone.
Does it have faults? I suppose so. I could not care less — and I suspect you won’t care either.