The title is from my Twiterry response to the movie [tweet]. I doubt any Randian hero would ever consider Tweeting, so here is a longer review.
I am not really fan of Rand’s supersized novel. I am certainly not an obsessive fanboy. Unlike many, the novel did not cause some Saint Paul like moment of conversion. This was not because I rejected religion as mysticism (as Rand would) but because I already held pro-market views when I read it; it was the prompting of many like minded thinkers that brought me to Atlas Shrugged.
While disposed to the thesis, I found the book hard going. Its great strength is its didactic clarity; its great weakness is that didactic energy soon becomes wearing. As a reader I feel like screaming: “OK, I get it, I really get it. Now please stop!”
I never quite developed a taste for Rand’s reason-above-all-else philosophy; it seems too brutally stark for my taste. I did however love the depiction of the passion for creation, ownership, and greatness. The division of the world into the heroic-great and mundane-others seems harsh (to this, no doubt, mundane being), but it is hard not to admire the Randian heroes of talent, courage, drive, and ambition: men (and women) willing to forge their own paths.
I did make it through the book, and I am glad I did. I could not say I wholeheartedly enjoyed it (too much work), but I am glad that I read it. I would describe it was wordy but worthy.
The book has an epic scope. Many of those numerous words describe a cinematic landscape of some grandeur. The rest of the words end up in impassioned speeches or describing the thoughts of its heroes. If ever a book could make a great movie, it is Atlas Shrugged. While not a complete fan of the book, I was looking forward to a cinematic version. I had visions of those page-long speeches delivered with the raw passion of talented actors. I wanted to see those yards of text turned from something taxing to the brain, into something stirring to the heart. That said, I had modest aspirations for the movie. It had a modest budget, unknown actors, unseasoned writers, and had been rushed to screen (to maintain screen rights that would soon expire).
The result was something that is far better than my worst fears, but a good bit less than my fondest hopes. It is a Cecil B. DeMille epic made on a Sam Raimi budget. In all fairness to the filmmakers, it does not look cheap. It is not exactly Avatar, but thankfully it is not meant to be Avatar. I doubt any of the actors could have satisfied all the fans with their depiction of characters, but I was satisfied with their presentation. While casting Atlas Shrugged is a fun exercise many have indulged in, the movie did better without the distraction of big name stars. If I had a complaint it would be that they (or at least Dagny and Rearden) seemed a little flat for Randian superheroes.
I understand the danger of hamming it up (the novel is pretty “hammy” in its own way) with scene shredding antics, but feel they may have erred in the opposite direction. I understood that the characters were talented, driven, and determined, but did not get that feeling of overarching passion for achievement that I remember from the book.
At times, it seemed more a battle of business intrigue than a fight over deeper values. It seemed more the standard venal corruption rather than the spiritual corruption of the book. To those not familiar with the book, it might seem like a fight over corporate assets and not the ownership of your own work. At one point Taggart acknowledges, with a wry smile, that he is only out to make profit. Such a line raises a laugh, and no doubt plays well to the beltway-right types who likely block-booked many tickets. However it also plays to the “greed is good” critics of capitalism; I always felt that the message of Atlas Shrugged was about ownership of your work, not just ownership of the accounting profits (the penniless artist owns his work as much as the corporate titan).
I suspect that the movie will satisfy most Rand fans. Most fans understand that no movie could really do the novel justice, that no matter how well done, some fans would feel something missing. The problem for the producers is that while preaching to the choir, it will probably not convert many heathens. For viewers lacking familiarity with the source material, the movie is not that entertaining and probably not very satisfying. For those familiar with the source the movie is, in a so unRandian manner, just good enough.
I certainly hope they go on to make the subsequent parts; I will certainly see them if they do.