11 May 2011

Ace Reviews Atlas

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Hank and Dagny

Ace got around to seeing Atlas Shrugged rather late. He has not read the book very recently. And he is obviously not a card-carrying, Colorado-vacationing Randroid (he isn’t even able to remember the name of Midas Mulligan, for instance).

He awards the film only faint praise.

I was pretty nicely surprised. It’s good. Not great. But still — good. It’s actually more subtle than I was expecting; maybe too subtle in one key area (more on this later, as it truly is key). Rand’s book had the subtlety of a cast-iron lightning bolt, so any screen treatment might be expected to be much less didactic than her novel; but they seemed to have gone even further in toning down the heavy didacticism. Oh, it pops up here and there, but it’s not really objectionable.

In fact, to tell the truth, I could have endured a little more of the statement of principle stuff. Because with so much of that stripped away– why are the heroes acting as they do?

Two and a half stars good (which is my way of saying “Good enough to see, but not outstanding;” outstanding is three stars and superlative is four).

But it must have affected him more than he realized, because he goes on and on and on, trying to re-write the movie, re-directing the occasional scene, commenting in detail on the cast, and proposing adding hackneyed Hollywood character background to replace Dagny’s philosophical motivation. Ayn would be not amused.

The rest of us may be. Ace is certainly dead wrong about most of this, but it is clear that he wants more. The film was too short for him, and he wants more visible character development. I think the problem is that the financial situation, and the length of the book, required the film to be made in parts, and the resolution of the main characters’ conflicts, the conversion of Hank Reardon and Dagny, their persuasion to quit fighting a desperate battle to keep their businesses and the economy of the country afloat and to go on strike, occurs much later.

Where I did think Ace was right was in his objection to the film’s failure to make John Galt a mystery. The audience knows right away who John Galt is: he’s that guy in the slouch hat and trench coat we see lurking around everywhere, badly needing a shave. He’s the guy who siddles up to to banker Midas Mulligan (not “Bill McKenna”) early in the film. Ace is right in arguing that a greater effort to preserve the mystery story aspect of the whole thing would have been a better idea.

I don’t agree with him about reducing the ideology or about the desirability of “translating” the book into another medium. Film makers always justify the unconscionable liberties they take with works of literature with the “necessities of the medium” argument, and that’s an argument I’ve never bought. Films may not be able to include every scene or character or plot development in a book. Films do need to emphasize the visual. But the exigencies of translation do not really make Peter Jackson qualified to re-write J.R.R. Tolkien in fundamental ways, for instance.

Also, there are adaptations and adaptations. The 57th version of Jane Eyre may be moved to a contemporary setting in China for all we care. But the first film version of a deeply-loved cult classic, like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter , or Atlas Shrugged needs to be decidedly faithful to the original. Those of us who have strong feelings about the book will be mightily offended by gross alterations, omissions, and distortions.

One Feedback on "Ace Reviews Atlas"


I just felt the dialogue read like a book, not a movie. I still can’t decide whether this was purposeful or whether it was a result of having to do the film on the cheap.


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