Monday, December 19, 2011

ATLAS SHRUGGED, The Movie: Would the REAL Francisco D'Anconia Please Stand Up?

As per my normal viewing habits, I've finally watched the Atlas Shrugged movie, now that it's out on DVD, and now own a copy. For the sake of this review, I'm going to assume you've read the book. I have to admit that, when I first bought it, I skimmed the whole movie for the "Francisco" scenes and wasn't much impressed with what I saw. I loved the set design and visual effects. I didn't like the particular tint used to represent Reardon metal, but I have to admit the sight of the inaugural run of the John Galt line passing over a paper thin bridge was breathtaking.

With all that being said, did the movie look any different when I watched it all the way through? To that I have to answer, yes and no. The news reports made for a great narrative device to sum up the "state of the world," and move from one event to the next. At first, I thought this may date the movie, but I think it did a good job at packing in some dense exposition in an engaging way.

But the exposition isn't really the problem in this movie, is it? In all, the supporting material states how important the ideas in the novel are, and, as an Objectivist writing on an Objectivist-leaning blog, I can't really disagree. The problem is that there are several volumes of non-fiction available on the philosophical theories of Ayn Rand, and though Atlas Shrugged's narrative is dependent on these theories, it is, first and foremost, a narrative.

By most indications, the filmmakers were not Objectivists themselves, so I have to wonder why the story was consistently sacrificed to the ideas in the film version. I know everyone complains about the length and frequency of the philosophical speeches within the text, but they also complain about some of the best dialogue in the book. I personally almost stopped reading Atlas the first time around pretty early into the book. The only thing that kept me reading was Francisco's first appearance and his exchange with Jim Taggart that ended with "See, I told you that you didn't want to talk to me."

It hurt me watching Jsu Garcia in this role, not because he was a bad actor, but because I could see the potential for how he could've done this role justice. On my first, and even second, reading of the book I never picked up on the angst of Francisco; all I remembered him for was his clever wit and his tendency to say things I'd never heard anyone say before. Most of this was gutted from the character for the movie, and the movie's all the worse for it.

But Frisco's treatment is just symptomatic of bigger problems. The movie jumps right from the ultimatum of the railroad union to the first running of the John Galt line, cutting moments like every Taggart employee volunteering, and the initial press conference where Reardon and Dagny both say that they'll be riding the first run and tell the press "You should make sure to have cameras set up to watch us plummeting to our deaths when the bridge collapses." Plus something should be said about the fact that the book was written as a mystery, and I was genuinely surprised when I found out what was going on in part three of the book, whereas the film just advertises it.

In all honesty, I think most people were bracing for a two-to-three hour movie. The text is long and dense, so I don't think anyone would've complained if the movie went a full two hours if it meant more actual "story" being told. As a final take-home statement to the filmmakers, I'll just say this: it's ok if you leave the bulk of the philosophical education to groups like ARI and TAS (they're still around, right?); what you're being counted on is doing justice to a great story.


Michael E. Marotta said...

I saw the movie when it came out and received the DVD for Newtonmas. It is easy to criticize the production. This week, I read Pride and Prejudice. Before this, I sat through every movie made. None was as good as the book. My wife had never seen The Wizard of Oz all the way through. We watched it. I have read the book in several editions and written about it. Splendid as the film was, it was not the book. They are different. I recently re-read J. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night and he was nice enough to send me a PDF of his script for the movie. Modernisms aside, it is a different delivery, a different medium. So, it must remain with Atlas Shrugged until someone else produces the next one... which also will be open to perhaps valid critique. It may remain that the only translation that meets one's own standards is the version one produces for oneself.

Joe Maurone said...

As I was reading ATLAS for the first time, I was immediately envisioning the cast in my mind:

Craig T. Nelson as Hank Reardon

Jo Beth Williams as Dagny Taggart

David Hyde Pierce as Phillip Reardon

Jimmy Smits as Francisco d'Anconia

Roy Brocksmith (Total Recall) as James Taggart, Orren Boyle, or any of those "looters"

I don't know why those actors came into my mind, but they did. Nelson and Williams were the parents in POLTERGEIST...Nelson had the strength to stand up to the supernatural ("Why don't you just leave us alone!") and Jo Beth Williams was feminine, yet when she yelled "stay away from my babies!", she showed the resolve for Dagny..."don't let it go!". I think it was the yelling scenes that I associated with the yelling in the book...

Niles Crane IS Phillip Reardon...Roy Brocksmith just oozes bureaucrat...

All those rationales are after the fact, however; the visions came first, unbidden. No matter how good a film is ever produced, no matter how good the actor may be, I can't shake the images of those specific actors from my vision of the story.