Friday, February 24, 2012

Atlas Shrugged Part 1

It's bad. It's not terrible. It is bad.
In part, it's the acting. Dagny is played poorly even compared to many of the supporting roles. Most of the actors, especially the lead, seem to be reading lines off a teleprompter. Rand's many declamatory, merciless lines and speeches just sound phoned in.
Before i make it sound as if i'm blaming the actors entirely, this feeling extends to the film's every other aspect. Instead of looking tense, most of the scenes look stilted. They look like unrehearsed single-take attempts, and this would hardly be the fault of the performers. The editing is cut-and-dry, as in many low-budget movies. Many shots run a second too short or too long. Characters with one or two-scene appearances get unnecessarily officious introductions. Shots of heavy machinery at work, instead of looking like background, seem to be just filler.
Modernizing the setting is irrelevant. I would have preferred it in its original post-WWII atmosphere, but given that the theme is aggressively universal, changing the setting doesn't harm the story. Even here, though, someone managed to bungle it: in the middle of a cell-phone addicted, computerized, spic-and-span society, we have a mysterious, shadowed John Galt figure that looks like a fedora and trench-coat Maltese Falcon reject.

Two conclusions: first off, Ayn Rand was not a great novelist. Much of the book's plot could be cut out as redundant, making a two-part movie unnecessary. It wouldn't be ideal, but cutting out a dozen supporting parts would have eased a lot of the unnecessary awkwardness and would probably have helped with the project's apparent budget issues. The high point of the movie is its fair attempt at staying true to the novel in form, but this resulted in most of its problems in staying true in spirit.

Thus my main point: this is Atlas Shrugged! If you're making a movie about, among other things, uncompromising dedication to quality, wait until you get the funding and other support you need. Rand wrote a book full of what she thought were pristine ideals and the idealized human, and to whatever extent her ramblings were valid, they are betrayed by a slapdash adaptation pushed onto the market because after half a century, someone had to do it.
No, someone has to do it right. If you want to do a low-budget Rand adaptation, do Anthem. You could re-use the sets from Children of Men or any post-apocalyptic movie and you'd only need half a dozen speaking roles.

As it is, this is another one of those adaptations that make me wonder if they're not really attempts to defame the books they're based on.

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