Atlas Shrugged Part I

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I saw Atlas Shrugged Part I this evening, and I thought it was great. Not a great movie in the usual sense, but a great adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, which is not a great novel in the usual sense.

Yes, it’s low-budget. Yes, the direction is pedestrian. Yes, the dialogue is often clunky. So people who want to whine can whine about those things.

But I see no point in dwelling on the negative. This movie is as true to the book as anyone could desire. The screenwriting isn’t perfect, but then neither is Ayn Rand’s novel-writing. The actors probably won’t collect Oscars for their work here, but they are mostly well cast, and the villains are especially well-cast.

In fact, I don’t think a better Atlas Shrugged movie could ever be made. You can wish the movie had a big budget and better talent, but if you got those things, you would almost certainly lose this movie’s faithfulness to the book’s story and ideas — and the ideas, after all, are the point. Besides, can you imagine an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged — no matter who wrote it, directed it, or starred in it — that wouldn’t have unnatural dialogue, unbelievable characters, and an implausible plot? There is no time period in which you could set this movie — with its train travel, its heroic industrialists who own their own companies, etc. — in which it could seem realistic. So you just have to do what you do with the novel or with any science fiction or fantasy: suspend disbelief and go with it.

I doubt this film will win any new converts to libertarianism or (thankfully) Objectivism; the story has to move forward so quickly that someone who isn’t already familiar with the book may be lost or bored. But it should delight fans of the book who go in with a positive attitude.

I look forward to seeing it again and to seeing Part II.

UPDATE (4.18.11):

Some people have written to me  assuming that this post was intended as “faint praise” of both the book and the movie.  That’s not true at all.  Atlas Shrugged is a great novel, and it’s one of my very favorites.  It doesn’t satisfy some of the usual criteria for great literature, but that’s okay because it is unique and ingenious and in its own way better than most “great” literature.  I wrote about this in my review of Edward Younkins’s volume Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.  As for the movie, it has some obvious shortcomings because of the limitations the filmmakers faced, but the point of my comments above was to emphasize that the shortcomings are insignificant in light of the film’s virtues.  Again, I loved the film, I will see it again, and if you like the book, I would encourage you to see it, too.

1:27 am on April 17, 2011