I just attended the pre-release screening of Atlas Shrugged Part One, and I’d like to share my first impressions. Take this as an initial installment toward the much more thoughtful (but equally enthusiastic) review I’ll compose at leisure over the next few days and publish at the (fan-run, unofficial) Atlas Shrugged Movie Blog.

When I heard my favorite novel was being made into a movie, all the available omens boded ill: a “low-budget” production, with “no-name” stars, made independently – without the adult supervision of a real Hollywood studio, and rushed into production at the last minute to avoid loss of rights. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Scratch that… it WAS a recipe for disaster. I mourned the might-have-been movie I’d been waiting my entire adult life to see. I regretted the lost opportunity. I averted my eyes to avoid the painfully unfolding train wreck.

Slowly the evidence began chipping away at my erroneous conclusions.

A prop newspaper from the forthcoming Atlas Shrugged movie. Source: Soul of Atlas Blog.

As filming wrapped, I came across an account of a visit to the set at the Soul of Atlas Blog. Seeing Ragnar Danneskjold in the headlines brought home to me the reality of the production, but I remained doubtful the producers could overcome the hurdles they faced. Months later, I encountered the Atlas Shrugged Movie Facebook Fanpage. Behind-the-scenes photos of the actors, the props, and the sets demonstrated that, however modest the budget, this was a serious undertaking with credible production values (Atlas Shrugged (Part One) – A Movie Preview). An inquiry through the Atlas Shrugged Movie Fanpage requesting permission to reproduce the photos led to an in-depth discussion with screenwriter Brian O’Toole (Interview with Brian O’Toole, Screenwriter: Atlas Shrugged-Part One). O’Toole impressed me as a talented writer doing his conscientious best. In collaboration with producer John Aglialoro, O’Toole brought his considerable skills to capture the essence of Ayn Rand’s novel and translate it to screen. I was “cautiously optimistic.”

I began to understand – as I should have from the start – that independence is a virtue. Ayn Rand’s challenging prose would never have made it through the filter of a major studio without having been seriously blunted and adulterated. The resulting film would have been a caricature, not a capturing of the novel.

Further, a modest budget enforces an austere simplicity that enhances, rather than dilutes the message. A film with the “big-name” stars variously associated with the project over the years would have been more about the stars than the story. I admit that, in my mind’s eye, I always envisioned an Atlas Shrugged movie as an elaborately stylized visual blending of 1930′s vintage art-deco technology and film noir set in a pseudo-1950′s world with hardboiled, chain-smoking heroes. The film I foolishly thought I wanted would have been a tragic mistake – a mistake that would have transformed Atlas Shrugged into fantasy and undercut the dramatic relevance of Ayn Rand’s ideas to a modern setting. The Spartan, contemporary production is set in the near future, but that quality only serves to make the message more relevant and the story the star.

The movie trailer teases, but cannot completely dispel the doubts of the hardcore skeptic. To me, the pivotal evidence should be the recently released clip of Hank Rearden and his family. In three and a half minutes, an entire chapter (Book One, Chapter Two: The Chain) is expertly distilled and adeptly depicted.

So, here’s the “spoiler” – the big secret of the movie I learned from my opportunity to attend the screening. The released scene is NOT a fluke. It is not an accident. It is a representative sample. The rest of the film really is that good – better actually, because the individual scenes compliment and reinforce each other to create a harmonious whole, true to Rand’s story, superbly executed, and well done. The casting was outstanding, with no weak links.

In honesty, there were a few aspects of the movie that disappointed me. Some of the technobabble was truly cringe-worthy (as a physicist, I may be overly picky).  The story was specifically set in 2016 instead of an arbitrary near future. The novel’s subtle mystery of vanishing producers became overly blatant and obvious in the film – but on reflection I might be persuaded that this was a good decision.  Finally, the movie was so fast-paced and action-packed that I had trouble absorbing it in the first viewing, despite my familiarity with the story. On the first viewing it was good. On the second viewing I liked it even better.  And yes, I do realize my two principal criticisms (too blatant while also being tough to follow) are mutually contradictory.  I’ll let it digest more to see if I can resolve the contradiction. In any event, these should be understood as minor quibbles. I give the film a solid “A” grade. The result is a tightly-told tale that strictly adheres to Rand’s vision while leaving the audience yearning for more.

This is a film that amply deserves the support of Ayn Rand fans, Objectivists, and lovers of liberty alike. This is a film that – whatever its minor flaws – will inspire people to buy the book, read it, and learn more.

Even those who disagree with Rand’s philosophy but still value the power of ideas and respect intellectual discourse should appreciate the remarkable story of how such an ideological movie came to be created. Atlas Shrugged completely bypassed the traditional Hollywood gatekeepers and their anemically plotted, special-effects-laden spectacles. By supporting the commercial success of the Atlas Shrugged movies, Rand’s critics could help create opportunities for their own independent movies of morals and films of ideas, produced without being diluted or softened by cautious studio executives.

Regrettably, I fear some of Rand’s foes won’t be rational enough to see it that way. The same critics who accused one of the twentieth century’s premier advocates of individual rights and freedom of being a closet Nazi, summoning victims to the gas chamber, will be hard at work distorting Rand’s ideas and decrying this movie. I predict the film will initially be dismissed as an inept soap opera or made-for-TV movie.

I trust to the rationality of Ayn Rand’s fans and admirers to see these criticisms for what they are. I also trust that those who value what Rand had to say can put aside differences to support one of the best opportunities in a generation to introduce a large audience to Rand’s ideas.

The choice to pursue an independent production meant a high fidelity adherence to Rand’s story, at the cost of a limited release outside traditional distribution channels. A wider scale release remains a possibility if distributors and theater owners perceive a viable market for the film. Some of the decision makers sat beside me in the theater. They are wondering if their customers are receptive to this film. Those decisions are being made right now. If you value what Rand had to say, now is the time to act. Sign up at the official Atlas Shrugged Movie website. Participate in the Facebook Fan Page community. Register your desire for a screening in your home town.

This post publishes as I take a red-eye flight home from a remarkable day’s long adventure – physically tired, but spiritually invigorated. I’ll provide a more detailed and substantial review in a few days. All my love and my profound thanks to Barbara for juggling both sets of twins as well as her baby bowl business on a particularly busy day so I could participate in this venture. I owe you one.

Hans

Hans Schantz is CTO of The Q-Track Corporation, and a co-inventor of NFER® technology. His prior work experience includes stints with IBM, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, The ElectroScience Lab of the Ohio State University, and Time Domain Corporation. Author of The Art and Science of Ultra-wideband Antennas (Artech House, 2005), his forty U.S. patents include antennas, RF systems, RF-based location systems, and related inventions. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE, a member of the Institute of Navigation, and an amateur radio operator [KC5VLD]. Schantz earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He also holds degrees in Industrial Engineering and Physics from Purdue University. Dr. Schantz blogs at ÆtherCzar and is @ÆtherCzar on Twitter. His wife, Barbara, invented The Baby Dipper® Bowl. Hans and Barbara have two sets of twins: girls aged nine, and boys five years old. The views expressed are the author's and are not necessarily the views of his employer, clients, investors, sponsors, or customers.

  19 Responses to “Atlas Shrugged Part One: I’ve Seen It. It’s Awesome.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Crowley, Hans Schantz. Hans Schantz said: New @AetherCzar "Atlas Shrugged Part One: I’ve Seen It. It’s Awesome." – http://bit.ly/hNLcMf [...]

  2. Awesome. I can’t wait. I have been thinking about the book this last week. I believe it was you who introduced me to it back in junior high. It took me until five years ago to finally read it. I need to challenge my 14 year old to read it. I think it would do him some good.

  3. [...] Hans Schantz: I’ve seen it. It’s awesome. February 25, 2011 – Filed under: Atlas Shrugged Movie TweetShareAtlas Shrugged movie co-blogger Hans Schantz and I were offered tickets to the pre-release screening in Los Angeles yesterday. I was unable to attend, but Hans was there and he has posted his initial reactions over at ÆtherCzar. [...]

  4. (The wait is driving me crazy).

    A few comments. Why is there a debate about capitalism? What other system of production can work? They have all failed. Fascism, Nazism, Communism, etc. Failures, so where is the debate?

    I personally don’t think Rand was “pro” capitalism. She was pro free enterprise. There is a huge difference. Fascism, Nazisim and Communism all used capitalism, since capitalism is only the use of capital to produce. China uses capitalism as well as North Korea and Cube, but they are not free nations.

    FREE ENTERPRISE is the important aspect of this discussion.

    Furthermore, Rand didn’t invent “her” philosophy. She pointed out the reality of life. Did Newton invent “his” 3 laws? No. He pointed them out. What Rand had to say is that nobody has the right to enslave anybody else.

    She states this clearly in the motto that Galt uses,( in that he will not work for the benefit of others, etc). The reason it took 1,000+ plus pages is due to the density of stupidity of the people. The message itself is sooo simple.

    You have no right to enslave others. Those who oppose Rand, oppose freedom and wish to be slave masters.

  5. Atlas Shrugged, Part I, the movie

    I am delighted, overwhelmed, and stunned.

    Yesterday, I saw Atlas Shrugged, Part I, the movie. In advance, I was tense and worried. What if it was terrible? In that case, no one would consider a remake for years, if ever. I didn’t think it would be terrible, especially after I saw a clip from the film: the scene where Rearden comes home to his family aftrer the first pouring of Rearden Metal. The scene was very good indeed. But. . . .

    The movie is not so-so, it is not OK,it is not rather good — it is spectacularly good. I won’t go into detail; for this, see David Kelley’s review, with which I am in agreement (http://www.atlassociety.org/atlas-shrugged-movie-film-news) — except that he rather understates the film’s virtues.

    The script is excellent, as is the acting. The music is first rate, and immensely adds to the tension that the action and the tempo of the film create. Visually, it is very beautiful. And wait until you experience the first run of the John Galt Line!

    The film’s greatest virtue is that, from the first moment, one steps into the world of Atlas Shrugged. The writers whose works live across time share an essential characteristic: their unique and personal stamp, their unique and personal spirit, emanates from every page of their writing, and one knows it could have been created by no other sense of life, no other intellect. The literary universe of Dostoievsky, for instance, its tone, its emotional quality, is instantly recognizable and can never be confused with that of Henry James or Victor Hugo or Oscar Wilde or Thomas Wolfe. And so wtih Ayn Rand: one turns the pages of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and one has entered a self-consistent new planet, formed in the image of the world view and the values that were hers alone.

    To a remarkable degree, the movie captures the spirit, the sense of life, that was Ayn Rand’s alone.

    Does it have faults? I suppose so. I could not care less — and I suspect you won’t care either.

    Barbara Branden

  6. Thanks for the review of Atlas Shrugged Part 1.

    I interviewed Al Ruddy and Susan Black when they were trying to get the Atlas Shrugged TV Mini-series made:

    http://www.prodos.com/transcript/atlasmovie.html

    I got the impression Al Ruddy was hoping to produce a series that was true to Ayn Rand’s story, rather than a “caricature”, as Hans fears might have happened.

    And I saw no evidence that the Angelina Jolie project would have been anything but honest and true.

    Now here we are with a good solid Atlas Shrugged movie just around the corner.

    Terrific! :-)

    Best Wishes,

    PRODOS
    Melbourne, Australia

    • Thanks for your interest and for sharing the link.

      I can’t speak to any particular script or project. However a source who reviewed some of the “big studio” scripts previously under consideration described them as taking wild detours from the novel that sounded appalling to me – hence my conclusion that an independent production was probably for the best.

  7. [...] positive notices from Hans Schantz, Eriks Goodwin, and Judd [...]

  8. Yikes! I am one of the people he is talking about here:

    The same critics who accused one of the twentieth century’s premier advocates of individual rights and freedom of being a closet Nazi, summoning victims to the gas chamber, will be hard at work distorting Rand’s ideas and decrying this movie. I predict the film will initially be dismissed as an inept soap opera or made-for-TV movie.

    I find Ann Rand’s ideas simplistic, right wing platitudes (which is why Hollywood won’t touch the story) and especially don’t care for her writing, which is the VERY definition of pedantic. She used a novel to explicate a political idea. The idea can be summoned up in a paragraph, dismissed in the next. I don’t know why anyone needs to plow through a whole, not very good novel to grasp it.

    I will be flabbergasted if this movie is in any way a success, but sometimes nostalgia for a particular piece of fiction shades our views. So who knows? Maybe one or two nutty people will actually like this movie.

    • Ironically, the reference to critics accusing Ayn Rand of being a Nazi summoning victims to the gas chamber was an allusion to a review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers for the National Review – then as now a leading conservative or “right-wing” journal. Before casually dismissing Rand’s ideas as “right wing platitudes,” you might care to consider just why it is many of her most rabid critics are those on the so-called right.

  9. [...] million). Indeed, some reviewers based their admiration for the finished product somewhat on theirhideous fears about it based on early [...]

  10. [...] and Rand enthusiast, Hans Schantz, also attended an invitation-only screening. He was preparing for a big disappointment, but was [...]

  11. I saw this yesterday (normal theatrical showing, not a preview). I’m perhaps one of those people who is supposed to be encouraged to read the book, since I own copies of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and Anthem and have yet to read any of them. I was pleased to see that the film was available at my “local” multiplex.

    I enjoyed the movie, but was a bit disappointed. Although Rand’s novel has three parts (and is huge), the idea that I have to wait a year (and hope that the remaining parts get made) to learn what is going on with John Galt and Atlantis is rough. Part 1 seems like basically background, and I think that if made to this standard or higher, the later parts will be more satisfying. The novel doesn’t have this problem … when you finish part 1, you turn immediately to part 2.

    I was thinking during the movie that some of the acting seemed a bit stiff and that some of the dialog and blocking was poor. I was wishing that the screenplay had been written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) or Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, The Big Chill). Now that I’ve read about how the movie came to be, I can see why it is the way it is. The two leads (Taylor Shilling as Dagny Taggart, Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden) and the director (Paul Johansson) are all TV actors, and the screenwriter (Brian Patrick O’Toole) has a background scripting horror movies. Filming was rushed, and some actors had almost no time to prepare, having been cast just days before shooting began. Given the constraints (time, money), the resulting movie is not bad. But it does feel a bit like a TV mini-series.

    In a perfect world, I would have loved to have seen the entire story compressed into two hours and forty minutes (Avatar length), with Rand’s language rephrased by a superb wordsmith to capture the essence of Rand’s ideas, and (since this is wishcraft) acted and directed by movie people.

    If they get made, I will certainly see parts 2 and 3 when they come out.

    As an aside, I usually try to read reviews in the New York Times just to get a sense of what I’m about to see, but Atlas Shrugged Part 1 doesn’t seem to have been reviewed by the NYT so far. Regardless of the NYT’s leftist leanings, I’d have thought that a long awaited movie based on a highly influential and very well known book would have been worth reviewing. I am curious if the NYT was offered a chance and turned it down, or if the promoters missed an opportunity to make sure that they got coverage in this widely read newspaper.

  12. [...] Atlas Shrugged Atlas Shrugged Part One: I’ve Seen It. It’s Awesome. by Hans. http://www.aetherczar.com/?p=2610 [...]

  13. Too bad that it takes the mind of a physicist to properly evaluate the movie “Atlas shrugged.” This movie is not, however, for thinkers only; it is also for those who are wondering why sl much is going wrong with America. A campaign for funds to
    produce parts 2 and 3 of this movie should be started immediately.

  14. I just have one problem with the Atlas Shrugged Movie website: why is it that the logo of Atlas is not a complete man, but a sketch of one? It looks like an icon of a man, but not really a man. We know what a man looks like…do we?

  15. [...] million). Indeed, some reviewers based their admiration for the finished product somewhat on their hideous fears about it based on early [...]

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