When Good Books Make Bad Movies

When I heard Atlas Shrugged would soon be released, I was elated. I had just read the book.

I wondered why I had waited so long to read it, when it was practically a cult classic. I was hooked from the beginning and the only hard part to get through was John Galt’s infamous 60-page speech. I wanted to say, Geez, John, be a little more concise, will ya’? As my high school English teacher used to preach: Concise! Pithy! Epigrammatic!

The book does tend to be a bit repetitious in its message, just in case you didn’t get it the first time, Ms Rand drills it in over and over. Capitalism = Free Markets = Good. Only when you reward the entrepreneurs, when you allow them to be individuals and succeed in business in whichever way they choose, can society survive. Communism doesn’t work, although it wasn’t exactly Communism as such, but more of an unselfish society where no one must rise above the rest, when all things must be divided equally and all persons share in the wealth.

The novel is over 1000 pages long. There are a lot of subplots, a lot of expounding, a lot of character-building. But it’s all good. The slovenly brother of Dagny, the greedy, clueless family of Hank, the various hanger-ons and leeches. The successful, disappearing businessmen, the scientists influenced by inept politicians. The three brave world-changers.

It was a very engaging, very deep, very complicated novel. Perhaps Ms. Rand could have skinnied this down some, but she chose not to, and if she is a bit verbose, that particular shortcoming is not one which was troublesome to me.

How are they ever going to make a movie of it, wondered I? How will they capture all that nuance into a movie? Then I learned that the new movie was actually Atlas Shrugged, Part II. Ah. So better Netflix Part I because this rather anal reader and watcher of movies must see Part I before Part II. It would be blasphemy to do otherwise. 1 before 2. A before B.

(After rereading the above paragraph, I note that “Netflix” has now become a verb. When did that happen?)

Herr Schneider and I watched Part I. Herr had read Atlas Shrugged when most people did — back when we were young and self-perceived intellectuals. It had been many decades so he barely remembered it, just the message, but not any of the characters or the story.

Part I wasted no time. Bang! Got a lot of ground to cover! Even in multiple movie parts, we need to get going here. Lots of action packed into those scenes. If I hadn’t just read the novel, I wouldn’t have had the first clue about what was going on. I struggled to keep up. 

This is Hank and Dagny as they discover John Galt’s wonderful motor. Picture the scene. They are in an abandoned manufacturing plant. Windows broken, birds flying around. Debris laying all over the place. The place is huge, yet Dagny goes directly to the secret door wherein lies the motor.

Dagny: Looks like they just walked away.

Hank: Not much here.

Dagny: Too bad, I’d really like to figure out what happened here.

(Music swells)

Hank: Dagny. This is it! This is where they made the engine!

Dagny: You think it’s here?

Hank: I can’t believe all this stuff. Some of this is incredibly sophisticated.

Dagny: Unbelievable.

(Pause, as it dawns on Hank and Dagny, they both see it for the first time, and  they move reverently toward the workbench whereupon sits the aforementioned engine,  here in the old, abandoned factory strewn with litter and broken glass and bird poop.)

Dagny: Hank?

(Meaningful pause. Music swells a bit louder now)

Dagny: Atmospheric vacuum.

Hank: What?

Dagny: It’s known as the Casimir effect. It’s a small particle accelerator.

Hank: And this… must be a secondary cooling system, probably designed to eliminate excess heat generated during the process.

Dagny: Ex-ACT-ly. And this creates a magnetic field — in place long enough for the collapsing vacuum pressure to be captured.

Hank: The engine uses atmospheric vacuum to create static electricity! Now does it say anywhere on this document who designed this thing?

Dagny: I don’t see any names. We could get a list of the building employees?

Hank: We go to the Town Hall records, we find the last owner of the factory, we track it back from there. My God Dagny… this could change the world!

This scene was a whole chapter in the book, but took less than seven minutes in the movie.

After watching Atlas Shrugged, Part I, I am not sure I will bother with Part II. The movie seemed cartoonish to me, and events happened so fast my brain couldn’t keep up.

Sometimes, great books don’t make great movies. This was one clear example of that fact. How can a movie, even one in multiple parts, capture what it too 1000+ pages to explain?

It’s clear, it can’t.

Agree? No? Tell me.

ABNA Winners and The Incredible Shrinking Man

Firstly, I was 0 for 2 in my ABNA winner predictions. The winner in the General Fiction category was East of Denver and in the Young Adult Fiction category, Spookygirl. So, even though I did say I picked Dog Christ narrowly over East of Denver, and Spookygirl would have been my second choice, still 0 for 2. Bummer.

Posting early this week, as an experiment to see if I can generate any more traffic in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend. If so, I’ll change my posting schedule. Now that I am Retired, (capital “R”), I can do that.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Roger Ebert. He is a very good writer, and is straight forward about his condition and how it affects his life. He has a way of writing that is clear, unpretentious, and sometimes so beautiful and honest, it is very touching. He can also be mildly obscene and funny too. His blog today was called the Incredible Shrinking Man, and dealt with the fact that sometimes, well, almost always, we shrink as we get older, and he has lost about 2 ½ inches of his height.

The post was littered with pictures from the film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, filmed in 1957 and starring Grant Williams and April Kent. This is one of those movies that has always stuck with me, a true horror film, so unbelievably scary it makes my heart pound even now thinking how afraid I was when I watched it back then. Here is a snippet from the movie – Viewer discretion advised!

Scott Carey (who is 6 ft 1 in) is on a boat with his wife, Louise, when he is surrounded by a peculiar mist, which turns out to be an atomic waste fog. Louise is below deck, rustling up some “refreshments”. Wasn’t that always the way in the 50’s? The womenfolk providing the vittles, while the guy stayed above board? But in this case, Louise is the clear winner, because she avoids the mist.

Six months later, Scott notices his shirts seem too big. He suspects it must be a dry cleaner malfunction at first and doesn’t think much of it. But he continues to get shorter, and lose weight, until he can no longer deny it. He’s shrinking. He is told that all of his cells are shrinking and there is no cure, he will always be the size he now is (about three foot tall at this point) but is given an antidote, which may halt it and seems to work. But the antidote stops working after awhile and he continues to shrink.

He sells his story to the media, and so becomes a curiosity, with reporters lurking in the front lawn day after day. Finally, he lives in a doll house, and is accosted by the family cat, gets chased into the basement where he has to fight a spider to the death. In the end, he crawls through a square in a screen and the ending narrative says, basically, I may be small, but I still matter.

This movie is effective because many scenes start with a shot of Scott, and then pans away so you see him in relation to other people, furniture, etc. and you see how much smaller he’s become since the last scene. It’s shocking, done that way. The movie is funny in that 50’s way we laugh at now, but this movie is one that I have never forgotten, probably because it scared me so much when I was a little kid.

It’s a great piece of film noir, I just had to share it. Movies have come a long way, but this one still has impact, and, in fact, has a bit of a cult appeal. Even watching the sample here, made me feel the way I did back then. Scary!

This brought to mind other movies I had watched at The Haven Theater in Olean, New York, with my grandmother. I can remember snippets of some of them but not enough that I can Google to find out what the actual titles were.

One I’ve never forgotten starred a dark-haired actress, and she was evil and an alcoholic. There was also a lovely blonde woman (Doris Day maybe?) in the film and the Evil Brunette and the Good Blonde (oh, isn’t that always the way), are in love with the same man, and when the EB learns the man has chosen the GB, she throws something and it overturns a candle, starts a fire and the house burns down and she dies (I think). But GB’s house is right next door and I think it’s called The Pink Palace. It burns too. Does anyone remember this movie?