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.