Free Markets, Free People

Atlas Shrugged movie: sounds like the next Starship Troopers to me

As a Halo player, I sometimes think back to the book that started the “armored super soldier” genre, Starship Troopers. Published in 1959, it was ground-breaking, and won a well-deserved Hugo award for Robert Heinlein. I think Heinlein would recognize elements of his story in the Halo series.

I’m happy, though, that he didn’t live to see Paul Verhoeven make a complete mess of the movie based on Starship Troopers, because the only thing he would recognize in that movie are some character names.

Some consider it a decent action flick in its own right, but Verhoeven had about as much understanding of Heinlein’s underlying story and philosophy as our resident imbecilic political science professor has understanding of economics, i.e., none to speak of. Verhoeven just dusted off the traditional Nazi metaphors, gave his soldiers from 200 years in the future the same basic weapons soldiers use today, and added some space ships and sex.

This year’s candidate for the Starship Troopers treatment is Atlas Shrugged.

To forestall a whole lot of redundant comments, let me first say the following about Atlas Shrugged:

1. It’s an important book. In surveys, it often finishes #2 behind the Bible as the book people say was most influential in their lives.

2. It’s got some valid points. If you don’t see parallels between Rand’s characters and situations and much of what we see around us today, I have to question your astuteness.

3. It’s so-so as literature. The characters are mostly cardboard-cutout quality. The heroes are super-human and the villians are pure evil (except for Dr. Stadler, who symbolizes the mushy middle). This gives the story-line a comic book feel. The long diversions into philosophical preaching can be tedious. One sermon by John Galt comes in at over sixty pages, and might as well be a book in it’s own right, though I’m guessing it wouldn’t sell much.

All that said, I respect the book. I’ve read it twice, and actually got more from it the second time around. I do recommend it as required reading if you want to understand the psychology of leftism, as analyzed by someone who was all too aware of it’s ultimate effects in the Soviet Union.

Now, on to the movie version.

You can see the director discuss the movie in this five minute video.

As you can tell, he doesn’t say much. Almost everything he says is generic “You have to cut stuff out of anything this long to make a movie.” Well, yeah. But what you cut and what you leave is what’s important. Not to mention what gets what gets changed, as Starship Troopers demonstrated.

There was a danger sign when he said “I’m still figuring things out as I shoot this.”

I thought it was interesting that John Galt’s face isn’t going to be seen in the movie. The credits at this point list that same director as playing the part of Galt (presumably just giving him a voice).

He does spend a bit of time about the theme of taking responsibility. So maybe I’m just being overly pessimistic, and he’s being coy about where he’s really going with the movie to forestall catcalls from our politically correct media.

However, what I see in the video doesn’t give me much confidence. The book is about hard edges, and black-and-white morality. These characters look soft-edged. Rearden needs a Harrison Ford type, though Ford is way too old. It was long rumored that Angelina Jolie would be Dagny, and while she may also be up against the age barrier, she was in the ballpark for the right type.

These people are supposed to be tough, independent, and prepared to take on the whole world. Maybe that’s what they’re chatting about, but somehow I doubt it. Based on what the Rearden actor said, they’re exploring their “relationship”. Oh, goody.

It is possible to make good books into good movies. Hopscotch, Catch 22, some of the episodes of Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, and some of the better movies from Jane Austen novels would be examples. What these books do well is capture the spirit of the book. Catch 22, for example, has to leave out a lot of stuff because the book is pretty long, but Buck Henry and crew do a great job of capturing the surrealistic spirit of the book.

Based on what I’m hearing from this director, I’m pessimistic that he can do the same for Atlas Shrugged.

Now you could argue that the hard-edged spirit of Atlas Shrugged just doesn’t work for modern audiences. I think that’s silly; I think that’s what audiences are craving in today’s gooey, politically correct world. I’m in serious doubt that we’ll get it in this movie. Here’s hoping I’m wrong about that.

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26 Responses to Atlas Shrugged movie: sounds like the next Starship Troopers to me

  • If you are correct, it won’t be worth seeing – what a dog the Starship Troopers movie was, and what a twisting from Heinlein’s intent to boot.
    Along the lines of Starship Troopers (the book), if you’ve never read ‘Armor’ by John Steakly, give it a shot.

    • I did read Armor. A good book, but a depresssing read and I only read it once.

      • heh – hadn’t thought of that, but yeah,in many ways it was – I always wanted Steakly to write another because I wanted to know what finally happened to the ‘scout’.   He was like Master Chief in a lot of ways.

  • Atlas Shrugged is one of those books that I think defies being made into a movie.   As already mentioned, the book is long and often very tedious to read.  Who wants to see a long an tedious movie?  One of my favorite things to say about Ayn Rand is that if she could make a point in 500 words then she would use 500,000.
    If I wanted to make a movie about the same sorts of things then I would incorporate some of the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged into another great read from Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    • Yes, Mistress would be a nice, action-oriented movie. But Hollywood make a movie about revolution against a world government? Not gonna happen.

    • Not book “defies” being made into a movie. I heard that for years about Watchmen and LOTR trilogy.  That said, it’s not looking good for this one.

      Maybe if they added in some of the sex from Starship Troopers 😉

      • Watchmen I’ve never heard that about. LOTR, yes. This book would be really tough (lots of talking; little action). Dune is virtually impossible. Impossible to do well, in any case. And that is after many many attempts.

  • I tried to re-read my copy of AS a few weeks ago but the type fontsize in the paperback seems to have shrunk somehow over the years. I wonder if it is available as an eBook  so that I can enlarge the print.

  • It’s so-so as literature.

    Oh, I think you give it too much credit.  😉
    Maybe it is just my taste, but her work is as about as poetic as a warning label.  I consider my getting through “The Monologue” a test of literary endurance.  And The Fountainhead was … well… I’ll just stop there – as I’ve already met one of your desires against redundancy.
    I don’t see how a good movie could be made of the work.
    Anyhoo, I’ve always thought that Stranger in a Strange Land would make for an excellent movie if done right.
    Appreciate the post, Billy.  You should post more often.  🙂

    • I skipped the John Galt Monologue, since I already knew pretty much what it was going to say.  It’s a synopsis of the rest of the book.  And I almost put it down after about the first 100-200 pages because it was so stultifyingly 2-dimensional and the characters seemed to be going nowhere.  But I’m glad I finished it, because by the end I couldn’t put it down.
      What struck me was that the director mentioned something about only doing Part 1, the first 127 pages.  If that’s all he’s doing, I hope he can make it more interesting than Rand did.  And I dearly hope it’s a miniseries, because I can’t think of anything that would kill this movie faster than ending it after page 127.  Even a younger Angelina Jolie retrieved by time machine couldn’t make that attractive.

      • You found it impossible to put down.  I found it very difficult to pick up.  It reads like a text book.

        If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is.  If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is.  If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.

        Now I realize that the book is important because of its influence… but come on…
        Now James Joyce, that’s a different story…

        Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death?  They are not to be thought away.  Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted.  But can those have been possible seeing that they never were?  Or was that only possible which came to pass?  Weave, weaver of the wind.

        Yeah, yeah.  Apples and oranges, but still.  Any excuse to bust out with James Joyce. 😉
        Talk about a work that can’t be made into a movie.

    • Actually, I think it would be just about impossible to make Stranger into a good movie. The plot, message, and characters are too esoteric for film, I think.

      Thanks for the request for more posts. I have too many things going on in real life to post more often these days, but with luck I’ll be back before too many months have elapsed. I probably have about a dozen half-finished posts.

  • The latest Robin Hood movie (Ridley Scott), has a hard edged spirit. I think audiences would accept a good adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. Considering the weaknesses of the novel, a movie could be better.

  • The first Lord of the Rings movie was great, they left out some stuff, but it had to be left out. Very little changed, very well done. The third movie was pretty good, too much changed but still kept enough to make it work well. Flawed really only by the end that kept going and the lack of the “Scouring of the Shire” sequence, which probably would have been a great movie all by its self.

    The second movie though… that was almost completely an abortion. That movie so totally violated the entire series and everything it was written for it is difficult to express in human language.

    • Yes, but because they CHOSE to screw around with stuff in the 2nd film, not because it was unfilmable.

  • My concern is that Hollywood will change Atlas Shrugged to reflect Hollywood’s view of the world, not Ayn Rand’s view.  If they get away with it will be a tragedy of the same proportion as Oliver Stone and his fictional story of the JFK assassination which I expect is now believed by most people under 25.

    • Like Bioshock?

      Though I might be mistaken on that, because I never have actually played the game, nor read any Rand. But from what I’ve read about the game, from the creators, reviews, etc, that’s the impression I get.

  • These guys should make the film instead:

  • Perhaps the director and producer are taking the wrong tack by taking on Shrugged. As much as I would like to see it work, I too have misgivings. That said I too have slightly re-righted hopes in the limited scope of the material, just a 127 pages. As a miniseries, that might clock out to about ten. I cannot genuinely imagine seeing ten separate movies just to make it through Shrugged.
    The basic problem I have is that there is no “action” of any kind. As I remember it, it was more like a tedious philosophy class when reading chunks it. I just don’t think today’s directors can do a movie without action (as has another mentioned) because it robs them of any crutch. Orson Wells could have done it. Certainly Joseph Heller or Buck Henry could have done it as well. Believe it or not I think Alfred Hitchcock could have done it and make it work because he could make the movie a genuinely intellectually suspenseful movie because he or they would have gone straight to the core and would have forsaken all else.
    As is, I think the movie has the potential to be a flop/success of a singular class (probably bad box office but a culty success). Perhaps a better alternative would have been to do Anthem. I think I have most of Rand’s books under my belt and lo although 30 years have past, I still remember Anthem to be the most readable and openly sci-fi by exploring a dystopian world order wrought by collectivism. Plenty of allusions there to go around and might even have been able to stand as a much tighter celluloid equal to Fountainhead or Shrugged.
    Sadly, what we are all afraid of is a deconstructive Hollywood.

  • It will probably suck, But just to piss you off. I loved the Starship Troopers movie. Maybe because it had been a long time since I had read the book, and Heinlein’s work never did have the big effect on me that I know it had on a lot of my contemporaries.

    And the movie did hint at a little of Heinlein’s political philosophy. In the move you got the idea that people like Rico’s parents were like a lot of middle class civilians in this country, taking everything for granted.

    And the military took responsibility for it’s failures as well as it’s success.   Sure it was mostly just a big Bug hunt, but I think it worked pretty well.

    • I mentioned that some people thought it worked as an action flick, even though I didn’t. My reasons are nicely summed up in what someone called it not too long after it was released: Starship Troopers 90210.

  • The problem with the Starship Troopers movie wasn’t that Verhoeven didn’t understand what Heinlein was trying to say. Indeed, he understood it very well. Verhoeven was intentionally subverting the movie to fit his own political views, which are pretty much diametrically opposed to Heinlein’s, and skewer the original intent of the book. The movie is pretty much a huge, satirical middle finger to Heinlein and everyone who ever enjoyed the original Starship Troopers.

  • I wrote a 120-page screenplay for AS 30 years ago and, at the time, felt Sigourney Weaver would have done Dagny justice and Harrison Ford was right for the Reardon role.   Galt, obviously, needs to be an unknown voice.  I’m anxious to see how this production turns out.  
    You can find my version of Galt’s speech at several sites on line if you Google my name and the word “speech.”  Just in case you’re curious….