Sunday, May 01, 2011

Visual Storytelling in the Atlas Shrugged Movie

I've seen the Atlas Shrugged movie several times now. I still like it. Of course, I'm a big fan of the book, but not all fans of the book like the movie. As a technical matter, I've been thinking about the problem of boiling 350 pages of small print into a 90 minute film. The screenplay of a movie usually runs about 90 pages of big type, with lots of white space. That's a scary problem from a writer's point of view. One way it gets done is by visual storytelling. The old proverb says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that's your only hope of translating a book to the screen.

So all the description of the characters and their internal thoughts and feelings goes away, and you have the actors instead, in the moment, trying to convey those characters by their presence and actions. Just like a play.

But unlike a play, you can do a lot with the camera. And the film does use this technique. I'm not really very conscious about how the camera does its job most of the time, but there's one shot in the film that still shocks me with its beauty, every time I see it. It's maybe half or a third of the way through the film. Most of the film up to this point has been dark - lots of night shots - lots of office shots - lots of depressing run-down city shots. And then, suddenly, as the plot shifts to building the John Galt line, the camera cuts away to an aerial shot over a beautiful sunny forest in Colorado, and lovingly lingers over the stunning natural beauty of the American west, with all its natural suggestion of the open possibilities of unfettered freedom, with inspiring chords rising in the background.

As the music swells
the camera tells
vast herds
of stampeding words.

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