The Republic of T.

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Galt Goes Bust, Pt. 1

This is rich. If you haven’t seen Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, the film that was intended to be the first in a trilogy that would bring Ayn Rand’s novel to the silver screen, because you were waiting for parts 2 and 3 so you could see it all at once… Well, don’t. Maybe.

At first, it seemed that the producer of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 was shrugging off parts 2 and 3.

Twelve days after opening “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1,” the producer of the Ayn Rand adaptation said Tuesday that he is reconsidering his plans to make Parts 2 and 3 because of scathing reviews and flagging box office returns for the film.

“Critics, you won,” said John Aglialoro, the businessman who spent 18 years and more than $20 million of his own money to make, distribute and market “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1,” which covers the first third of Rand’s dystopian novel. “I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2.”

…Though the film has made only $3.1 million so far, Aglialoro said he believes he’ll recoup his investment after TV, DVD and other ancillary rights are sold. But he is backing off an earlier strategy to expand “Atlas” to 1,000 screens and reconsidering his plans to start production on a second film this fall.

“Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?” Aglialoro said. “I’ll make my money back and I’ll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike.”

What? The world doesn’t appreciate his genius? Well, then he just won’t make any more movies, so there. That’ll show ’em. Just wait. They’ll come begging him for parts 2 and 3.

That’s what “going Galt” is all about, right?

“Just this weekend,” said Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) on Wednesday in an interview with TWI, “I had a guy come up to me in my district and tell me that he was losing his interest in the business he’d run for years because the president wanted to punish him for his success. I think people are reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ again because they’re trying to understand what happens to people of accomplishment, and people of talent and energy, when a government turns against them. That’s what appears to be happening right now.”

The plot of Rand’s novel is simple, despite its length – 1,088 pages in the current paperback edition. The United States is governed by bureaucrats, “looters” and “moochers,” who penalize and demonize creative people. The country is in decline because creative people are disappearing – they have followed the innovative John Galt to a mountain enclave, “Galt’s Gulch,” where they watch society crumble. Creativity has gone on strike (the working title of the novel was “The Strike”), and the engine of capitalism cannot run without it.

Well. There are several problems with Aglialoro’s “strike.” Maybe he figured that out, and that’s why now he’s changed his mind and now promises two sequels, in spited of dismal box office returns.

The government didn’t kill Aglialoro’s movie. If anything, the market place did.

Arguments that the state didn’t kill the movie but “statists” did notwithstanding, the market response to Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 can be summed up as “Meh.”

Now, I haven’t seen Atlas Shrugged: Part 1. At least, I haven’t seen much more than what’s available online.

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Having not seen the movie, I’m not going to review it. But the reviews from those who have seen it are overwhelmingly bad.

Roy edreso at Alicublog.

Whatever understandable prejudice you might have against Ayn Rand, you have to admit that the giant concrete block of her novel on which Atlas Shrugged: Part I is based could make a movie of some sort.

…That was what I hoped for as I watched the thing last night, because as much fun as it is to slag rotten movies, it is much better to be surprised by a good one, especially when you’ve reached the stage in life where two hours in front of a stinker sets you dreaming of the warm couch and leftover sesame chicken that you left back home. But it is my great regret to inform you thatAtlas Shrugged: Part I is neither good nor good-bad, but bad-bad-bad-bad. I dreamed, not of sesame chicken, but of my own swift and merciful death, and that of the director, not necessarily in that order. It is not a pleasurable surprise, not a hoot, nor an outrage; it is Rand’s granite crushed, reconstituted, and spread across the screen with steamrollers.

The Washington Times.

The bigger question is whether or not fans of Rand’s 1957 novel will tolerate a deeply flawed screen adaptation, the first of a proposed trilogy meant to capture the book’s voluminous length.

…The film deserves some slack, given its humble origins, including a modest budget and rumors of an industry less-than-eager to support it. But many indie filmmakers thrive under similar constraints, making the movie’s stiff acting and oft-tortured dialogue impossible to explain away.

Roger Ebert.

So OK. Let’s say you know the novel, you agree with Ayn Rand, you’re an objectivist or a libertarian, and you’ve been waiting eagerly for this movie. Man, are you going to get a letdown. It’s not enough that a movie agree with you, in however an incoherent and murky fashion. It would help if it were like, you know, entertaining?

Grant Muller at BlogCritics.

Ever try to read The Lord of The Rings trilogy out loud? If you have, you probably noticed that you sound like a big damn dork. When Ian McKellan renders a line like “A wizard arrives precisely when he means to”, you believe he’s a wizard; you on the other hand sound like thirteen-year-old at a wicked awesome D&D game. Imagine filming, editing, and adding special effects to your wimpy voice and turning it into box office magic. Sound daunting? For you perhaps, but sometimes the planets of talent, technical virtuosity and, ahem, money align and an epic book survives the translation from tome to theater.

It is unfortunate that these conditions were not present on the set of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1.

Peter DeBruge at Variety.

A monument of American literature is shaved down to a spindly toothpick of a movie in “Atlas Shrugged,” a project that reportedly once caught the eye of Angelina Jolie, Faye Dunaway and Clint Eastwood. Part one of a trilogy that may never see completion, this hasty, low-budget adaptation would have Ayn Rand spinning in her grave, considering how it violates the author’s philosophy by allowing opportunists to exploit another’s creative achievement — in this case, hers. Targeting roughly 200 screens, pic goes out hitched to a grassroots marketing campaign, hoping to break-even via by-popular-demand bookings and potential Tea Party support.

Kurt Loder at Reason.

It’s a blessing, I suppose, that Ayn Rand, who loved the movies, and actually worked extensively in the industry, isn’t alive to see what’s been made of her most influential novel. The new, long-awaited film version of Atlas Shrugged is a mess, full of embalmed talk, enervated performances, impoverished effects, and cinematography that would barely pass muster in a TV show. Sitting through this picture is like watching early rehearsals of a stage play that’s clearly doomed.

Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter.

Although the recent surge in annual sales of the revered and despised author’s fictional manifesto arguably testifies to its continuing relevance, the central battle between fearsomely independent corporate mavericks and hostile big government has been updated in a half-baked, unconvincing way that’s exacerbated by button-pushing TV-style direction, threadbare production values and blah performances except for that of Taylor Schilling in the central role. Set to bow in roughly 200 theaters on April 15, this independently financed-and-distributed rendition of the book’s first third is unlikely to generate sufficient box office to inspire production of the final two installments (the 1,000-plus-page novel is divided into three sections of 10 chapters apiece), although the producers could conceivably forge ahead anyway if their pockets are deep enough. A TV miniseries with a high-powered cast—several were planned at various points over the past four decades—would have been a preferable way to go with this didactic, sometimes risible but still powerful material.

Even Ayn Rand fanboy P.J. O’Rourke (who considers her a “force for good”) came away underwhelmed, titling his WSJ review “Atlas Shrugged. And So Did I.” He’s even honest enough to admit “…will not pan “Atlas Shrugged.” I don’t have the guts.”

A sampling of reviews suggests that the Mr. Aglialoro simply released a poor product, and the market responded. Critics, like it or not, are part of this particular market place. Some people will see a movie without knowing much about it, because they like the director’s work, or because it features a well-known or at least one of of their favorite actors. (There’s another reason, but Ill get to it later.) The rest of us, given the price of movie tickets these days, need a bit more assurance before parting with our cash and investing at least 90 minutes of our time.

So, critics are a part of the deal, if you get into the movie business, or any other branch of entertainment. (Produce an “Atlas Shrugged” opera, and it will be critiqued. Likewise for anything from a comic book to a sitcom, etc. Even an “Atlas Shrugged” line of haute couture could get torn to ribbons by critics.) Critics are the equivalent of Consumer Reports for moviegoers.

And the critics appear not to have like Algialoro’s movie very much. So, does that mean the “critics won”? Only if, as Algialoro seems to believe, the critics only panned the movie for political reasons.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, though, gave the movie zero stars, and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it one. A dozen others were equally dismissive.

“It was a nihilistic craze,” Aglialoro said. “Not in the history of Hollywood has 16 reviewers said the same low things about a movie.

“They’re lemmings,” he said. “What’s their fear of Ayn Rand? They hate this woman. They hate individualism.

Sure, some probably are opposed to Rand’s politics, and consider the book and the movie little more than propaganda.

That brings me to my next point.

Second, Not only is it probably a bad movie, but it may be bad propaganda, too.

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Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. Propaganda is just art or communication intended to influence attitudes and change opinions about a cause or issue. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all propaganda is bad. Some of it may be even be quite good.

And quite a few propaganda movies are listed among the best, most important or influential movies ever made. Birth of a Nation, is practically a 125 minute commercial for the Klan, but was a groundbreaking cinematic achievement, and many of the techniques D.W. Griffith either originated or perfected are still used in movies today.

Of course Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will has been called one of the best propaganda films ever, known for its use of camera angles (and the lengths to which the director went to get the angles she wanted). Sure, the film pretty much ruined the career and reputation of its director.

There are others, of course: Battleship Potemkin, Why We Fight, and even a classic like Casablanca. So, a propaganda film isn’t necessarily bad. or at least it doesn’t have to be. It can be good. It can even bee “so bad its good.”

That brings me to my next point.

It’s probably just a bad movie, as opposed to “so bad it’s good.”

Yes, a bad movie — badly written, badly acted, badly directed, or all of the above — can be so bad that it comes full circle and ends of being a “good bad movie,” because it’s “so bad it’s good.”

Some cult films fall in to that category; appealing to a limited but very devoted group of fans, that fails to achieve mainstream success. Ironically many of them end up gaining mainstream popularity as a result of their cult status, but also because they’re “so bad it’s good,” often rescued by the camp quality of the acting, writing, production or all of the above.

You can find lists of them all over the internet, like this one at Rotten Tomatoes.

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Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 will probably continue to have a following among the tea party set, but probably not large enough to qualify as a cult following. (Even the Left Behind movies couldn’t muster enough of a following to qualify.) And it certainly doesn’t sound like it’s going to go all the way to mainstream popularity, because it’s “so bad it’s good.” The consensus seems to be that it’s just bad.

That brings me to my last point.

One Comment

  1. The producers and director likely thought the rise of the Tea Party meant this was a great time to put the movie trilogy out. They miscalculated, however. It’s also a time of record unemployment with millions having lost their homes and more. The resentment over the bank bailouts is still lingering, as well. This is a bad time to put out a film that glorifies the rich CEO types and tells the working class “you’re a bunch of useless, brainless parasites who couldn’t function without the superhuman richies telling you what to do”.