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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Atlas Shrugged:' Is it really the movie Hollywood doesn't want you to see?

Paul_johansson If you regularly watch Fox News, as I do, you've probably heard all about "Atlas Shrugged," the new movie version of the iconic Ayn Rand bestseller that opens in 300 theaters this Friday. (Yes, on tax filing day, which must surely be a sly Randian joke.) The party line at Fox is that "Atlas Shrugged," as host Sean Hannity put it, is the movie "liberal Hollywood doesn't want you to see." In fact, it's the movie's own marketing hook. If you do a Google search for the phrase "the movie Hollywood doesn't want you to see," the first thing you find is the film's Facebook page.

Of course, it would be more accurate to say that "Atlas Shrugged" is the film Hollywood didn't want to make, but that doesn't have quite the same forbidden fruit zing to it. As my colleague Rebecca Keegan has reported, the film was actually in development at Lionsgate, with Angelina Jolie attached to a script by heavyweight writer-director Randall Wallace. The project fell apart, though not because of any liberal plot. The film's financier, John Aglialoro, wanted a more faithful version of the book, which even many of its admirers will admit is something of an unlikely commercial property. Agliatoro eventually handed the filmmaking reins to "One Tree Hill" actor Paul Johansson, who had never directed a feature before.

So Aglialoro is essentially distributing the film himself. He's already had tastemaker screenings for such influential conservatives as Big Hollywood's Andrew Breitbart and House Speaker John Boehner. But will moviegoers flock to a film just because its backers say it's a film Hollywood liberals didn't want them to see? After all, didn't that scheme work pretty well for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which cast Gibson as an embattled outsider whose film had been turned down everywhere in la-la-liberal Hollywood?

Of course, to embrace that narrative, whether with "Passion of the Christ" or with "Atlas Shrugged," you'd have to be willing to conveniently forget that 20th Century Fox, one of the biggest studios in town, is owned by -- ahem -- conservative kingpin Rupert Murdoch.

With "Atlas Shrugged," you'd also have to ignore the reviews, not just from those pesky liberal critics who would never give Ayn Rand a fair shake, but from P.J. O'Rourke, perhaps the most distinctive conservative cultural critic of our time. Even though he's a die-hard fan of Rand, O'Rourke admits that the movie is a stinker. As he writes:  

"Atlas shrugged. And so did I. The movie version of Ayn Rand’s novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they’ve wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe. Meanwhile, members of that tribe of 'Atlas Shrugged' fans will be wondering why director Paul Johansson doesn’t knock it off with the incantations, sacraments and recitations of liturgy and cut to the human sacrifice. ... The movie’s acting is borrowed from 'Dallas,' although the absence of Larry Hagman’s skill at subtly underplaying villainous roles is to be regretted. Staging and action owe a debt to 'Dynasty' — except, on 'Dynasty,' there usually was action. ... In 'Atlas Shrugged' Rand set out to prove that self-interest is vital to mankind. This, of course, is the whole point of free-market classical liberalism and has been since Adam Smith invented free-market classical liberalism by proving the same point.  Therefore trying to make a movie of 'Atlas Shrugged' is like trying to make a movie of 'The Wealth of Nations.' But Adam Smith had the good sense to leave us with no plot, characters or melodramatic clashes of will so that we wouldn’t be tempted to try."

I think what P.J. is saying, in the nicest possible way, is that maybe the trashy Angelina Jolie version of the movie wouldn't have been so bad after all.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Paul Johansson at a HuffPost Comedy event at the Roxy Theater last February in West Hollywood. Credit: Angela Weiss / Getty Images

 

 
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In Atlas Shrugged the architect is shown as a demigod, but in Real Life the architect has to keep production costs down and not insist that expensive materials be used when a less expensive alternative would work as well or better. Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect, but he felt that closets and storage space violated the integrity of his design. An office building he designed had beautiful glass windows in the roof, but it leaked like crazy. The design of his court house and county building in Marin, featured in the film Gattaca, was also plagued with a leaky roof. Sometimes he was Wright, but other times he was Frank Lloyd Wrong.

It sounds like they didn't have the money to make it "contemporary" ("Atlas Shrugged" was published in the 1950s, but it feels like an even older era), so they did the worst possible thing: kept some of the elements, but put it in a modern setting.

What they should have done was updated the characters and their stories. Make Hank Rearden some sort of software/biotech/robotics innovator, and make Dagny something involving transportation (an aircraft company might be kind of cool). Or something - anything. As it is, having them still be steel and train industrialists just seems off, and it seemed that way in some of the trailers I've seen.

Hahaha. This sounds like a Battlefield Earth!

I think it will affect each individual differently, and as in her books, each person will get something different from the film. I personally am thrilled that the film was attempted at all, since it is such a giant undertaking.
I look forward to owning my own copy of the DVD when it comes out, and will treasure it as I treasure all her books and films. She was a fascinating woman, and her ideas have literally changed the world. The critics can have all the fun they want, but it is the individual who will make or break this film, as they have all her works. Timeless and still selling. :-)

"Atlas Shrugged" is really bad science fiction. As a fantasy, at best, it will look like "Invaders From Mars" or "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Try to mix in ideology and you'll get "Inchon" or "Battleship Earth."

@Chris Craddock

Um, you're mixing your Rand novels... you're thinking of THE FOUNTAINHEAD. There's no architect in ATLAS.

Why is it that none of Rand's books which have been made into films have ever been any good?

"Why is it that none of Rand's books which have been made into films have ever been any good?"

Garbage in, garbage out

I disagree, Eric. King Vidor's film of "The Fountainhead" with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal was really quite good. No it wasn't "Rules of The Game." But it wasn't "Plan 9 From Outer Space" either. I also like "Love Letters" with Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones, directed by William Dieterle from one of Alice Rosenbaum's less-overheated screenplays.

Ayn Rand could see the problems of big government.....but she completely blind to the problems of big business........Ayn would have been completely blind to the deceit of Enron, the deceit of Bernie Madoff, the incompetence of British Petroleum and the General Electric nuclear plant in Japan that is making the ocean radioactive....

Ayn Rand is blind to the incompetence and deceit of big business........
Ayn believes big gov is bad and big business is good.......She was very amateurish in her belief......now FOX thinks she's a god.....we'll I beg to differ......

 
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