P.J. O’Rourke: “Atlas Shrugged. And So Did I.” + Shrugged Part I Producer Says There May Not be Any Sequels
By Jason Apuzzo. Writing in The Wall St. Journal today, P.J. O’Rourke weighs with a blistering critique of the new Atlas Shrugged. I’ve excerpted from his piece below. What’s interesting about O’Rourke’s take on the film is that it’s quite obviously coming from someone sympathetic to Rand’s overall cause, and therefore lacking an ideological axe to grind.
I’d like to just say generally that we’ve been as supportive of this film as we can be here at Libertas. Long before people in the conservative/libertarian/Tea Party world began jumping on board this film’s train (so to speak), Libertas was the first to report from the film’s set, conducting the first extensive interview with the film’s director, Paul Johansson (see here and here). It’s also worth mentioning that back in 2005 we did a special tribute to Ayn Rand at The Liberty Film Festival, in which we showed the restored 1942 film version of Rand’s We the Living (directed by Goffredo Alessandrini, with Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi) and had filmmaker/restoration producer Duncan Scott and noted Rand scholar Jeff Britting speak. So we want these sorts of projects to do well.
However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this current version of Atlas Shrugged has few advocates outside of the usual right-wing media chorus, and even a few doubters within it. Suffice it to say that P.J. O’Rourke was not overwhelmed by what he saw:
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.
Upright railroad-heiress heroine Dagny Taggart and upright steel-magnate hero Hank Rearden are played with a great deal of uprightness (and one brief interlude of horizontality) by Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler. They indicate that everything they say is important by not using contractions. John Galt, the shadowy genius who’s convincing the people who carry the world on their shoulders to go out on strike, is played, as far as I can tell, by a raincoat.
The rest of 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–Part I” a drink is tossed, strong words are bandied, legal papers are served, more strong words are further bandied and, finally, near the end, an oil field is set on fire, although we don’t get to see this up close. There are many beautiful panoramas of the Rocky Mountains for no particular reason. And the movie’s title carries the explicit threat of a sequel.
You can read the rest of the piece here. O’Rourke goes on to make a point I’ve made here previously, which is that Shrugged’s producers really should’ve considered either: a) setting the film in some sort of ‘alternate’ future, in which trains were not considered the most vital means of transportation (requiring some alteration of Rand’s basic storyline), or; b) simply setting the film in an ‘alternate’ version of 1957, when the novel was actually published.
In other Shrugged news, the film’s producer, John Aglialoro – who financed and co-wrote this version of Shrugged – made some rather odd comments today in a Hollywood Reporter article on the film. Aglialoro, who paid Rand’s heir Leonard Peikoff $1.1 million for the rights to Atlas Shrugged back in 1992, ended up rushing this film into production to prevent the film’s rights from reverting, beating the legal deadline by a mere two days. According to THR:
Aglialoro needs only to make some money with it, or the subsequent two installments will be scrapped and the novice filmmaker will abandon other projects on which he’s working.
“If it bombs, I will not make another movie,” he says.
I must confess to finding this statement incredibly strange – to the point of being bizarre. (Btw, would Dagny Taggart give up on a project so easily?) There are a multitude of reasons why this film may bomb – chief of which being that the film appears to be self-distributed. So if the situation is so dire, why wasn’t the film sold to a serious distributor? Or put in a major film festival? Why wasn’t more money raised? Or, if the film does bomb, perhaps Aglialoro should simply work harder at it next time and dedicate himself to making a better film. Also: I’d like to politely suggest that if he went into such an enormous project without adequate funding, Mr. Aglialoro – who has no prior credits as a writer or producer – should perhaps have chosen something other than an adaptation of Rand’s 1200 page Atlas Shrugged as his first movie project.
Also: what about the rights to the book? If Aglialoro walks from the project, does no one else get to try it? Does he have any intention of selling the rights to the project if his Part I fails?
If, as the Hollywood Reporter article implies, Team Shrugged is counting on the Tea Party crowd to bail them out at the box office, that seems unlikely. Ray Griggs’ I Want Your Money, for example, had over 3 million views on its You Tube trailer and a ton of exposure in the conservative media, but when the film opened in over 500 theaters it only made a little over $400,000. Shrugged might need to make over 25x that in order to start making a profit.
We’ll see what happens. My own review of Atlas Shrugged will appear on the film’s release date of April 15th.
Posted on April 7th, 2011 at 1:07pm.