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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.

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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.

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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.

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33 Responses to “P.J. O’Rourke: “Atlas Shrugged. And So Did I.” + Shrugged Part I Producer Says There May Not be Any Sequels”

  1. servethepeople says:

    Sorry to hear the movie may not be any good … I had high hopes. Why is the producer giving up already?

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      I can’t speak for what his attitude is, but here’s a basic, Hollywood 101 rule: you don’t tell The Hollywood Reporter that “If [your movie] bombs, I will not make another movie” right before your movie is released.

  2. K says:

    Anyone remember the new left/student revolution movie “The Strawberry Statement”? It stunk – it’s politics were infantile but it was fresh and new because such movies weren’t made – it spoke to the students both in high school at the time and in college and helped energize a movement. From what I’ve seen of Atlas, its not exactly “Gone With the Wind”, but to hear and seen those scenes in a movie is something fresh and new to me and I expect to see it early and enjoy it.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      The producers of The Strawberry Statement eventually made Rocky, by the way. That’s why you don’t give up after one film.

      • jic says:

        Assuming that he was quoted both accurately and in context, this could hurt him in his other businesses too. I can imagine potential investors for new ventures asking him if he’ll just give up if things start going wrong…

        • Jason Apuzzo says:

          It’s just not something you should say right before a movie opens. They should be talking about what a great series this is going to be, how confident they are, how they’ll overcome any odds, etc. Gotta be scrappy when you’re making a low-budget movie.

          • Ronbo says:

            Maybe the producers want it to be flop…After all, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is hated on both the Left and Right – the Left for being pro-capitalist, on the Right for being atheist. Perhaps the producers of Atlas Shrugged are doing to a movie what Obama is doing to the country – a well planned failure with destruction as the goal.

            • jic says:

              I have trouble believing any private company would piss away around $15M and thousands of man-hours purely out of spite. I also have trouble believing that Obama is competent enough to be causing the damage he is doing on purpose.

            • Eric in Chicago says:

              “Maybe the producers want it to be flop…Perhaps the producers of Atlas Shrugged are doing to a movie what Obama is doing to the country – a well planned failure with destruction as the goal.”

              That’s an utterly baseless proposition. I was in the offices of The Atlas Society in Washington, D.C. the day before (producer & co-writer) John Aglialoro was to begin filming, lest he lose the rights to the project. John had been attempting to bring this to the big screen for years, and when push came to shove, he concluded (after many phone calls back and forth to Los Angeles) that if he didn’t do it now, it may not ever be made. Of course, having a bona fide looter in the White House only made that decision all the more important.

              I agree, however, with the observation that the project just feels rushed. I hope to be proven wrong.

              “Ayn Rand’s philosophy is hated on…the…Right…for being atheist.”

              And that is about as broad a generalization as any I’ve seen.

              • Jason Apuzzo says:

                Personally I don’t think there are any conspiracies going on here with respect to the film being made the way it was. But I do think that going forward on such a massive project without adequate funding and with first-timers doing the directing, screenwriting and producing was a highly debatable decision.

                But more on this tomorrow …

  3. johngaltjkt says:

    A failure to plan is a plan for failure. This movie has felt rushed from the start. What a shame and IF it does stink and We still support it perhaps a better sequel will be made or perhaps someone that takes the time to think it through remakes the entire book the right way. As We’ve seen over the past few years the technology exists to make decent movies with very good effects at very little cost.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      All good points. “A failure to plan is a plan for failure.” I love that.

  4. Vince says:

    You’ve raised interesting questions, Jason.

    I still can’t see this film being a total flop, even before its DVD/Blu release. I’m expecting an easy $15 million in domestic box office when it’s all said and done.

    I’ll be in Pittsburgh on opening night — can’t wait.

  5. [...] See? O’Rourke goes on to make a point I’ve made here previously, which is that Shrugged’s producers really should’ve considered either: [...]

  6. [...] more thing: I wouldn’t call P.J. O’Rourke’s critique “blistering” as Libertas does.* Rather I’d call it “rather glum and disappointed.” I mean, O’Rourke [...]

  7. shinsnake says:

    Yeah, I didn’t know that was a cardinal rule of Hollywood, but I can definitely see why. I was hyped up about the movie and with that one statement alone, air starts coming out of my balloon. I was excited for the movie, but if the people who put it together can’t even get excited, well then why should I? Completely the wrong message to send.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      You wouldn’t expect, say, Kobe Bryant to go out in the media before the playoffs and talk about what he’s going to do if the Lakers lose the title.

  8. motionview says:

    I appreciate the work that has gone into making this movie, along with the work done by the producers of Red Dawn to get that made. However, I think those of us with an other-than-”progressive” viewpoint would be better served by making financially successful movies, where the good guys are not necessarily leftists and the bad guys not necessarily non-leftists. Easier said, I know. A Firefly/Serenity probably has a lot more long-term, positive effect than a Red Dawn that never gets released.

  9. kishke says:

    Kyle Smith makes a good point about O’Rourke’s lack of perspective:

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      I would classify Kyle’s remarks as whistling past the graveyard. I’m not sure that professional film critics have a ‘better’ perspective on this one at all. O’Rourke is perfectly capable of rendering an opinion on this film.

    • jic says:

      The thing is that Kyle’s comments boil down to ‘I’m not that exited about this movie either, but there are much worse movies out there, and I’m glad this got made’. Doesn’t exactly scream ‘word-of-mouth sleeper hit’, does it?

      • Jason Apuzzo says:

        I noticed this, too. His review is essentially an endorsement of Rand’s ideas, and their relevance for today, rather than an endorsement of the film, itself.

        For example, his phrase “the most important movie flop of the year” is probably not one that will be appearing on the film’s website.

      • kishke says:

        True, it’s not a ringing endorsement, but his point seems to be that when graded on a curve, the movie has a lot going for it.

  10. kishke says:

    Here’s Fred Barnes’s take on the movie:

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Fred Barnes has always struck me as being a genial and sensible guy, but I wouldn’t advise him to quit his day job to become a film critic! I love this paragraph:

      For what it’s worth, it lacks stars. I didn’t recognize the actors–though my wife said she’d see one of them on the TV show Ugly Betty. Most of the actors attended the Washington screening, held at Union Station. I didn’t stay around to talk to any of them; I wouldn’t have known what to say.

  11. Shenna says:

    I must of went to a different movie that O’rourke because I liked them movie. It was very interesting and unlike
    O’rourke I have never read anything Ms Rand has written but was sad when the movie was over because I wanted
    to see the next two installments…I found it more interesting than the last book I read “Driving like Crazy”
    by PJ.

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