Hollywood Shrugs but the Audience Doesn't

HERE'S WHAT YOU'LL HEAR: critics hate Atlas Shrugged, Part 1; that it’s amateur hour, with wooden acting, unknown, weak actors unable to handle the stilted dialogue, an incomprehensible story, made on a thread of a shoestring budget.

Here are the facts: Atlas Shrugged is one of the most successful books of all time. More than fifty years after its initial release, it is always in the top ten on Amazon. The executive producer tried for almost twenty years to make the film in Hollywood, but no one would finance it. After he made it with his own money, no one would distribute it. So, instead of the 3800 screens the animation film Rio fills, Atlas Shrugged had to settle for just 300. Yet this last weekend, it equaled the per-seat income of the other hit films. And though just 5% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes like the film, a whopping 85% of the audience does.

So what gives? I thought Hollywood was all about profit, not politics. If there was money to be made in bringing this book to film, why didn’t they jump at it? There may be several reasons, not all of which are damning to the L.A. Lefties.

Atlas Shrugged is an incredibly difficult book to adapt to screen. It’s over 1200 pages of long speeches on economics and government, not exactly the Bourne Identity. Many people have tried to adapt the book and have gotten waylaid by reverence for the source material. Instead of mining a good story out of it, they stayed true to the unwieldy plot. (This may have been a requirement by Rand’s estate.) But the movie is so true to the book that even the bad dialogue remains. The most obvious change should have been to update a key plot point—Rearden Metal, a new alloy that can support trains moving at 200 miles an hour—into mag-lev technology that doesn’t require rails at all. Or use it in aircraft or automotive construction. Whatever. But trains? Obama thinks high-speed rail is the future. Isn’t that reason enough to abandon it as the basis for a key point in the movie?

Another reason: Hollywood has a long history of hating corporate execs, and all the protagonists in the film are corporate execs. According to Hollywood, only union organizers, beleaguered government workers, and renegade journalists are heroic, and those types are relegated to the antagonist class in Atlas Shrugged. Even though Hollywood is such a corporate, union busting town that most films are shot in right-to-work locales now (try to find a depiction of New York that wasn’t shot in Toronto in the last twenty years), Hollywood still has this fictionalized account of itself that Atlas Shrugged exposes.

Another reason: Hollywood has reason to think audiences are brain-dead morons. Adam Sandler has been the most consistent money-maker in Hollywood for twenty years—which really only proves that we like movies and though we’d rather see a great movie, we’ll watch trash if that’s all there is. (Take that, American movie-goers; you go to these movies, after all, don’t you?)

Atlas Shrugged is a serious movie about serious (and timely) issues: the government picking winners and losers, bureaucrats making it impossible to build or run a business, hate-the-wealthy class warfare, a plummeting economy. No pratfalls, penis jokes, or bare breasts—how could the producers imagine that this movie would excite audiences? And yet it is, because we’re starving for films—no matter their production values—that say something important. The programmers at Turner Classic Movies know this: fifty, sixty, and seventy year old movies are still popular because they were made in an era when Hollywood still shared the values of the audience. But those times are long gone, destroyed with the anti-heroes of the 70s, the nihilism of the 80s, and the stupidity of the 90s until the present. (Hangover 2 is coming soon!)

No, Atlas Shrugged is not a great movie; it may not even be a very good one. The critics’ carping about production values, acting, and the screenplay are all valid. But while not being a great movie, Atlas Shrugged is a good movie about great ideas. Great as in important. I think you will be surprised at how many young people will absolutely love the movie and then tackle the book. I’ve no doubt that John Galt’s seventy page diatribe in the book will be severely truncated in the final film installment, perhaps losing most of its power, but if the movie serves to encourage people to read the book, and they have the discipline to wade through it, by the time they reach Galt’s radio rant, they will be, as I was, spellbound by his passion and irrefutable logic. And it very well may change their lives, as it did mine when I first read it thirty years ago.

Not a bad accomplishment for a movie.

1 comment:

martin said...

Nice review of the movie. You brought up some things that we missed in our review.