Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged" movie update

John Aglialoro, producer of the "Atlas Shrugged" film, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times today as expressing bitter disappointment over the critical and commercial reception of the movie:
"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."

"Atlas Shrugged" was the top-grossing limited release in its opening weekend, generating $1.7 million on 299 screens and earning a respectable $5,640 per screen. But the box office dropped off 47% in the film's second week in release even as "Atlas Shrugged" expanded to 425 screens, and the movie seemed to hold little appeal for audiences beyond the core group of Rand fans to whom it was marketed.

Aglialoro attributed the box office drop-off to "Atlas Shrugged's" poor reviews.
Personally, I regarded the film as quite good, though not great -- certainly not deserving the excoriating reviews it received. Some sites and writers simply would not let up; they pounded the film repeatedly, looking for excuses to pile on at every opportunity.

But this disproportionate bashing is revealing. Ask yourself how many other "mediocre" or even "bad" films have ever generated this level of untempered wrath, raging vituperation, incessant insults, and unrestrained gloating over their artistic or commercial shortcomings. Does this not suggest that something much deeper is going on?

If the film's critics (professional and amateur) truly believed that it was merely mediocre, then what explains their unrelenting, over-the-top spewing of venom? Similarly, if Rand and her ideas were simply silly, wouldn't her intellectual opponents just dismiss her lightly, without such ado? To the contrary, however: A Google search for reviews and commentary about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged over the past several weeks shows that, for the commentariat, this was not just another opportunity to review another film, or to comment on a novelist and thinker; this was all-out warfare.

But why?

This earlier post suggests my own interpretation of the Culturati's otherwise baffling fixation on damning, mocking, and repudiating Ayn Rand, her ideas, her books, and this film. For Rand was not just any other philosopher or artist, nor is she treated as such. Ayn Rand was a Romantic visionary who spent her life crafting, articulating, and objectifying in fiction a new Narrative to guide our lives: a Narrative counter to those that have held humanity in their grip for thousands of years. If you grasp the all-consuming significance that Narratives play in our lives, then you will understand that everything is at stake when Narratives clash.

The Randian Narrative -- "of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute" -- challenges the Narratives that have dominated thousands of years of human history. For those wedded to the latter, her vision represents a grave threat to everything they are, everything they have, and everything they seek. This threat goes beyond politics or economic theories; it encompasses their most personal values, aspirations, ideals, lifestyles, vested interests, relationships -- the works.

It boils down to this: If Ayn Rand is essentially right, then most of what society has been committed to for centuries is utterly wrong. And that is why they could not permit themselves to give the "Atlas Shrugged" film a fair shake. It had to be driven off the screens of American theaters.

It is a shame that the movie is not even better than it is, because its flaws allow Rand's haters to hide their true motives beneath the mask of high-minded aesthetic criticism. Had it been a great film on purely cinematic grounds, then those motives would have been laid bare even more starkly.

But they are clear enough.

In any case, John Aglialoro should not long lament this vicious response to his work. Like Rand herself, he was challenging much more than Hollywood. His achievement in the face of overwhelming challenges and rampant hostility is extraordinary. He should take pride in the fact that he is introducing millions to Rand's name, ideas, and masterwork, many for the first time. He has aroused the curiosity of countless individuals who now will read the novel upon which his film is based. And the consequences will be far-reaching.

I am well-enough acquainted with John to know that this was one of his major objectives. Well, then: mission accomplished. I hope that once he has had time to gain further perspective, he will realize the full extent of what he has achieved. At that point, I hope he will consider producing the second and third installments of this grand story. Because I am confident that many others, inspired by his vision and valor, will step up to help him.

As for me, I plan to go see the film once again tonight -- and I will bring along some friends, too.


Robert Bidinotto said...

Joshua Zader links to this post at his "Atlas Shrugged Movie" blog, which he tells me is attracting 5,000 visitors each day. Thanks much, Joshua.

vaincre said...

There is a huge untapped fan base and Tea Partiers and so on. All they need is to be contacted and organized.

Butterbaugh said...

Thank you for contextualizing this. You provide something important for keeping people in the battle that is really going on - the clash and ultimate transformation of the context in which we live our lives.

FeirFactor said...

I don't care what the critics say and I don't why John Aglialoro pays them any attention. They have their own agenda.

But I am disappointed in the 2nd weekend box office:

Isn't it too early to judge how it will do overall, though?

There is a huge constituent of Ayn Rand fans in this country and all of them will want to see the movie if they know about it.

I want to see Parts 2 and 3.

Sasy Kumar said...

Ayn Rand followers are not limited to the US (albeit the numbers may be significantly higher);-lets wait and see the results when the movie reaches theatres in other English speaking countries(India for example); and in due course with sub-titles in Eurpoe / East Europe etc !

Anonymous said...

This movie is an accomplishment that few if any "Hollywood" directors could film adequately. It took an independent, and one who is not a filmmaker by trade, to show them how incompetent they really are by comparison. I have come away from thousands of movies feeling empty because the movie rode on the "star quality" of an actor but provided no inspiration in its story line. Too many movies glorify ineptitude or try to get buy on visual effects alone. This movie was about businesspeople who were, for once, portrayed as good; it was about values and accomplishing values; it was about work and even more, about trading value for value; ideas that truly exemplify what this nation is about and that Hollywood has never grasped. Hollywood is the villain here because it can't make movies that inspire individuals. Hey, Hollywood, why don't you try something like this...if you can. Hey, Hollywood, get out of the garbage can and make a real movie for a change.

Anonymous said...

Movie Critics are only other movie watchers like the rest of the public. For me, the opinion of a self elected "expert" counts for no more or less, than any other PAYING movie customer. Simply put, you either like it or you don't, and some critics opinion will not change that.

T.C. Darren said...

Hello everyone,

As Mr. Kumar had said, there are others outside of the United States who are interested in this film. We're sitting at the edge of our seats for a chance to watch it too! Mr. Aglialoro undertook a Herculean task and, whatever the flaws of the product, can be proud he rose to meet the challenge.

T. C. Darren

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of talk about how the film has dropped in 47% over its second week(end).

I'd just like to point out that that was Easter Weekend and movies were down all across the board.

(But of course they won't tell you that).

Sally said...

A watched a bit of "Part Two" on Netflix and was not interested enough to continue, although I suppose I'll plow through it eventually. It seems to be another wan treatment of the book, like Part I.

Critics who hate RAnd may have ulterior motives for excoriating the films. But the moviemakers did not give their adaptation a fair chance. Forget about the fact that big budgets have been impossible. What about the script? What about the dialogue? It's not about the problems of adapting a novel to a different format. Rand's words are constantly and unnecessarily not merely abbreviated or reworked to fit time, but chucked altogether. The rewrites are pedestrian in the name of being up-to-date. That many viewers like the movies far more than the Rand-hating critics is a testament to the power of Rand's story and its main idea even when conveyed in the most generalized way.

I'm glad for whatever advertising value the movies give Rand's work. But I think that Atlas can be far more successfully adapted, without the same fear of communicating the best of Rand's novel, instead of continually choosing the least eloquent, least vivid, least appealing path; and I hope that one day it will be.