Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cinema Shrugs

(The John Galt Line) In what has to be one of the longest awaited disappointments in the history of cinema, the anticipated for decades effort to bring Ayn Rand's opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), to the big screen finally happened Friday. Rand's 1000+ page novel represented the pinnacle of her career and influence, permanently engraving "Who is John Galt?" into the wall of a particular conversation.

Ayn Rand's earlier and also impressive The Fountainhead (1943) was made into a motion picture by the end of that decade (1949), and a good one at that, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. When Atlas Shrugged overtook The Fountainhead as the national Ayn Rand favorite, everyone believed it would be made into a film and simply speculated on who and when.

Some kind of curse seemed to attack efforts to film the epic story of Dagny Taggart, heroine of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, Henry Rearden, masterful business tycoon and owner of Rearden Steel, Francisco D'Anconia, the brilliant genius and heir to the D'Anconia fortune, the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold, Ellis Wyatt, and the rest as they struggle against the slime of Orren Boyle, Wesley Mouch, Bertram Scudder, and a host of looters. Arguments over content control, acquisitions and mergers, personnel changes, all contributed to derailments of project after project. Ayn Rand herself worked on a screenplay, getting about a third of the way into the story before she died in 1982. Recently, an effort almost succeeded in making what would probably have become one of the greatest cinematic atrocities ever produced, with Angelina Jolie playing Dagny and Brad Pitt playing Rearden. (Note the inane, idiotic poster with Angelina and Brad donning pistols, which have no role in the story.)

(Dagny wearing the Rearden Metal bracelet) While God or some set of benevolent forces spared us the above fiasco, the picture released Friday, intended to be the first of a trilogy, offers its own version of painful cinema, suffering the malaise that can inflict a film attempting to replicate a voice it does not genuinely possess as its own.

This situation can produce excruciating dialog as actors speak words without adequate grounding or context, leaving the viewer with the unpleasant realization mid-scene that these are actors reciting lines. Sometimes the lines themselves seem to come out of nowhere, not fitting into the conversation taking place. The contextual vacuum can also produce scripts that fail to sufficiently frame what is occurring. Individuals watching this picture without having read the book will miss so much as to render the experience frustrating if not just plain boring. Roger Ebert blasted the film and gave it one star, which is rare under his generous system which hands a couple of stars to even the unimpressive and uninteresting. Rotten Tomatoes matched his opinion.

(Francisco D'Anconia with Hank Rearden) Ever since reading the book in 1978, I pronounced Wesley Mouch as "mooch." The film uses "mowch" as in "mouth." Considering what is typically associated with the word "mooch," I was quite surprised to hear it pronounced differently. The film wisely nixed the smoking in the 1957 novel, but the prevalence of alcohol proved distracting for characters who were not heavy drinkers, including D'Anconia. While I'm poking little holes, the actors for Dagny, Rearden, and D'Anconia were entirely too young and older performers would have enhanced credibility.

Wisely (or more likely, out of necessity) the producers shot the film on a tight budget of about $10 million, which is nothing for a Hollywood feature. Ayn Rand's following and the Tea Party bunch who have heard of her should insure the picture's ability to recover this modest investment. Barring a game changing event, the second and third installments should be able to operate with comparable budgets, so despite brutal reviews and marginal box office of the first film, they might get made.

Some of the Tea Party types so fond of Ayn Rand and her libertarian philosophy will no doubt delight in the production of the picture and enjoy notions that it will help spread the libertarian message. It won't. Those having read the book have already reacted to its message, and the film will have no impact on their sentiments. Those seeing the film without having read the book will be unmoved and unconvinced by a disjointed story that offers no real arguments or sense of cause and effect to explain why the events are taking place.

At the end of the day, so to speak, the film rights to Rand's extraordinary epic of remarkable characters and thought provoking content ended up in the hands of one with a bare bones budget and no time. Her masterpiece was shot "at the last minute" for a song. Should parts two and three make it to the screen, it's possible they will demonstrate considerable improvement. Odds favor they'll serve more of the same. All of that now said, I have to say that the way the Rearden Metal glowed blue in the film was way cool.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The film grossed $1.7 million this weekend on 300 screens. If it can expand to 1000 screens next weekend, it will likely draw another $2-3 million or so.

Not more. Box office may very well fall short of the film's budget, but the DVD revenue will likely make up the difference.

The trilogy will probably happen, definitely part two. X4mr is right that it will have no impact on politics. The film preaches to its choir and no one else.

4/17/2011 9:34 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

Completely off-subject, but thought you might be interested in this x4mr.

4/19/2011 6:46 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

I notice the producer has now decided he won't make the second and third movies he had played. Nice to see free market principles at work.

4/29/2011 7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The film did far more poorly than even the naysayers predicted, bringing in even less than a million on the second weekend (on many more screens), so it is unlikely the producer will make much of anything.

The film's problems are well described by x4mr and others. Yeah, Sirocco, nice to see free market principles at work. They might manage to come close to breaking even after all possible revenue (overseas, DVD, etc.) is gathered.

If the first installment loses money after all the initial excitement, the sequels would be a disaster. Those who paid to check out the first one at the theater out of curiosity will probably pass on the next one or just wait for a free rental at Netflix.

I'm starting to think x4mr may have gotten himself a life out there in Kentucky. Anyone know her name?

4/29/2011 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having read the book 2+ times, I can see how the ideas of Ayn Rand have come out in the movie. I don't understand why the net gross of the film has any bearing upon the quality. Although it did not make as much as I had personally hoped, I believe that if the right people are involved, and they are, there will be sequels that rival the first. After all, the novel only gets better as you read on...

11/08/2011 9:19 PM  

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