Friday, April 29, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, Part I: Or, Cortlandt Homes, Redux

It was startling to see the title, Atlas Shrugged, on the theater marquee. I did not expect to live long enough to witness it. Unfortunately, “Atlas Shrugged, Part I,” the movie, has little or nothing to do with the novel. It is a badly made template, with a lot of doodling in the film outside the stencil.

I have seen few movies that are one hundred percent successful translations of a novel to the screen. Even rarer are the movies that are superior to the novels. “Love Letters” (1945), with Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones, whose screenplay was written by Ayn Rand, bears little resemblance to Christopher Massie’s Love Letters, which is a literary and moral abomination. She was assigned the task of rendering the story into a shootable script. Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock was vastly improved on in the film version (1948) by Jonathan Lattimer, who removed most of the sociological and anti-business content and focused on the suspense. One could cite dozens of other instances of successful or near-successful book-to-screen adaptations.

The key to the successful translation of a novel to the screen is to essentialize the given plot. To essentialize a plot is to identify the key conflict or conflicts, ensure that the characters, dialogue, and action mesh with the plot, and to maintain the integration throughout. Thus the integrity of a novel (if it has one) can be honored. If a fiction writer’s task is to include only what contributes to a story, and to leave out what is not essential or what does not advance a story, then the screenwriter’s task is to repeat the process for transfer of the story to the audiovisual medium.

The credits state that “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” was based on Rand’s novel. Well, Steve Martin’s “Roxanne” was “based” on Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. But was the movie little else but a farce that cashed in on Rostand’s story? Massie’s novel and “Love Letters” also did that, but Rand’s screenplay added a theme to the Rostand story. “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” is not a farce, but a serious attempt intended to reduce a mountain to what its makers presumed would be a comprehensible molehill. The molehill was not the goal, but it was inevitable because of a failure to grasp, take seriously, and essentialize the governing elements of the novel.

There are only two fundamental ways to approach a viewing of “Atlas Shrugged, Part I”: With an intimate knowledge, love, and technical appreciation of the novel – its plot, its characters, its events, and its theme – or from either an ignorance of the novel Atlas Shrugged or a vague recollection of it from having read it long ago. The fortunate members of the audience are those who see the movie with absolutely no knowledge of Rand or the novel; they are pleasantly shocked to hear so much anti-government dialogue.

Most Americans who have seen or will see the movie fall into the second category. They have heard of the novel, and of Ayn Rand, its author, and have a foggy notion that she foretold the future – now their present. They recollect a very long story but have forgotten its details, or have never read it, and are now boosting sales of the novel over half a century after its publication. But most have a glimmering that she was right, and that the crisis and disasters confronting them in the news every day are too real to dismiss as fantasy or a matter of opinion, and are replicated in the novel and partly shown in the movie.

An intimate knowledge of the novel, however, should clash violently with what transpires on the screen. An ignorance or vague recollection of the novel’s story will not clash in the same manner with what happens (or does not happen) on the screen, but engender confusion and bewilderment. That should cause people who do read the novel, once they are deep into it, whether for a first time or after a long hiatus from it, to wonder what the movie’s makers were thinking.

If one is intellectually honest, the clash between the novel and the movie should lead one to conclude that the makers of the movie did not understand the novel, were consequently incapable of translating it successfully for the screen, and possibly did not think they needed to know either the novel or how to dramatize it. They had a budget, a cast, props, cameramen and digital capabilities for special effects, and all the other paraphernalia for making a movie. And a script written by a person who understood neither the theme, nor the spirit, nor the purpose of the novel, working with a director and producer who did not understand them, either. If the theme of the novel Atlas Shrugged is the role of man’s mind in existence, then the movie’s makers discarded the novel’s mind, its theme, and everything else. If they could not understand these things, then neither could they genuinely appreciate the novel.

If intellectuals have any purpose in the context of evaluating this movie, they will point out its many shortcomings and failings. But conservative intellectuals have used the debut of the movie as an excuse to (again) attack Rand and her philosophy without much critiquing the movie. So have leftist critics. These intellectuals and critics will not be discussed at length here. Most conservative critics are aghast by the public response to the movie. They treat it as an affront to their moral and political philosophy, and take their anger out on Rand herself. Their petulance is futile, and it must be especially enervating when they read that the movie has boosted sales of the novel, a development they could not have ever wished for. Leftists are in the same conundrum. All conservatives and leftists can do is throw printable and unprintable tantrums. This allegedly “badly written” novel has been trumping their malice, ad hominems, and bile for fifty-four years. They are feeling their own irrelevancy, and it hurts. That is some kind of justice.

My approach to the movie falls into the first category. I have read all manner of reasons, in the most benign mainstream reviews and also in personal correspondence, why I should like the movie, or at least not condemn it or subject it to any but the most superficial and irrelevant tiers of critical examination. These reasons fall into two main categories, as well: That, given the state of the culture, it is the best that can be expected from Hollywood; and that seeing it makes one feel good.

My reasoning in the first instance is: If one can be critical of the culture, why should the movie’s makers and the movie itself be exempt from such criticism? After all, they are products of the culture. In the spirit of pragmatism and anxious expediency, they took a priceless value and twisted it out of recognition for the sake of “the message.” The producers, director, and screenwriter all attempted a task that was beyond their talents and vision to successfully complete. What they produced was an entertaining polemic.

In the second instance, if one holds Atlas Shrugged as a supreme literary, moral, and philosophical value, then one cannot respond emotionally to “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” as a value that in any way complements the novel. One could not honestly be “entertained” by it and also hold the novel in the highest esteem. If one does, therein lurks a grave conflict in the valuer. The standard critical appraisal of the novel, however, one that has been repeated for decades by Left and Right alike, is that it is an anti-government polemic, which is not what Rand wrote.

Esthetically, the difference between the novel and the movie is the difference between Michelangelo’s “David” and a Hummel figurine. Or, in terms of literary accomplishment, the difference between the Empire State Building and a 7-11 convenience store.

To understand what Ayn Rand did write, see Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (Lexington Books, 2009).

An anonymous, non-Objectivist critic wrote one of the best appreciations of Rand’s abilities as a writer, and focuses on her writing craft in the novel. Towards the end of his appreciation, he notes:

Too often, amateurs are too obvious and throw out too few questions and reveal answers too quickly. I think many great authors are more disciplined about waiting until much later before revealing the big and little answers. They also toss up interesting developments to make you keep guessing and asking more questions.

Which is what the movie does not do, but that is a venial offence when compared with what other offences the movie commits.

Brian O’Toole, the chief screenwriter for the movie, in an interview offered a number of excuses and rationalizations for why the movie does not follow the novel, even though he claims it does.

When the pre-production screenplay was done, it was a very strong representation of the spirit of Ayn Rand’s novel.

Since we stayed very close to the structure of the novel, there was little reason for us to play fast and loose with the material. Except for the very beginning, fans of the novel will hopefully find themselves in very comfortable territory as we tell the story cinematically.

The “spirit” of Rand’s novel is not a gussied-up, big-budget daytime soap opera, and the movie is nowhere near the structure of the novel. It indeed plays “fast and loose” with that structure, as anyone familiar with the novel will attest to. In fact, the movie completely abandons it.

Among other obfuscations uttered by O’Toole is his repeated assurance that “purists” and “Rand fans” will like the movie even for its not following the structure of the novel and for omitting “small” details from the novel.

Since our production was modestly budgeted, we certainly couldn’t create a period piece (although the book was really a near-future story) nor create a Metropolis-type movie with big sets and futuristic props and vehicles. Luckily, the book is set in a realistic world. We have small updates like cell phones and no smoking, and the freight train on the John Galt Line may be a bit flashier than we see chugging along today, but I really think audiences will quickly ease into our world and be spellbound by the story being told.

Luck had nothing to do with it. Fantasy and horror appear to be O’Toole’s chief genres, so dealing with a “realistic world” must have been an educational experience for him. Cell phones? I once saw a stage production of Othello in which the principal characters produced cell phones to conduct the dialogue; this was the director’s way of saving himself the trouble of actually staging the play. It was also a way of saving the movie’s director the trouble of shooting crucial scenes (in which Rand’s dialogue does not appear anyway) in which it is critical that the characters are face-to-face.

No smoking? Hollywood, always the vehicle of political correctness in virtually all matters, has adopted an anti-smoking policy in its films that requires that smoking is done by villains only. In the movie, the character of Wesley Mouch lights up a stogie in a restaurant (but not in the novel, of course, and the restaurant is not the dark cellar on top of a skyscraper where the villains plot their next moves, as described by Rand in the novel, but a brightly lit, 21 Club-style restaurant), while the bizarre character of Hugh Akston is having a “dollar sign” cigarette in the back of a diner (one had to be quick to recognize the symbol on his cigarette; or was it a diner, and if so, was it his? No explanation). O’Toole boasts that he has big plans for “Atlas Shrugged, Part II.” How does he plan to handle the significant device of the dollar sign cigarettes in the novel, and not violate Hollywood’s anti-smoking rule? Replace them with Chia pottery planters that “grow” dollar signs? And once he gets to Galt’s Gulch, will Midas Mulligan’s tobacco patch be replaced with an avocado ranch?

O’Toole brazenly claims in the interview that he both remained true to the novel and did not.

It was decided early on in the development stage that we should try to personify Part I’s “spiriting-away” of the world’s producers. Producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro wanted audiences to know what John Galt said to the “men of mind” that convinced them to go to Atlantis—before the speech in Part III. Again, all of the deviations made from the book were done to make the film as entertaining as possible. Not everyone will agree with these changes. To them, I just want to say that we were always respectful to the novel. The job of the film is to, hopefully, intrigue people enough to pick up the book.

So, it was decided early on to discard all the suspense, mystery, and intrigue in the novel in favor of introducing Galt in the beginning. In the novel, we never learn what Galt actually says to any of the men he persuades to vanish; it is only when he has Dagny in Galt’s Gulch that he makes any statements. O’Toole’s assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, neither he nor Aglialoro nor Kaslow were “respectful” of the novel. One supposes that their notion of being “respectful” would be, for example, to transform someone like Audrey Hepburn into a Lady Gaga.

What follows is a list, by no means exhaustive, of randomly recalled blunders, gaffes, and outrages in the movie. These include plot-spoilers.

• The John Galt Line: The train running through Colorado. Okay. Nice scenery, great special effects. Should that salvage the movie? No.

• The Ellis Wyatt character was an overweight, obnoxious bozo who could have just as well been bragging about his lottery ticket wins. There is a difference between the genuine anger Wyatt shows in the novel and the bullying language of the movie. Further, there are no expletives in Rand’s novel (just a suggestion of one, by Rearden), but in the movie the Wyatt character utters them.

• The Francisco character, alleged owner of copper mines, behaved like Hugh Hefner, and looked like a scraggly, bearded Che Guevara clone with an entourage of bimbos. He displayed none of the elegance, style, panache, intensity, or any evidence that he was an aristocrat of the mind whom one encounters in the novel.

• The Orren Boyle character was a third-rate impersonation of a rival Godfather gangster.

• The "romantic" scene between Rearden and Dagny after the John Galt train run was reminiscent of a bar pick-up episode on "Two and a Half Men." What was lacking was any credible build-up to such a relationship between the characters. All one saw was some ambiguous eye contact between the characters.

• One of the most jarring scenes occurred in what looked like a church (the State Science Institute), between Dagny and Dr. Robert Stadler -- I guess it was supposed to be Stadler, because the character's name was never given, except perhaps once. They sit in a pew and try to have an earnest conversation. When Dagny rises to leave after some contextless chitchat, Stadler wishes her "good luck” in her search for the motor’s inventor. Excuse me?

• There is the Galt character showing up and accosting industrialists, looking like Freddie Kruger. I half expected him to whip out steel fingernails. I can imagine Rand’s Galt in a sports shirt and a tuxedo, but she would never have garbed him in a cheesy, thrift-store fedora and trench coat. Throughout the novel Galt is the invisible “immovable mover”; in the movie, he is introduced early on and thus was destroyed any suspense. At the film’s end the Galt character in a voice-over states who he is and why he is causing the industrialists to disappear. End of story.

• When Rearden and Dagny go to the abandoned factory of the 20th Century Motor Company to search for and find the incredible motor, they are all over the map in search of the inventor in no particular sequence that makes any sense.

• In the anniversary party segment, in the novel, Lillian wishes that Francisco hadn't come to the party, because she dislikes him. In the movie, they are shown as old friends and she busses him in welcome.

• In the anniversary party segment, there is little tension between Lillian and Dagny during their bracelet/necklace exchange; it could have been a friendly trade during a yard sale, or a mild spat between characters in “Desperate Housewives.”

• For a reason known only to the screenwriter, also in the Rearden anniversary party segment, one character tells another that "Balph Eubank" is at the party. But Eubank, a popular composer in the novel who appropriates Richard Halley’s music, is not a character in the movie, so there was no reason for his name to be mentioned.

• The guy (I will not call him an actor) who plays Hugh Akston, the vanished advocate of reason, was a diffident, middle-aged, rude slob in what looks like a white jump suit. He was no more a philosopher on strike than I am a retired astronaut. He played the part like Jim Carrey on medication. Alec Guinness he is not.

Another critique contradicts the movie- makers’ assertions that they were compelled to make all the changes they made for budgetary and length reasons. Film School Rejects published a convincing critique of the movie that blasts those assumptions to smithereens.

….[S]ince the biggest problem with the adaptation was buried in the structure of the movie, there’s one thing that would have made Atlas Shrugged: Part I a far, far better film.

Ready for it? Here it is:

Going By the Book

It seems achingly simple, but for some reason the writers, producers, director and editors of Atlas Shrugged took the elements of the book, jumbled them up slightly and turned John Galt into a shadowy, living non sequitur.

I could not agree more, except that the book’s elements were not “slightly” jumbled up, but tossed into a Cuisinart food mixer set on high, which created a pitcher of unappetizing glop. FSR demonstrates, scene by scene for “Part I,” that Aglialoro and O’Toole could have faithfully followed the sequence of events and still produced a great movie near budget and only half an hour longer. To wit:

…[T]he production hobbled itself by creating a foolishly short hour and forty-two minute runtime. They’re adapting a beast of a book, and didn’t even shoot for a full two hours. It’s baffling. A healthy portion of these plot moments exist in the movie, but the connective tissue isn’t there….

The production stripped the novel so far down that great character moments like the cigarette discussion, Halley’s music (as the first sign of the Galt mystery), the juxtaposition of the talks with Conway and Wyatt, Hank rebuking his mother (finally), and the announcement of everyone volunteering for the first run were left out while incredibly long shots of Colorado countryside and a nearly pointless dinner party languished on screen. There are signs that the production simply didn’t understand what made certain scenes important.

The heroes of Atlas Shrugged the novel command reverence, solemnity, and joy. The non-villain characters in “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” ask only that one tolerate their non-distinctive and belabored averageness.

In conclusion, producers Aglialoro and Kaslow have done what should not have been done: produced an adulterated product for the sake of “getting it out there,” regardless of its condition, to cash in on Rand’s growing popularity and relevance to what is going on in today’s world. It is irrelevant that Aglialoro invested $20 million of his own money in the project. If he and his colleagues had understood the novel, they should have “gone on strike” and not went through with the movie. But, they have appropriated the Rearden Metal of Ayn Rand’s novel and produced, not a “Lawrence of Arabia” or a “Gone with the Wind,” but something that is not even a reasonable facsimile of the novel.

They have employed a forged Gift Certificate that Rand never signed.


Teresa Hermiz said...

You have said it well, Ed. Yes there are bright moments like when Reardon gives his reason for not selling his metal, "Because it is mine" and the sign on Ellis Wyatt's property about leaving it the way he found it. We never see this on the big screen so it is a thrill. All the same every character was less than his portrayal in the novel and my own brain had to fill in the blanks that the movie should have shown. It is less than Cortlandt Homes which at least had the structure right. Ayn Rand would never have permited her name or this caricaturization of her book.

Anonymous said...

Here is another reason not to like or sanction the movie:

Aglialoro has taken government money to expand his business.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ed! A 5-star review of a 0-star movie...


Anonymous said...

I have an idea: Instead of criticizing it, why don't you go and write your own Atlas Shrugged Script, plug it to studios, get rejected, do it on your own money and then publish and release it to theaters on your own dime knowing full well that no matter what you produced a large portion of Rand fans will hate it and getting others to watch it will be almost impossible because of the main stream media's hatred for anything Rand?

Oh that's right, you likely don't have the talent, money or fortitude to do so.

While the movie is by no means perfect, it's a damn site better then Atlas Shrugged Movie that Rand didn't write, produce or release, and it's a hell of a lot better than the non-event that the ARI and et al. have argued over for decades without doing anything with either.

The essence that you describe that is missing in the story is one that is incredibly hard to capture. One that would require the best of actors and more so, actors that not only understand but are scholars of Rand's work. Since you're not going to find 20 actors of that caliber in the entire world, good luck ever making the movie.

That you don't like it and think that is fell short, fine. But Rand had an excellent saying about critics...

And we now have a movie that we can take the short attention spaned, largely ignorant and shallow thinking public to, and have them GET IT. It is by no means a complete understanding, but it's a hell of a lot better than no understanding, and worse brainwashing by a progressive, socialist evil media and political system that we have today.

So here here to the writers, producers and actors that risked being black balled in Hollywood to make this movie. They have a hell of a lot of guts, and for that, I thank them.

Anonymous said...

BTW, Ed:

Rand took government money in the form of Medicare and SS, far more than she ever put into it.

So by your logic Rand is evil too.


Edward Cline said...

Anonymous: It is interesting that you didn’t sign your comments under your real name, and chose to hide behind “Anonymous.” Under this cowardly ruse you charge me with lacking talent, money and fortitude. Allow me to set you straight: I have written fifteen novels – the Sparrowhawk series featured in the banner above, one suspense series, and two detective series – all of which are being published in one form or another. I am a novelist, not a screenwriter.

This is aside from nearly a million words in political commentary, book and movie reviews, essays on a multitude of subjects for various publications and reference books before and after the advent of the Internet. So, I have been at odds with this culture for over forty years. It has been a hard and costly fight. Success and triumph have been slow in coming, but they happened, because I had the “fortitude,” or, what Rand once called, “moral endurance.” This should answer your insults about my lacking talent and fortitude.

Your remarks about Aglialoro’s travails in making the movie, distributing it, etc., are all irrelevant. He and his colleagues, including David Kelley, are responsible for trashing a great piece of literature. This was a deliberate, conscious act, amounting to sabotage, and there is no innocence that can be claimed in it.

It is interesting that you raise the subject of Rand accepting government money. I have made enquiries regarding that charge. But I did not discuss John Aglialoro’s Massachusetts “stimulus” money in my article here. I learned of it after posting the article. The subject is being discussed on Facebook, so I gather that is where you learned of my position on the subject. Perhaps it was even news to you. I may write about that subject, too, and the insults you levy on Rand. Be warned. Don’t throw stones at anyone; he may have bigger ones to hurl back.

Edward Cline

Joe said...

Ed, great review. I know a lot of people really wanted to like this movie, or maybe I should say that we were hoping it would be likable. My only hope is that it will prompt someone to remake it in the near future.
Best regards,

revereridesagain said...

Anonymous, some of us have been watching the walk-up to this movie lurch along for upwards of 45 years. We all know about the outrageous proposals with the space aliens and the disintegrator rays, all the plans that fell through, all the actors we had pegged to play Dagny and Reardon and Galt who are now either dead or grandparents. Yes, somebody finally got a movie made. No, they did not do a very good job of it. Yes, it will nudge some of the more freedom-minded non-Objectivists in the audience to go read the novel. You are absolutely right, we can finally drag some of these people to a, movie of "Atlas Shrugged" that has just enough intact content to persuade them to pick up the book. That's the silver lining to this particular cloud wall. And, someday, someone will make OUR movie of "Atlas".

Teresa nailed it: What's so damn annoying about watching that movie is continually having to fill in the blanks that it should have shown, dramatized, immortalized on screen. I hate having to sit there and "re-direct" a movie as I go along. That is way, way above my pay scale.

Given O'Toole's reported comments about interpreting the "Atlas" villains as "well-meaning", Aglialoro taking money from our Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick a.k.a. "Obama Lite", and David Kelley in general, I can't really say I'm surprised. And yes, they could have done it better. I would wager that most of us here could tell you scene by scene, line by line, exactly how they could have done it better. Nobody is "nit-picking" this movie. We are just pointing out the obvious.

They should've had Ed write the screenplay. It would have blown their doors off. If you don't think so, read that "Sparrowhawk" series of his.

Anonymous said...

RevereRides: Thanks for the boost. Actually, if you go to the Film School Rejects link I provided, you can see exactly how the movie could have been shot scene by scene, following the novel's sequence of events, and added only 45 minutes to the run-time. But I think Kelley and Company had other things in mind other than maintaining continuity and other bothersome tasks in the scripting and filming of the movie.


Anonymous said...

Ed: You said: "Massie’s novel and “Love Letters” also did that, but Rand’s screenplay added a theme to the Rostand story." Did you mean Massie's story?

--Michael Gold

Anonymous said...

Ed: Oh, nice review. Loved it -- as I do your writing in general. Thanks.

--Michael Gold

Edward Cline said...

Michael Gold: She added a theme to both Massie's and Rostand's stories; in Massie's an actual theme, other than the implicit malevolent one in the novel; to Rostand's, via the film, the the explicit statement of the importance of not trying to fake reality, which was only implicit in Rostand's play.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ed for a great review and practicing A is A instead of pretending that A is not A. There are many categories of those who like or dislike this movie, but the most disappointing are the Objectivists that I respect that are practicing evasion in order to like this movie.

Is it because this is a time when we sometimes can only get news from a network that has to be “fair and balanced”? Have the doctrines of “give the benefit of the doubt”, “be politically correct”, and “turn the other cheek” caused these wishful evaluations?

One of the things that this controversy has accomplished, I hope, is to cause some Objectivists to check their premises and realize that “seeing Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand on the big screen with increased book sales” is not enough reason to condone an atrocity. The end does not in any way justify the means. Praising a few out of context and still poorly done scenes while not condemning the overall direction and consequences of this movie is whim worship and hypocritical.

We who refuse to compromise and are unafraid to judge are now being called “militant purists” by those who should know better. We are accused of “sitting on the side lines and being critical while others are fighting the battle for liberty”. We are proud to be militant purists when it comes to Objectivism and Atlas Shrugged. Those who think otherwise and refuse to reconsider their position either need to join or stay with the “Kelleyites” or profess to be Libertarians without the need for “why” as the movie demonstrated.

Militant purists who stuck to their principles of individual rights gave this country its Constitutional Republic. The degree of compromise that was allowed then and has continued has led to where we are today. Is this the time for Objectivists to lose their militant purity? I don’t think so. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, this is the time to do the job... not your miserable best.

Terry Carter

Anonymous said...

Rand took government money in the form of Medicare and SS, far more than she ever put into it.

This is bullshit. I'm reproducing here a comment from this New Clarion thread on this subject:

You would have to calculate, not just the amount you have paid in taxes, but the wealth you could have built had you been able to keep it. This is a crucial point. The government leaves you enough of your income to survive on; it is your seed corn that is being drained away and consumed by others.

If you pay $10,000 in taxes in one year when you start out in your career at 25, that money could have grown to more than $400,000 by the time you reach 65 if you had been able to invest it at a 10% return. That is based on just one year of taxes.

Substitute your own numbers, do your own math. There is no way to actually calculate the impoverishment you are experiencing as a result of taxation. And because the government takes your investment money and spends it on consumption, the potential wealth is never realized. The government doesn’t control that $400,000 now; it just burned your $10,000 on feeding a street bum — or building a turtle tunnel.

The government is actively destroying future wealth in the name of present consumption. No matter how much money you might be able to get “refunded” via social programs, it would never be more than a fraction of what was taken away from you.

The government confiscated millions from Rand if you do the proper math. They also inflated the cost of health care enormously. Ayn Rand was entirely justified in taking the SS and Medicare payments that she was forced to pay into her whole life.

This is just one asshole argument.


Shane Atwell said...

Good review. Still, I can't manage to get upset by the movie. For me its all about the book and not only has the movie increased readership for the book, but its managed something I'd never have predicted. It has turned all sorts of movie critics into _defenders_ of the book. The movie is functioning as some kind of foil to compare the book to and seems to have made many writers realize how good it actually is. Its like everyone was criticizing the book for decades for being shallow, having wooden characters, being too preachy etc and now that this movie comes out and actually has all those vices, they realize the book is deep, convincing and well dramatized.

Edward Cline said...

Shane Atwell: Just about the only good thing to come from the movie is that some of the people motivated to read the novel, will read it. But that will boomarang back on the movie's makers; those people will wonder why the movie differs so much from the novel. And that will boomarang on all those alleged Objectivists who defend the movie with all sorts of excuses and rationalizations, and by implication forgive David Kelley for appropriating Objectivism and turning it into a "tolerant, open-ended" system. Aglialoro is guilty of being a mere ignoramus and hack screenwriter. Kelley is guilty of prostituting a great piece of literature. But the guiltiest are those who say, "Oh, well, it wasn't perfect, but...."


Anonymous said...

Interesting that almost everyone posts as anonymous on here and you only take exception to one person posting as Anonymous because they actually disagree with you.

Again, write the screen play, get it funded, actors cast, and get it made, and get someone to watch your 10 hour movie with every single little detail that will bore the hell out of most shallow minds and thus fail in the purpose of making a movie, because for the "true believers" no movie is necessary. Then and only then will you have the right to criticize what they were able to accomplish. Risk bankruptcy because you believe so passionately that this movie should be made. Risk everything you have. Everything you have accomplished. Risk never getting a job again in your chosen field. When you've demonstrated that level of courage and moral righteousness then you might be in a place to criticize. Until then, you're just another hack sitting on the sidelines playing arm chair quarterback because you happened to get a series of books published after Terry Goodkind made Objectivist (-like since I'm sure you'll attack him too) novels popular and publishers were searching high and low for people that wrote novels even slightly like he did with similar philosophical themes. (I'm not belittling your novels, but I'm am putting your accomplishment in proper context.)

Yes, the movie may not be perfect. But given the 0 that everyone else produced, they did a hell of a lot better than everyone else's attempts.

(including Rand herself)


Anonymous said...

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt (yes even bad Presidents get it right sometimes)

In short, until you've accomplished what others have not, you have no right to judge the efforts of a man who embarked on a project that all others had failed at, and who did so because of the highest of moral standards, and purpose. If there was a moral flaw in his purpose, then yes, you're entitled to condemn him. But there is not. At least none, that the writer of the book didn't also suffer from (SS, Medicare) if you can call it, that.

To Aglialoro:

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.”

- Ayn Rand

Keep on fighting. Fight to make the other two movies. Fight to make money so that you can. Ignore those that attack you from left, right, and Objectivist and keep going. I for one am proud of what you have done, and what you have accomplished despite everything that stood in your way. It's not perfect, but you did it. With the tools you had, you made the best that was possible while everyone else coward in a corner afraid to take a chance! So here's to you John. You're one of the few!

(But yes, I agree with you that David Kelley et. al. are doing Objectivism no favors. It's very sad.)

Edward Cline said...

Anonymous: Don't lecture me on this subject. A piece of crap is a piece of crap, that describes the movie, and it's disappointing that so many people will not acknowledge it. (And I notice that you haven't written under your own name, either.) I have every right to criticize not only that train wreck of a movie, but the people responsible for it. And I wish people would stop rejoining, "When you've accomplished this that and the other, and risked your own money, etc. etc. then you can criticize etc. etc." because I have accomplished what I set out to do, and at great risk and cost, more than you can imagine, and my work is not adulterated with compromising changes, is not watered down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Aglialoro is an ignoramus, putty in the hands of David Kelley, who, while he professed some objections about the movie, still put his seal of approval on the movie. And stop quoting Rand as though you knew what the hell you were talking about. And stop lecturing me about “courage” and “moral righteousness,” because I have first-hand experience in those matters. As for my being a “hack,” I’ve discarded better writing than the script of the movie. So, do me a favor and stop posting on this site, because your remarks are about as welcome as being awarded the Medal of Freedom by Obama.

Ed Cline

jayeldee said...

Nice rejoinder, Ed! I like a man who doesn't take crap from his inferiors (or superiors, for the matter of that, if any there be).

This crowd's crowing that "a bad attempt is better than none". I think these are the same people that typically vote Republican (or are tempted to), because that gang is supposedly "more capitalistic", which is better than being not, at all. As Ayn Rand pointed out, however, the danger is that Capitalism gets misrepresented in the process, and eventually the concept itself runs the risk of being all but obliterated. I think the same danger is posed when junk masquerading as Objectivism is pawned off on the movie-going masses.

Anyway--nice rejoinder, Ed!

Michael said...

From a long-time lurker on this blog:

In response to that anonymous guy who says we should write a script and risk our own money before being critical of this movie, all I have to say is that the rights to the movie are not open to everyone. Ed couldn't write a script and shoot a movie of it even if he wanted to. The whole reason they even started working on producing the movie was to retain the rights to it before it expired.

Personally, I hope they don't finish the trilogy. I shudder to think what they might do about the big speech in part three.

Edward Cline said...

Michael: I hope they don't attempt to make Parts I and II, either. You noted: "I shudder to think what they might do about the big speech in part three." So do I. Only Rand could encapsulate Galt's Speech, as she did for Roark's trial speech in The Fountainhead. I certainly wouldn't attempt it, wouldn't trust Kelley to do it, and I know of no one else who could.


revereridesagain said...

Anonymous: Since when do any of us have to "write the screen play, get it funded, find the actors, get it made" to acquire the right to criticize this or any other movie? Nobody comes away from seeing a movie they didn't like trying to deny their own reactions by reference to all the money and effort the producers expended in making the film. That is simply irrelevant. The result was either successful or it wasn't. Maybe some members of the "short attention spanned, largely ignorant, and shallow thinking public" will be find this movie satisfying, but I'm not one of them and I didn't. There is no rational reason whatever for me to "try" to like the way it was done just because someone took the effort to make it.


Neil Parille said...


Do you support Leonard Peikoff's allowing people like Harriman and Mayhew to rewrite Rand's material?

Isn't this worse than anything Kelley did?

Edward Cline said...

Neil Parille: Yes, I support that, whatever in hell you’re talking about. In fact, I support rewriting the Constitution Obama style, rewriting Gone with the Wind, reducing the Constitution to three paragraphs, completely revising the works of Aristotle, and reworking the biography of Woodrow Wilson so he’s credited with killing Osama bin Laden.

You are the most annoying, off-topic, malicious little bugger. You don’t read this site to learn anything. You read it o find feet of clay or errors or lapses in grammar and when you imagine you’ve found something, you snicker and whip out your little pen knife. You’re like the class goofs who throw spitballs at the teacher. I’m going to ask the owner of this site to permanently block you from making any comments. I'm tired of finding your presumptuous, rancorous remarks here.

Ryan said...

Ed, while I agree with some of your critique of this movie, I do not agree with the style of critique.

Throughout much of your review you are relying on intimidation over fact. You are saying if you have read Rand and liked the movie (or even give this movie a pass) you did not understand the novel.

You make the claim that the theme of the book does not exist in the movie, yet I thought the theme was pretty well maintained. With that said, I agree that the movie leaned more toward a criticism of government than an argument for the the importance of man's mind. Yet I do not think it was completely ignored. I would like to hear your arguments why you think this, not why I am an idiot for thinking otherwise.

I would like to point out the scene with Dagny and Jim, when they first discuss using Rearden Metal on what will become the John Galt line. That conversation in which Jim demands to know who Dagny is relying on in her trust of Rearden Metal, is about that importance of the individual's mind.

I also disagree with you on a couple of your claims of scenes/character misrepresentations.

Lillian Rearden acted as though she and Francisco were old friends at the anniversary party in the book. Lillian admits to disliking Francisco but at the party acts the way Lillian acts in the movie.

Also Francisco character is playing the part of the "playboy" in Part I. I do not expect him to look like an aristocrat, I expect him to look like a spoiled sloppy drunk in nice cloths surrounded by bimbos. I am curious why you think this is such a ridiculous portrayal that it is worth mentioning?

In a side note:
Do you have any evidence to support a claim that the producer, director and Kelley intentionally sabotaged the movie?

"He and his colleagues, including David Kelley, are responsible for trashing a great piece of literature. This was a deliberate, conscious act, amounting to sabotage, and there is no innocence that can be claimed in it."

That is quite the allegation to throw out there without any explanation. What would their motivation be?

Joel Marquez said...

So here's what I noticed.
Most of the defenders of the movie haven't made a defense of the movie. They have "defended" the movie on the grounds that it will get people to read the book, or effect cultural change, or be some kind of bulwark against socialism. (Or they have "defended" the movie by attacking its critics.)
I haven't seen very many viewers that were thrilled by the skillful execution of the plot, or moved by exquisite performances, or swept away by the beauty of its iconic visual imagery.
Know why that is?

It's because the plot was haphazard and arbitrary, a confusing travelogue of "best-of" moments from the book, arranged without any sense of causality.
(What in the world are Hugh Akston and Robert Stadler doing here? We see them for about two seconds cumulatively, and they disappear, serving no plot purpose.)

It's because the actors, while skilled, were let down by a cobbled together script that could not inform their characters objectives in any given scene because their behavior was not set up by previous scenes, and a director who had no idea what to tell them from moment to moment on the set.
(Look at Patrick "Paul Larkin" Fischler, a very skilled actor, brilliant in supporting roles such as Mad Men. He's supposed to be Judas, seduced by a few pieces of silver, but the script never gives him the moments of being attracted to power, so as an actor he has nothing to play and he just looks confused. Look at Grant "Hank Rearden" Bowler in the anniversary party scene. He has no idea how to react to Dagny's bizarre bracelet exchange. It's bizarre because it comes out of nowhere, there was no conflict being resolved by the action because there was no conflict in the scene period. Thus, Bowler as an actor has no idea how to play his reaction to Dagny's action, and it shows on his face and in his eyes. As in: "You're insane but I don't know what I'm supposed to do with you right now." And then look at Taylor "Dagny" Schilling in pretty much any scene in which she either looks petulant, confused, or blank. Choosing blank was a good choice for her because the script gave her nothing to play.)

And it's because the director, a last minute hire, was and is a television hack whose skill (valuable in the world of television) is in doing whatever it takes to get your show shot in a brutally short period of time.
(For visual spectacle, let's talk about that John Galt Line scene, the one that everyone seems to like. What the hell? Really? Every single scenic vista helicopter shot laced with CGI is undercut by the damned cabin of the train. You guys spent at least a few hundred thousand on CGI, if not more, and you couldn't throw a few bucks for production design on the train so it wouldn't look like three blank white walls and a logo? This is what happens when you rush. You get a few pretty shots, and then you have to cut it with something that looks like crap, and you look like a bunch of amateurs, which you are.)

(to be cont.)

Joel Marquez said...

(cont. from previous)

This is a bad movie.

This is a bad movie that will make good ideas look bad because stupid, arbitrary characters speak words that sound like they're good ideas because we read the book and know the context, but will sound stupid and arbitrary because they drop the necessary context when spoken in this stupid movie.

I'm not being hyperbolic here. This movie's dialogue sounds laughable and obnoxious if you don't already know the context of the novel. And saying that it's an impossible job to set that context in the movie does not change the fact that it's laughable and obnoxious.
(Of course, I also completely disagree that it's impossible to set the proper context for this movie. But I acknowledge that if you are a hack and you do not know what you're doing, it is an impossible task.)

You may think that calling this bad movie a bad movie will keep it from being the agent of social change that you think it will be.

But don't be surprised if awfulness of the movie KEEPS people from reading the source material.
None of this is automatic.

You can't just slap an Atlas Shrugged label on crap and expect it to change the world.

Joel Marquez said...

To Ryan's question about Francisco's portrayal, I'd like to say the following:

Casting this guy and making him look like trust-fund eurotrash cruising for skanks outside the Key Club on Sunset Blvd is a perfect example of the superficiality of the producers and their choices.

There's a big difference between a character who is only pretending to be a playboy, and someone who looks like they really are on a three day bender.

The producers cast for "jet-setting playboy," not brilliant aristocratic businessman deep undercover for a world-wide conspiracy to take down the motor of the world. Because of the choice they made in casting, they reveal their thinking to be "how do we find someone who looks like a degenerate" vs. "how do we find someone who is pretending to be a degenerate in order to take down the world?"

Or to put it in a way that I've expressed elsewhere...
Francisco is not Russell Brand, he's Bruce Wayne.

David said...

You make some reasonable criticisms but vitiate your analysis with an overblown indictment that does not follow. The producers are villains for actually going ahead and making the movie? The movie is a flawed adaptation, but not worthless. And the notion that Aglialoro is some kind of wretch for doing what he could despite all the obstacles he's faced is a worse that erroneous assertion.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the film, and may never do so, but - If someone else isn't going to say this, I will:

In the second instance, if one holds Atlas Shrugged as a supreme literary, moral, and philosophical value, then one cannot respond emotionally to “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” as a value that in any way complements the novel. One could not honestly be “entertained” by it and also hold the novel in the highest esteem.

Actually, sunshine, we'll be the judge of that, thanks all the same, and we'll be the judge of that without any not-so-subtle moral blackmail or third-rate intellectual bullying.

As regards the book, you might want to read and reread the section where Dagny marvels at Jim's technique, when he assumes that because he has said what her reaction will be, she is incapable of reacting in any other way. It's a line you might want to paste into your hat.

Anonymous said...

Joel Marquez: Great dissection of the movie. My hat is off to you.

Anonymous: The one who quoted me and then wrote: "Actually, sunshine, we'll be the judge of that, thanks all the same, and we'll be the judge of that without any not-so-subtle moral blackmail or third-rate intellectual bullying."

Seems I touched a nerve, and you stooped to the derogatory "sunshine" name-calling. My making a value judgment and communicating it to any and all comers is an instance of "moral blackmail" or "third-rate intellectual bullying"? Then you may as well call Rand that, as well. You can't hold poison and food as equal sustainers of life or of values, as matters of opinion. The movie is poison, and the novel is food. Go figure.


Slade Calhoun said...

Spot-on review, Mr. Cline. Love your title. I sat in the theater thinking I was in a dream. The characters had names from the novel Atlas Shrugged, but nothing made sense. I cannot speak for what lies in the producers' hearts, but the movie had an uncanny resemblance to what would have been made if one hated the novel and didn't want to be overt about it. Let's just call it the low-IQ version of AS. Or the libertarian version. To understand the novel as the typical libertarian does is to not understand it at all. It just happens to be the greatest book ever written; it deserves better. Some day, someone will make a real movie out of Atlas Shrugged--and it will be stunning indeed.

Anonymous said...

Your making judgments on the nature, on the internal natures, of those you haven't met, have not interacted with, have not studied or - apparently - thought about for more than four seconds, and moreover to know more about those internal natures than they do themselves, does constitute third-rate intellectual bullying. This is the sort of stuff that I'd expect from a sub-Pharisaical carnie preacher or a Freudian mystic. And you would equate yourself to Ayn Rand by these tactics?

Miss Rand wrote that men are not to be condemned or excused on the grounds of their subconscious, and that one should avoid 'rash, indiscriminate moralizing'. There's another line you might want to paste into your hat.

Ryan said...

@ Joel

Francisco is a man who through a party in a melting palace and instructed all the women there to remove their cloths in cadence with the melting of the palace. I argue that he played the part of the playboy convincingly. He relied on women spreading stories about his conquests.

"There's a big difference between a character who is only pretending to be a playboy, and someone who looks like they really are on a three-day bender"

I don't think he should look like Prince Harry visiting the court, but Prince Harry on a three-day bender. Francisco was incredibly successful at everything he did, including convincing everyone he was a drunk playboy. I think Dagny's character would not be convinced if he acted like the old Francisco when he was around her. It follows the story that he should look the way he did.

Slade Calhoun said...

Ryan, above: Prince Harry visiting the court would not have passed muster either. Too vacuous looking. I see that we agree on how Francisco "looked" in the movie, a wino dressed up in a suit. Didn't he also slouch? And sport a spare tire? Dagny would have judged him by his actions, even if he looked like a young, intelligent Errol Flynn.

Prashant said...

Another crucial aspect missing from Hank Rearden's portrayal in the movie is the absence of conflict in Rearden's character. In the first part of the novel, Hank is torn apart by the two different moral codes he holds in his professional and personal life.

Hence, in the novel, while he is comfortable with meeting Dagny in office, discussing business, he appears a completely different person to Dagny at his home in the anniversary segment.

As later revealed in the novel, Hank wants Dagny from the first moment he sees her but because of his acceptance of conventional worldly standards, he feels an unreasoning duty toward his wife Lillian. The essence here is to capture the conflict in the character.

In the movie, the expressions as well as the actual dialogue completely destroys Hank's character. Hank shows no strain talking to Dagny in the anniversary segment and they even have a toast to their successes for the new Rearden Metal track.

If someone has read, Ayn Rand's "The Romantic Manifesto", she has explained the how the effect of "humanizing" a character can be outrageous.

I agree with Ed: "The list of blunders, gaffes and outrages is by no means exhaustive."


Ryan said...

@ Slade,

I don't disagree with anything you said. My argument isn't that Francisco's character is spot on, but that the portrayal of Francisco in the Movie is not an abomination of the book, which is what Edward has used it as an example of.

Could he have been played by a Bruce Wayne looking man who didn't loosen his tie and slouch? Sure. But the way he was played is not an example of how the movie destroyed Rand's vision.

Andrew said...

Mr. Cline, your review is spot on. I laughed out loud at the Freddy Kreuger reference.

I also think Kurt Loder's review at nails it, at least from the perspective of what makes a good movie.

People are quick to accept this movie simply because it involves Ayn Rand and Objectivism, in however minor a form. Incredibly unfortunate.

It must be judged on it's own terms, and nothing else. Forget the adaptation, as a movie it's a ridiculous failure. Bad cinematography, horrible screenplay, bad casting, bad acting, etc.

As an adaptation, I agree with your review on all accounts. In particular your assessment of Hugh Akston as well as John Galt the character.

THIS is the guy they picked to be THE philosophy professor for Galt, D'Anconia and Danneskjold? Absolutey absurd.

The biggest fault, to me, was the complete giving away of the Galt character at the end of the movie. The further kick in the teeth being his hamfisted dialogue/voiceover, "I'm simply trying to cultivate a society that values individual achievement." GAH!!! (cringe).
Total and utter ruin of THE chief tool of suspense in Atlas Shrugged and done so with flatulent, high school drama class dialogue.

Here's to hoping part's II and III do not get made.

Is it wrong that I still hope the Sparrowhawk series will be made into six films?

Edward Cline said...

Andrew: Thanks for your remarks here. Yes, I too laughed when I thought of the Freddy Krueger comparison. Couldn't resist it and it was an apt comparison.

As for Sparrowhawk, there are to ideal formats for the series: a trilogy that combines two titles at a time, and a six-part TV series, two hours devoted to each title. The series has a number of major plots and subplots that cannot be segregated or split apart. The whole story must be told. Of course, if Aglialoro, O'Toole, and Kelley got their hands on it, that would be a besmirching of my name, too. And, unlike Ayn Rand, I'd still be alive to exact my vengeance.


David said...

For a more objective review that acknowledges the movie's flaws without downplaying or ignoring its virtues (and without ludicrously condemning its makers for having the temerity to even attempt an adaptation), see C.A. Wolski's piece at The Objective Standard, available online:

Edward Cline said...

David (comment no. 40): Mine is as objective a review of the slapdash, sloppy, reckless, rip-off-of-Rand disaster that is Aglialoro's "Atlas Shrugged, Part I" as one can expect in terms of an honest, non-wishful thinking appraisal of it. I don’t merely “acknowledge” the film’s flaws; I say the whole film is flawed and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I do condemn its makers for having the temerity to even attempt it, because they knew from the start that they did not have the resources or capital or even the moral and esthetic integrity or the writing and directorial skills, but went ahead with production anyway just to “get the message” out, and before Aglialoro’s option on the film rights expired. If I knocked together some planks and fashioned them into a go-cart with discarded lawnmower wheels and no motor and a Bobble Head hood ornament and told you it was a Jaguar or a Cadillac, you’d rightfully call me a fraud. Aglialoro’s film opus is just that, a cinematic go-cart with Rand’s name plastered all over it. If Aglialoro, O’Toole, Kelley and the others wanted to produce an anti-government polemic, they should have had the decency to write their own script, and not butcher and bowdlerize Rand’s novel. If you want to thumb your nose at anyone, thumb it at Aglialoro with the loudest raspberries you can muster.
Ed Cline

Edward Cline said...

David: I just read C. A. Wolski's review of the movie. Mr. Puff in Sheridan's "The Critic" couldn't have written a more vacuous, presumptuous encomium than his review.

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Puff in Sheridan's "The Critic" couldn't have written a more vacuous, presumptuous encomium than his review."

Oh, I don't know. You seemed to manage fine.

Anonymous said...

I just do not understand why on earth a significant fraction of Objectivists decide that Platonism is just what the doctor ordered.

Edward Cline said...

Anonymous: The one who wrote the retort about Mr. Puff and ended, "Oh, I don't know. You seemed to manage fine" -- I would not take your estimate of my writing more seriously even had you chose not to hide behind the mask of anonymity. Readers of this blog are presumably above spit balls and other cowardly pranks.