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Peter T Chattaway

Atlas Shrugged

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Variety says -

A monument of American literature is shaved down to a spindly toothpick of a movie ... But even this stuffy, shut-in approach would be reasonable if only the dialogue crackled and the tempers flared from time to time, as they do on nearly every one of Rand's 1,200 pages...

From The Hollywood Reporter -

... several were planned at various points over the past four decades--would have been a preferable way to go with this didactic, sometimes risible but still powerful material.

It'll be too easy for all the reviews to just blame the filmmakers for this. They're all just automatically assuming that Rand's book was actually good to begin with.

Well, it's not as if there aren't examples of good films - even great films - being made from badly written, or just plain bad stories. The Godfather easily comes to mind. That's a horribly written book, but one that has a compelling story that works much better on screen. Another I'd site is Rand's The Fountainhead - I couldn't stand the book, but I caught the film late one night and was completely drawn in. And even though I didn't care for much of Atlas Shrugged the novel, I do think there is enough material in there to make a film worthy of some good discussion, whether you agree with Rand's philosophy or not.

What looks to be the problem with film version of Atlas Shrugged (and this is just from the reviews and interviews I've read, not on seeing the film) is that you have a lot of people involved with the production who hold the story too close to their hearts, and feel that every bit of story that Rand wrote needs to be put on screen. It appears they don't know what to let go of, and working on the limited budget they have, they really should be paring down the book to essentials. This is why the first two Harry Potter films don't work for me - too much of JK Rowling's hand in the mix during production. But once JK Rowling stepped back a bit for Prisoner of Azkaban, I finally saw a film that involved me with those characters.

Looking back through some threads, I did come across one topic about films that are better than their source material.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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Well, it's not as if there aren't examples of good films - even great films - being made from badly written, or just plain bad stories. The Godfather easily comes to mind. That's a horribly written book, but one that has a compelling story that works much better on screen. Another I'd site is Rand's The Fountainhead - I couldn't stand the book, but I caught the film late one night and was completely drawn in. And even though I didn't care for much of Atlas Shrugged the novel, I do think there is enough material in there to make a film worthy of some good discussion, whether you agree with Rand's philosophy or not.

Didn't Hitchcock famously prefer adapting mediocre novels so that he could change stuff around and not get accused of butchering a masterpiece?

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Well, it's not as if there aren't examples of good films - even great films - being made from badly written, or just plain bad stories. The Godfather easily comes to mind. That's a horribly written book, but one that has a compelling story that works much better on screen. Another I'd site is Rand's The Fountainhead - I couldn't stand the book, but I caught the film late one night and was completely drawn in. And even though I didn't care for much of Atlas Shrugged the novel, I do think there is enough material in there to make a film worthy of some good discussion, whether you agree with Rand's philosophy or not.

Didn't Hitchcock famously prefer adapting mediocre novels so that he could change stuff around and not get accused of butchering a masterpiece?

If he was still around today, he would've been all over the Twilight movies.

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Well, it's not as if there aren't examples of good films - even great films - being made from badly written, or just plain bad stories. The Godfather easily comes to mind. That's a horribly written book, but one that has a compelling story that works much better on screen. Another I'd site is Rand's The Fountainhead - I couldn't stand the book, but I caught the film late one night and was completely drawn in. And even though I didn't care for much of Atlas Shrugged the novel, I do think there is enough material in there to make a film worthy of some good discussion, whether you agree with Rand's philosophy or not.

Didn't Hitchcock famously prefer adapting mediocre novels so that he could change stuff around and not get accused of butchering a masterpiece?

If he was still around today, he would've been all over the Twilight movies.

And why not? It could be like To Catch a Thief crossed with Psycho. :P

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Some odd reactions out there to this one. I'd love to hear from anyone who's seen the film.

I don't know much about the book and have only a slight interest in the film, but given that the movie is targeted to conservatives and might have follow-ups on the way (right? doesn't the filmmaker have rights to make another two films?), the fate of this first film interests me.

A week ago, everything I had heard indicated that the film is a bust, but the sense of disappointment was wrapped up in the low-budget approach that resulted in little-known actors taking lead roles. Now, maybe those actors give poor performances, but it was hard to tell if that was the case, or if the lack of star power was an overriding disappointment.

Yesterday I saw positive reviews from a couple of Right-leaning columnists. They both went long in discussing the ideas of the story without going into much detail about the execution of those ideas via the film medium. Meanwhile, with Paul Ryan's budget in the news, and his love of Rand's work, I've seen a few Left-leaning columnists blasting Rand and film in the context of broader stories on the budget battles.

So it's been a little difficult to sort out the film's quality, or lack there of, from reviewers who seem to have a stake in larger cultural battles. And, let's face it, even full-time film critics bring political and cultural ideas to their reviews; they just aren't as obvious about it.

Anyone who's seen the film want to jump in?

Edited by Christian

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I don't know much about the book and have only a slight interest in the film, but given that the movie is targeted to conservatives and might have follow-ups on the way (right? doesn't the filmmaker have rights to make another two films?), the fate of this first film interests me.

I haven't seen the film and I won't see the film. This is because ... (1) I'm personally a die-hard political conservative with even a few libertarian streaks (thanks to taking a couple law & economics classes in law school from Walter Williams). But I could care less about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, period. Thus, since I am apparently the filmmakers' target audience, I can guarantee the film will fail. Rand and American conservatism have never exactly got along. (2) I've actually read Atlas Shrugged in college. After reading it, I concluded that one could make a more interesting film adaptation of my college chemistry textbook than of Rand's greatest novel.

Yesterday I saw positive reviews from a couple of Right-leaning columnists. They both went long in discussing the ideas of the story without going into much detail about the execution of those ideas via the film medium. Meanwhile, with Paul Ryan's budget in the news, and his love of Rand's work, I've seen a few Left-leaning columnists blasting Rand and film in the context of broader stories on the budget battles. So it's been a little difficult to sort out the film's quality, or lack there of, from reviewers who seem to have a stake in larger cultural battles. And, let's face it, even full-time film critics bring political and cultural ideas to their reviews; they just aren't as obvious about it.

Isn't rather difficult to keep politics out of your film review, when there are previews like this making the rounds?

Ebert might be left leaning, but he still writes a pretty fun review -

I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand’s 1957 novel could understand the film at all, and I doubt they will be happy with it. For the rest of us, it involves a series of business meetings in luxurious retro leather-and-brass board rooms and offices, and restaurants and bedrooms that look borrowed from a hotel no doubt known as the Robber Baron Arms.

During these meetings, everybody drinks. More wine is poured and sipped in this film than at a convention of oenophiliacs. There are conversations in English after which I sometimes found myself asking, "What did they just say?" The dialogue seems to have been ripped throbbing with passion from the pages of Investors’ Business Daily.

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I haven't seen the film and I won't see the film. This is because ... (1) I'm personally a die-hard political conservative with even a few libertarian streaks (thanks to taking a couple law & economics classes in law school from Walter Williams). But I could care less about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, period. Thus, since I am apparently the filmmakers' target audience, I can guarantee the film will fail. Rand and American conservatism have never exactly got along. (2) I've actually read Atlas Shrugged in college. After reading it, I concluded that one could make a more interesting film adaptation of my college chemistry textbook than of Rand's greatest novel.

Nuts. I was looking forward to your response. Go online and download it, as that would be the Randian move. Then comment.

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That preview is ridiculously overheated, but aren't all movie previews these days? The others don't include clips of the president, but ...

Google took me to a a site that's part of the movie's main website, I think, although the website title includes the words "box office mojo" in it, and the site tells me that the first-night gross "bodes well for the further release — if the film can keep drawing people at the current rate."

However, the actual Box Office Mojo daily report reads, "Meanwhile, Atlas Shrugged: Part I generated $683,000 at 300 locations. That was a modest start for the adaptation of the first third of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, particularly considering the media hype it received for its topicality and 'Tea Party' appeal."

I'm inclined to think the first statement is more accurate. If the film ends up with a per-screen weekend average of, say, $5,500 -- I'm not sure what the typical formula is for extrapolating Friday-night grosses into full weekend grosses -- then wouldn't that be perceived as a better than decent start? Yes, the film is playing on nearly 300 screens, not 30 screens, but any per-screen average over $5,000 -- even over $4,000 -- would be encouraging to the film's backers, I would think.

Edited by Christian

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I'm inclined to think the first statement is more accurate. If the film ends up with a per-screen weekend average of, say, $5,500 -- I'm not sure what the typical formula is for extrapolating Friday-night grosses into full weekend grosses -- then wouldn't that be perceived as a better than decent start? Yes, the film is playing on nearly 300 screens, not 30 screens, but any per-screen average over $5,000 -- even over $4,000 -- would be encouraging to the film's backers, I would think.

The movie cost almost nothing to make (~$5M) by modern movie industry standards, so it doesn't have to make much. Generally a movie should make about double its production budget at the world-wide box office to be profitable. The big challenge here is going to be that the international box office is probably going to be next to nothing, so it will have to make pretty much all of its $10M or so domestically. Generally speaking, to reach $10M, a movie would need to have an opening weekend of at least $2.5M (more or less), which means an opening Friday close to $1M. Against that, $0.7M doesn't look too good, but if they can expand it into more theaters they might still get to $10M.

Really, to make part 2 a no-brainer, they would need it to do something like $20M at the box office. If it does $10M nobody has to feel bad about having made part 1, but whether they would want to roll the dice again would not be an obvious call. If it doesn't get to $10M, then part 2 really wouldn't make a lot of sense. (Of course, to do even part 1 at this budget didn't make sense except that it was the only chance to recoup the money paid for the rights.)

[Correction: I was estimating its budget from memory, but according to Box Office Mojo, it had a budget of $10M rather than $5M. Given that, it needs to make $20M after an opening weekend of $1.6M. They need to expand to have a shot, and, again according to Box Office Mojo, that is what they are planning to do. ]

Edited by bowen

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Looks like the film did a bit more than $5,500 per screen this past weekend. Indiewire reports:

Rocky Mountain Pictures released “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” on 299 screens this weekend, receiving a fair but not overwhelming response from audiences. The tepidly reviewed film is based on Ayn Rand’s final novel, which details a dystopian United States that collapses as government asserts control. It has received significant backing by Tea Party groups, with FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-allied group headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, among the groups supporting the film. And according to weekend estimates, the result of their efforts was a respectable $1,676,917 gross, averaging $5,608 per theater (given its conservative audience, today’s Palm Sunday is expected to affect its numbers).

“We were very optimistic about how it was going to perform,” the film’s producer Harmon Kaslow told indieWIRE over the phone today. “And it’s performing to our expectations. The responses that we’re getting at the theaters gives us a enormous amount of optimism. We are looking to expand significantly in the next few weekends.”

Kaslow said he’s unsure of how wide “Shrugged” will go just yet but said “it could be as many as 1,000 screens.”

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Mark Shea on Ayn Rand:

Rand, like Marx, is one of those people who is much better at landing punches on what's wrong than on building philosophies to correct what's wrong. She is the photo negative of Stalin. Worshipful of Pride, ice cold, and a hater of God and the weak. You can cannibalize bits of what she says to land a few punches on Commies. But her philosophy, taken to heart, will damn you to Hell just as much as Stalin's will.

Looks like the film did a bit more than $5,500 per screen this past weekend. Indiewire reports:

FWIW, The Conspirator performed at about the same per-screen average, but on more than twice as many screens (707), landing on 9th place for the weekend.

Edited by SDG

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P.J. O'Rourke's review in the Wall Street Journal is entertaining:

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.

But I will not pan “Atlas Shrugged.” I don’t have the guts. If you associate with Randians—and I do—saying anything critical about Ayn Rand is almost as scary as saying anything critical to Ayn Rand. What’s more, given how protective Randians are of Rand, I’m not sure she’s dead.

I'm still not sure what to make of the movie, but I no longer feel compelled to see it, at least not on the big screen.

Meanwhile, The Certified Copy leaves Landmark Bethesda Row theater this Friday, and I'm not going to get to that one. DVD will have to do, whatever the consequences.

Edited by Christian

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David Bentley Hart has a memorable rant in First Things:

Not long after seeing the trailer for Atlas Shrugged, I came across the trailer for quite a different kind of film: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Malick is the world’s greatest living filmmaker, and this project has been with him for years. The two minutes or so of clips that have been released are far more beautiful, moving, and profound than anything associated with the name of Ayn Rand could ever be. “There are two ways through life,” a woman’s voice announces as the trailer opens: “the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose which one to follow.” That is arguably the great theme of all of Malick’s finest work; and I suspect that the deeper question the film poses is whether these two ways can become one. If what little I have heard about the film is right, moreover, the answer will have something to do with a love capable of embracing all things, and of both granting and receiving forgiveness. But we shall see.

Do not go to see Atlas Shrugged. Do not encourage those people. Go instead to The Tree of Life, which—whether it should prove a triumph or a failure—will be the work of a remarkable artist who really does have something to tell us about both nature and grace (two things about which Rand knew absolutely nothing). So make the wise cinematic choice here, for the good of your own soul, but also for the sake of a rapidly foundering civilization.

Edited by Overstreet

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I admit to reading only the excerpt in Jeffrey's post above, not the full First Things post, but I see no reason to pit Malick against ... whoever it is that brought Atlas Shrugged to the screen. All sorts of filmmakers, most of whose politics are far from Rand-ian (as I understand Rand), create bad films all the time. Why should Malick's latest be pitted against this particular film, as opposed to, say, the new Tyler Perry movie?

EDIT: OK, just read (most of) that First Things piece, which states: "Ayn Rand always provokes a rather extravagant reaction from me, and probably for purely ideological reasons. For instance, I like the Sermon on the Mount. She regarded its prescriptions as among the vilest ever uttered. I suspect that charity really is the only way to avoid wasting one’s life in a desert of sterile egoism. She regarded Christian morality as a poison that had polluted the will of Western man with its ethos of parasitism and orgiastic self-oblation. And, simply said, I cannot find much common ground with someone who believed that the principal source of human woe over the last twenty centuries has been a tragic shortage of selfishness."

So, are we supposed to reject this film because it disagrees with our worldview? How is this guy's viewpoint any different than Ted Baehr's? This is an honest question. Do we judge stories based on how well they conform to our own way of looking at the world? Do we reject stories that don't, simply because they don't?

Edited by Christian

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It's almost an epilogue to his article, actually. The article is about Rand's philosophies, not a movie rivalry.

Edited by Overstreet

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So, are we supposed to reject this film because it disagrees with our worldview? How is this guy's viewpoint any different than Ted Baehr's? This is an honest question. Do we judge stories based on how well they conform to our own way of looking at the world? Do we reject stories that don't, simply because they don't?

I think this question becomes tricky, because, essentially, this is a gray area, and a question of degree. When does a work of art express a point of view so abhorrent that it overwhelms its constructive qualities to the point where it must be condemned? Are there worldviews that are so twisted they are not worth engaging? We have to struggle with those questions. The problem with Ted Baehr, essentially, is not that he makes judgments about the moral value of a work of art, but that his criteria for those judgments are misguided.

It does seem that A&F has been over this territory before.

Edited by Ryan H.

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The Rand Band

Rand’s sense of the world is fundamentally anti-bureaucratic—but the kind of inventor whose work she celebrates is, essentially, the kind who is great at launching but not so good at perpetuating. Her contempt for organization extends, of course, to the corporation: she loves and venerates privately held firms and sees corporate structure, and its diffusion of authority to officers and directors, as a sort of institutionalized parasitism. She doesn’t think about the raising of capital, she doesn’t think about diversification, she doesn’t think about the extent to which the way of business is favored by, or even related to, government policy. She doesn’t think about truly complex social systems, and, above all, she doesn’t think about psychology and mixed or hidden motives. . . .

I’m reminded of “The Social Network,” which may be the most interesting business movie of recent years, in which Mark Zuckerberg learns a crucial lesson from Sean Parker (played exhilaratingly by Justin Timberlake) about the kind of expansion—and the structural changes it implies—that will protect “the Facebook” and help Zuckerberg realize it fully. Parker didn’t suggest that Zuckerberg make a present of his company to the government or bend his vision to the demands of lobbyists or editorialists, but that he face the fact that growth implies complexity, that the realization of a great idea is as much a social achievement as an intellectual one. It’s a lesson that Rand herself has no interest in; she depicts admirable companies as dictatorships. For that matter, it’s a lesson that the history of Hollywood itself teaches.

Richard Brody, New Yorker, April 19

EXCLUSIVE: Libertas Reviews the Screenplay for the Randall Wallace-Angelina Jolie Atlas Shrugged

The producing team responsible for the Atlas Shrugged currently in theaters has hinted darkly that they’ve been objects of ‘liberal persecution’ in Hollywood, and that a ‘faithful’ rendition of Rand’s novel couldn’t possibly have been made in the Hollywood system though conventional channels.

I’m here to tell you that based on the Randall Wallace screenplay I’ve just read, nothing could be further from the truth. . . .

Jason Apuzzo, Libertas, April 20

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So, are we supposed to reject this film because it disagrees with our worldview? How is this guy's viewpoint any different than Ted Baehr's? This is an honest question. Do we judge stories based on how well they conform to our own way of looking at the world? Do we reject stories that don't, simply because they don't?

I think we can always question a film's worldview - some do it better than others. Since you brought up Baehr, I thought I'd look at what Movieguide had to say about Atlas - "strong moral worldview," "traditional values." See, he and I just have different ideas of what is moral.

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Why should Malick's latest be pitted against this particular film, as opposed to, say, the new Tyler Perry movie?

The new Tyler Perry movie has no philosophy behind it other than a persistent, culture subservient, low view of man, anti-intellectualism. Ayn Rand's movie has a coherent and logically consistent philosophy behind it. Rand's philosophy is contradictory to the philosophy behind Malick's films.

So, are we supposed to reject this film because it disagrees with our worldview? How is this guy's viewpoint any different than Ted Baehr's? This is an honest question. Do we judge stories based on how well they conform to our own way of looking at the world? Do we reject stories that don't, simply because they don't?

Why can't we reject a film because it has the wrong worldview? Doing so doesn't mean one must reject all films that have worldviews contrary to Christianity, but then there would be reasons for appreciating them having to do with hopefully something that was still true or beautiful. Some would say that we ought to reject "Atlas Shrugged" because there is nothing true or beautiful about holding up selfishness as an idol or virtue.

Ted Baehr, instead of rejecting Atlas Shrugged (which comes from a philosophy the actually mocks the words of Christ), recommends Atlas Shrugged because he likes the political element.

ATLAS SHRUGGED PART I, the first of three movies based on the famous novel by Ayn Rand, is one of the few slightly flawed movies that MOVIEGUIDE urges every teenager and adult to see. It is entertaining and chock full of jeopardy, which is unique for a movie with such a clear perspective about political and economic issues ...
Translation: EVERYONE SEE THIS! It's a movie about those bad, bad politicians who want to destroy the free market.

... the filmmakers kept a lot of the story from Ayn Rand’s story and found a through-line. They also avoided some of the negative aspects of Ayn Rand that alienate people of strong faith and values. They emphasize cardinal virtues such as self-reliance, integrity, honesty, strength of character, liberty, and justice. And, they did not include any of her confused attacks on faith.
Translation: Since I haven't actually read the book, let's just all assume that Rand's idolization of the self, and the promotion of selfishness was really just telling us all to be self-reliant, strong and honest. Besides, since I have no classical understanding of actual thought-through and consistent conservative political philosophy, I'll just equate Rand with my politics because she doesn't like the bad government.

Because we have lost an understanding of these cardinal virtues and freedom, and have given in to the lies of the government, ATLAS SHRUGGED is extremely relevant to what’s happening in the world today. It would be nice to say all ages should watch it, but MOVIEGUIDE® must point out several cautions. The worst is the adulterous sex, although nothing is really shown. There are also several obscenities and one explicit profanity. Without these, this movie would have been good for all ages, although younger children may not have picked up on all the nuances.
Translation: This is POLITICALLY RELEVANT people! Yeah, yeah, yeah - I know I always say movies with sex scenes and cuss words are worthless even if the message of the film could be Biblical or life-changing. But this is politics we are talking about. When the message of the film is politically right, then an adulterous sex scene can be forgiven. Note: make sure to educate your children on the nuances of how to set priorities here. If the message of a film with a sex scene, is oh, I don't know, forgiveness, then they ought to never see it. But if the message of the film is the right political one, then the sex isn't really as important - not enough not to see the film and recommend it to everyone else that you know ... besides, you can't really see that much skin anyway.

That said, the United States of America have drifted so far into the malignant, cancerous growth of bureaucratic, statist, socialist control that ATLAS SHRUGGED PART I is a breath of fresh air! Perhaps, it will revive some of the voting population and help them to understand the danger of and then vote against the stale back room politics of obsequious Washington radfahrers and bureaucrats like Mouch, or Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Barney Frank, to cite a couple real examples.
Translation: Vote Republican.

So, I'd say there is quite a difference between Mr. Bentley Hart and Mr. Baehr.

Edited by Persiflage

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So, I'd say there is quite a difference between Mr. Bentley Hart and Mr. Baehr.

Not from what I can tell from their reviews of this film. They both specialize in "what it's about" reviews. Film critics ought to go a step further and talk about how it's about what it's about.

One critic cites that rule over and over and gain, and he actually reviews the movie. He gives it one star. Why?

It’s not enough that a movie agree with you, in however an incoherent and murky fashion. It would help if it were like, you know, entertaining?

There, that wasn't so hard, was it? It's not a complicated review. It's not full of Deep Thoughts. But it addresses, maybe a bit too briefly, why the movie doesn't work as a movie.

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Christian wrote:

: Not from what I can tell from their reviews of this film. They both specialize in "what it's about" reviews. Film critics ought to go a step further and talk about how it's about what it's about.

Actually, Hart doesn't get into "what it's about" *or* "how it's about what it's about", possibly because he hasn't even SEEN the film yet. His entire rant is based on the fact that he came, belatedly, to a trailer for the film that has already been around for a while.

Baehr, to his credit, seems to have actually SEEN the film.

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One critic cites that rule over and over and gain, and he actually reviews the movie. He gives it one star. Why?

It’s not enough that a movie agree with you, in however an incoherent and murky fashion. It would help if it were like, you know, entertaining?

There, that wasn't so hard, was it? It's not a complicated review. It's not full of Deep Thoughts. But it addresses, maybe a bit too briefly, why the movie doesn't work as a movie.

But don't you think that your philosophy inherently shapes the quality and value of the films you make? There are some Rand fans criticizing this film because they are disappointing with the casting and overall production quality, but that is assuming anyone could have actually made a good film faithful to the book. I don't believe any film faithful to Rand's book could be a good film precisely because of Rand's philosophy. How are you going to write a compelling story and provoking dialogue based on Atlas Shrugged? I don't think it's possible.

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I don't believe any film faithful to Rand's book could be a good film precisely because of Rand's philosophy. How are you going to write a compelling story and provoking dialogue based on Atlas Shrugged? I don't think it's possible.

FWIW, those may be two slightly different questions: [a.] Can a faithful film be a good film? [b.] Can a film based on Atlas Shrugged have a compelling story and provocative dialogue? IMO, a sufficiently talented filmmaker might succeed in crafting a faithful tribute to the spirit of Rand's book without sacrificing a compelling story or provocative dialogue. Even so, what one thinks of Rand's philosophy may still be relevant in judging whether a compelling and provocative expression of that philosophy is a "good film."

This is not to say that the faults of Rand's philosophy, not to mention her narrative artistry, are irrelevant to whether an adaptation will be compelling. In my view, though, they are creative challenges like any others, and a sufficiently talented filmmaker could overcome them or even turn them to his advantage.

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