On the way through college many of us had to read Atlas Shrugged, a 1000 plus page monster of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, selfishness is strength and fear of restrictions on the free market. For over 40 years producers and screenwriters have struggled to find a way to bring the book to the screen. Rand herself took a whack at writing the screenplay, but died trying to finish it. Finally, in 2011, a film version of Atlas Shrugged, broken into a proposed trilogy was released.
What was always planned as a major motion picture of a major literary and philosophical milestone arrived as something far less than that.
The movie opened in 14th place, earned about $1.7 million in the 300 screens it played and pulled down a putrid SIX PERCENT “certified fresh” positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.com.
That’s a far cry from when Clint Eastwood was supposedly interested in directing and Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron were vying to play Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling, come on down!). Here’s what executive producer John Aglialoro said in 2008:
Susan Paris: Is Angelina Jolie firmly committed to the project?
John Aglialoro: Yes, she is. Here is what she told us: “Dagny Taggart is the most relatable character to me of all the extensive literature I have ever read.”
SP: What other actors, if any, have committed to the project?
Aglialoro: We have had discussions with Russell Crowe to play the part of Hank Rearden. He has read the script. He’s very much in demand so we’ll have to see if he likes the script enough to fit this project in.
SP: Are you still planning three parts?
Aglialoro: No. It will be one movie, lasting roughly 2½ hours.
The Hollywood Reporter has a story about the tortured path Ayn Rand’s ponderous book finally made it to the multiplex. It wasn’t easy.
Despite years of cinematic interest and high hopes for stars and funding, the film was made for less than $10 million, with Taylor Schilling — who appeared on NBC’s short-lived Mercy — playing protagonist Dagny Taggart.
By Hollywood standards, the marketing budget is tiny, so word-of-mouth from Tea Partiers sympathetic to the film’s message is crucial to its success.
The film was directed by Paul Johansson. Some might find it off-putting that the director, known for his work in television, voted for Barack Obama. But John Aglialoro, the businessman who financed, co-wrote and co-produced the movie, didn’t ask Johansson about his politics.
“I read it when I was 17, and it changed my life,” says Johansson, who also appears as the shadowy John Galt in the film. “It gave me permission to be who I am. It taught me that it’s OK to stand alone and not be part of a group.”
Lots of Americans might agree: A 1991 survey by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club determined that Atlas Shrugged was the second-most-influential book in history behind the Bible. The next three works of fiction on that list — To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings and Gone With the Wind — have already become Hollywood blockbusters. Don’t expect Atlas to replicate that sort of success, though. Aglialoro needs only to make some money with it, or the subsequent two installments will be scrapped and the novice filmmaker will abandon other projects on which he’s working.
“If it bombs, I will not make another movie,” he says.
The first installment of Atlas was 44 years in the making because Rand and Hollywood couldn’t agree on how to bring the book’s 1,168 pages to the screen.
Through the years, big names have attached themselves to film or TV versions, but the film was made without A-listers and is being distributed by a Utah-based indie with an affinity for political and religious themes.
Aglialoro, who paid Rand’s heir Leonard Peikoff $1.1 million for rights to Atlas in 1992, ended up rushing it into production to prevent them from reverting. He beat the deadline by two days; Peikoff lost faith in the filmmakers over 19 years and said through a colleague that he fears the film doesn’t sufficiently reflect Rand’s philosophy.
It’s quite possible with a budget of less than $10 million, the movie will earn back its investment, but will that be enough to justify two more installments? Better directors and screenwriters (which Rand was) couldn’t solve the problem of turning a 1,000 plus book into two hours of entertainment, especially the 70 page speech John Galt delivers that would stop any movie dead in its tracks.
Don’t hold out hope for the sequels. Read the book instead.
I really think this book was made for the small screen where a television mini-series wouldn’t have to be squeezed for time. Reading through the somersaults this production went though it’s kind of sad how it scaled down drastically from John Aglialoro’s ambitious plans in 2008 to “just get something done” in 2010 when he was about to lose the rights to an Atlas Shrugged movie.
This is the same reason 20th Century Fox is rebooting Daredevil and probably will do the same for The Fantastic Four and Elektra properties it owns and not allow them to revert back to Marvel Comics and Disney. You get movies that are driven by fear of the lawyers getting involved instead of a filmmaker’s vision.
I’m indifferent to the political motivations behind making Atlas Shrugged into a movie. I admit to being curious if such a daunting book could be turned into a good movie. Guess I’d be better off watching The Fountainhead instead.
Atlas Shrugged is a big book. Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is a small movie.