Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Fall and Rise of 'Atlas Shrugged,' the Motion Picture

     When Strike Productions released "Atlas Shrugged: Part One" earlier this year, it was clearly a labor of love, but it was not a hit. The film, based on Ayn Rand's philosophical thriller, arrived like a thief in the night, with no advance reviews through the Associated Press, and no television commercials that I saw. With an estimated budget of $6.5 million (according to, it grossed even less ~ $4.5 million ~ before disappearing from theaters within a month or so.
     Rand's fans saw conspiracy: The film failed because the establishment, left-wing critics hated the film's message. Actually, the film was poorly reviewed, but when did that ever stop a movie from succeeding? The problem was that the producers didn't budget for an advertising campaign. Many, perhaps most, of the film's potential audience never even knew it had been released. The producers apparently hoped for a "Passion of the Christ" word-of-mouth campaign that would fill the seats with true believers without their having to spend a dime. Yes, but that film was 2,000 years in the making, not 50, and it was an emotional story for most of the world's population, both believers and nonbelievers. While Rand is popular among many conservatives and libertarians, some members of these groups shun her because of her atheism. Some selling was necessary.
     Also hurting was that the film is not exactly action-packed. "Atlas Shrugged" is a long novel, and the film is only the first of three proposed parts. The "action" is confined mostly to the final third.
     Finally, because of its small budget, the film has no real stars to attract non-Rand film fans.
     After the film finished its theatrical run, the producer was alternately quoted as saying he wasn't sure if he would make parts two and three at all, and that he would make them just to spite the critics.
     Now the producer said he will make the sequels, and "Atlas Shrugged: Part One" is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download (although, embarrassingly, the initial batch mistakenly describe the film as being about "self-sacrifice," a very unRandian concept).
     On, the reviews are all over the place, from the Randians who give it 5 stars and say anyone who doesn't like it is a second-hander (read the book if that deprecation makes no sense to you), to the equally strident Randites who rate it 1 star, say the film fails completely to express the novel's brilliance and urge you to read the book instead. Still, it gets an average of 4 stars overall.
     Incidentally, the cover features a blonde woman in a miniskirted business suit, carrying a briefcase, walking beneath a railroad bridge with the title built into the metal work. The film's theatrical poster was a sexless Atlas holding the Earth upon his shoulders. Both images ~ aside from the miniskirt ~ are appropriate images for the story, though the DVD image is sexier and more involving. It looks like the producers are learning how to market a film.


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