Friday, November 11, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

Many have said that Ayn Rand's seminal novel, Atlas Shrugged, could not be filmed. Entrepreneur John Aglialoro challenged that notion; and the result is a movie of astonishing competency.

It took nearly 40 years and countless treatments before Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 became a reality. Much like the bridges, railroads and alloys Rand wrote about, this was largely a result of the vision of one man.

Businessman John Aglialoro, who generated a Forbes-mentioned fortune through heading a fitness equipment company, embarked on a personal crusade to do what dozens of directors and producers had failed to since Ayn Rand's novel first hit the bookshelves.

After facing resistance from every direction - again, mirroring the storyline of the book - he sunk $10 million of his own money into the project and finally bring Rand's novel to the silver screen (in limited release.)

And just like with the book's fictional Reardon Metal, the verdict came in prematurely.

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 was mocked, maligned and derided by critics for "low budget" effects, it's "unknown" cast and "laudable" source material - without many critics having even sat through a screening.

Which is a shame; because the end result is actually nothing short of impressive.

In making Atlas Shrugged, John Aglialoro and director Paul Johansson faced numerous challenges. Their 1,000+ page source material was unwieldy and dated. Their budget was a fraction of what major Hollywood studios pay with. Plus - perhaps most significantly at all - "polite society" had a popular disdain for Rand's objectivist philosophy, so they could expect little or no industry support in making their movie.

Yet despite all that, it exists.

Aglialoro and Johansson solved their first hurdle by cutting the proposed script into three separate movies. Bringing Rand's dystopian vision into the 21st century ended up being easier than expected - as  much of the depression and uncertainty she wrote about exists today.

As for the budget - it stretches impressively far. Despite sometimes looking more like a TV mini series than a Hollywood movie, Johansson is an aggressively talented director and created impressive set-peices regardless. One of the final scenes - in which a train speeds along the John Galt Line and the world's first Reardon Metal Bridge at 300mph - is the equal of any $100 million+ blockbuster.

Likewise, the "unknown" cast is actually fairly recognizable to most TV viewers - including faces fresh from Ugly Betty, House and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They all do an impressive job; especially given that the biggest failing in Ayn Rand's book was her characterization (most of her protagonists read like people with Aspergers.)

The obstacle they couldn't overcome, however, was the audiences preconceptions about the movie, and the industry's lackluster support of it upon release.

Hollywood rejected the movie, so it saw only limited release in 400 cinemas nationwide. Likewise, critics panned it unfairly; with some truly horrible reviews that really weren't fair.

Those reviews weren't fair because, ultimately, Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is not a bad movie at all.

It's incredibly fluently filmed; and eminently watchable despite the fact that most of the "action" of the movie is people talking about political and economic things happening off screen (the major reason people claimed Rand's novel was "unfilmable.)

There's such a lot to cram into a single movie, and a plot of such skullduggary and intrigue, that it helps to have read the novel beforehand to really get what's going on - but you don't have to.

Case in point; my wife (who is very liberal) rolled her eyes when I rented it, but still sat down to watch the entire thing; asking me questions throughout about what was going on.

The fact is, the indefinable "thing" that has made Atlas Shrugged perennially popular translates to the silver screen; and resonates with a lot of people. It may not have been realized as effectively as it could have been; but Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is still a serviceable, well-made film that the cast and crew have every right to be proud of.

Those familiar with the book should probably watch it. Those that aren't should definitely do so.

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