Report on the Atlas Shrugged movie preview

The Hudson Theater preview for the Atlas Shrugged movie included many comments from not only the producers, but also the screenwriter and many others involved behind the scenes. Here's a full report.
Frederick-cookinham

On December 7th, producers John Aglialoro and Harmond Kaslow and The Atlas Society hosted a $100-per-ticket preview of the Atlas Shrugged movie at the 107-year-old Hudson Theatre, off Times Square. This is where Shaw’s Man and Superman had its U.S. premiere in 1905 — the year of Ayn Rand’s birth. A little Shavian irony.

Atlas Society Chairman Jay Lapeyre introduced David Kelley, who spoke on the core philosophical values of the book that had to be in the movie — mainly the theme of “the mind on strike” — though so much else was changed. Kelley described the disappearance of industrialists in the story, “going Galt,” as “a sort of secular Rapture.” The 150 to 200 attendees chortled.

Aglialoro was the man of the hour. He choked up a bit, thanking his comrades in his 18-year quest to get the movie made. He got an appreciative laugh when he announced that the film will premiere in about 100 theatres in thirty cities on April 15th — tax day!

Grant Bowler and Taylor Schilling as Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart
Then the preview rolled. It was eight minutes long, including the start of the movie, and the rest cut from about twenty scenes, somewhat like a trailer.

There is Galt, in shadowy profile, hat brim down, approaching Midas Mulligan on a dark, rainy street. 

A properly sleazy, pouty-lipped Jim Taggart pulls rank on the straight-talking Eddie Willers, disregarding Eddie’s warning of disaster. Ellis Wyatt vents at Dagny.

The real-life Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is stretched to an impossible tenuousness by the film’s visual effects wizards. “There haven’t been shots of railroads in American movies like this in a long time,” said the Second Unit Director, Mike Marvin, who had taken the shots on rail lines from Chicago to McCoy, Colorado.

Dagny sees a de-railment on TV and hurries to the office, where she argues with Jim. Dagny goes to see Rearden about Rearden Metal rails. Jim and Wesley Mouch conspire. “If we want to bring Rearden down, we have to do it from the inside.” The tempo of the cuts increases. The music gets more tense.

Rearden calls Dagny about a motor he has found, and another character explains the epochal significance of the motor, smiles mysteriously, and says “Who is John Galt?” A title appears: “COMING IN APRIL.” Fade to black.

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal quizzed the panel on the making of the film. Fund mentioned meeting several freshman Congressmen in recent days who have read Atlas and, in the case of Nan Hayworth of Westchester County, NY, entered politics largely because of it. Her parents fled socialism in the UK. They went Galt.

Mike Marvin said he wanted to out-do Unstoppable, the current Denzel Washington movie about a runaway train, “with its $100 million budget. I was looking for the David Lean shot, like the train scenes in Dr. Zhivago.”

Hank and Dagny at Rearden Metal

The Post-production Supervisor, John Orland, described the cleaning up that still needs to be done before the film is ready to be printed and distributed. There were signals visible in the clips that indicated where a visual effect or sound effect or music needs to be added. The music in the clips we saw was temporary.

Elia Cmiral, Czech writer of the score for Ronin, will compose the Atlas score. Brian O’Toole, the screenwriter (with Aglialoro), explained that he had recently re-read Atlas to write for a computer game called “Bioshock,” which is based on Atlas.

All in the audience were excited that the producers had shot Atlas with the digital “Red Camera,” the latest technical wonder, which shoots a picture at twice the resolution theatres can show. It means they can blow up sections of the picture to twice the size without losing resolution, and use only part of the shot if they don’t want to use all of it — in effect, editing without editing. They figured Atlas deserved the best. “The Red Camera is the Rearden Metal of cameras,” said Orland.

Fund asked Aglialoro what he wanted the audience to think as they leave the theater. “I want the audience to learn that they deserve to run their own lives,” he replied.

Asked why they added the Galt-Mulligan scene, which does not appear in the novel, Aglialoro explained, “We needed to create a presence of John Galt” in this first part of the trilogy, or the audience that has not read the book will be confused and won’t like the film.

Parts Two and Three should come out at about one year intervals.

He wanted to premiere the film on February 2, Rand’s birthday, but he found that he would have to self-distribute, as well as self-produce, so that pushed the timetable back to April.

Fund wrapped up the panel by predicting that Tea Party groups will rent theaters and bring in supporters to watch the film together. The panel did not ask for questions from the floor, although that must have been the original plan, since there were microphones set up in the aisles, as usual for Atlas Society events.

The clips were run a second time as people drifted out to the lobby for refreshments. The $500-a-ticket crowd had an after-reception and the rest had our own.

The Taggart Transcontinental seal

The devoted fan of a novel is wise to lower his expectations before watching any film made from it. This period piece, written between 1945 and 1957, has been reconceived for 2010, as was inevitable. One clever thing they did, to smooth that anachronism, was to have a TV newsman explain that the airlines had all collapsed in bankruptcy, thus reviving railroads as the vital form of transportation.

But the film also posits a total cut-off of Middle Eastern oil, and that is one of the difficulties that will result from anachronizing a 53-year-old story. In telling the story, it was important to Rand that no foreign power seriously threaten the United States. For the premise of the world economy being brought down by a strike of mainly American industrialists to make sense, the United States must reign supreme, unchallenged economically or militarily, or the story would get too complicated and unbelievable.

That situation did prevail (economically, at least) in the 1950s, and that is one example of why the movie should have been done as a period piece. Once you change one premise, you must change every premise, and the story falls apart.

Language has also fallen apart since 1957. In the clips, Rearden says to Dagny, “It is us who move the world, and it’s us who will pull it through.” The “us” should be “we.” It is “we” in the novel, and all the screenwriter had to do was copy it. But apparently he found it necessary to dumb down the language from 1957’s English to 2010’s pidgin. (UPDATE: Apparently this was a change by the actor, not the screenwriter, and is going to be fixed in post-production.)

We can hope, though, that this will not be the only Atlas movie ever made. The remake king is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, which has been made into a film 37 times, according to Guinness.

John Aglialoro’s great achievement is not that he will have made the only Atlas movie, but that he has made the first. If this movie does not get pigeonholed by history as merely Tea Party entertainment and an anti-Obama recruitment device, then it will kick off an exciting new chapter in the spread of the Ayn Rand phenomenon. Twenty Eleven will be fun.

Frederick Cookinham gives New York City walking tours, available through CenturyWalkingTours.com — including four on the subject of Ayn Rand and six of Revolutionary War sites.  He was interviewed at the Atlasphere in 2005. He is the author of the book The Age of Rand: Imagining an Objectivist Future World and has also written articles for The New Individualist, Nomos, Full Context, and The Pragmatist.

3 comments from readers  

To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.
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I am thrilled that the film is being made, and that it will be in three parts, such a great idea. I love the cast, they seem to fit. Everyone seems enthusiastic and on the same page with the project. I do hope that someone will fix the words "us" to "we" as the author mentions, as it is this kind of goof that opponents will jump on as a means of trivializing the entire film. Unfortunate, but these are the times we live in, so please mr. editor, fix the speech; it's a fairly simple thing to do, the same way they fix naughty words on TV. :-)
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Just wanted to mention that I'm a little worried if the co-screenwriter of the Atlas movie wrote for the game, BioShock. BioShock was about an underwater utopia, called Rapture, created by folks who went Galt, and led by a Soviet-born man who fled Russia named Andrew Ryan -- clearly meant to represent Ayn Rand. The utopia destroyed itself, violently, and the rhetoric put forth by Andrew Ryan, while initially seeming very Objectivist, takes vile, immoral turns as he sacrifices human lives to feed his genetic research in this horror fantasy:

"There have been side effects: blindness, insanity, death. But what use is our ideology if it is not tested? The market does not respond like an infant, shrieking at the first sign of displeasure. The market is patient, and we must be too."

And the game's writing further twists free market ideology into somehow meaning subservience and sacrifice to a higher power, the complete opposite of what Objectivism is:

"But there is something more powerful than each of us, a combination of our efforts, a Great Chain of industry that unites us. But it is only when we struggle in our own interest that the chain pulls society in the right direction. The chain is too powerful and too mysterious for any government to guide."

The game is meant to poison those not familiar with Rand. Honestly, if Brian O'Toole wants to indicate his competency for co-writing the Atlas screenplay, perhaps he should not mention BioShock.

Reply from the publisher: Interesting points. We hope to interview O'Toole at some point, and will ask him about this. I suspect the things you're talking about have a lot to do with the group that sponsored the work. Often professional writers don't get to decide exactly what their clients publish. O'Toole had different clients on these two projects: one who wanted a splashy video game, another who wanted a movie that was true to the spirit of the novel. The results could be predictably dissimilar, and it sounds (from all reports) like that is the case. PS. Just noticed O'Toole is not listed on the writing credits for the first version of BioShock, so perhaps he is involved in the remake that is being made.
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I too am disappointed that it isn't going to take place during the same era as the book..It would have been so cool to see the rails running the country. And it could have also illustrated to all viewers the foolishness of letting so many of our rails be destroyed. That point alone would have gone a long way to saying "I told you so" for Ayn.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.