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Roger L. Simon

What Conservatives Can Learn from the Atlas Shrugged Film Fiasco

April 19th, 2011 - 12:00 am

As of this writing, the popular Internet site RottenTomatoes.com is showing a pathetic 8% “fresh tomatoes” (positive reviews) for the long-awaited screen adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged.

Even though Rand, an Objectivist, was an ultra-pro business libertarian and the vast majority of film critics are left-liberals, in this case the critics are right.

In fact, it’s worse. Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 (save us from 2 and 3) is an amateurish enterprise of embarrassing proportions that I strongly suspect would have had Rand herself running for cover. (I also predict its decent limited release box office opening will fade quickly.)

Some writers have defended the film as being under-budgeted. This is the least of its problems. The same script shot for $300 million would have been just as bad — or nearly — as the one shot for $30 million. It would still have had wooden characters delivering wooden lines (that were largely exposition anyway) with an entirely predictable, poorly paced plot set in an oddly anachronistic near future.

Others say, well, Rand’s novel is more or less like that. Possibly. But film is a different, obviously more photographic medium with its own demands and, in the end, it is Rand’s ideas that are particularly poorly served here. The Atlas Shrugged filmmakers forgot the old Hollywood saw: “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” It’s a truism for a reason.

But enough of beating up on Atlas Shrugged, the movie. What can conservatives or libertarians learn from this fiasco?

The right has long complained about being discriminated against in Hollywood. And no doubt they are to greater or lesser degrees. (Clint Eastwood doesn’t seem so discriminated against.) But whining about this bias (being “Victocrats,” in Larry Elder’s pungent term) is only part of the solution — and a very small part. The real solution — in fact the only ultimate solution — is to produce work of your own.

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