The Atlas Shrugged movie is not as bad as they had feared it would be.
Atlas Shrugged: Part I, the new cinematic adaptation of Ayn Rand's multimillion-selling novel, ends with a long list of special thanks. The producers thank the Club for Growth, the organization that helps liberal Republicans spend more time with their families; FreedomWorks, the non-Koch-funded Tea Party group; the Atlas Society, a think tank that promotes Rand's ideas and legacy; and Ronnie James Dio. The late singer for Elf, Rainbow, and Black Sabbath, one of the founding banshees of heavy metal, was one of the people who kept the project alive.
John Aglialoro, a board member of the Atlas Society and one of the film's two producers, bought the rights to adapt Atlas Shrugged 18 years ago. In 2010, the rights were about to be "lost forever" after years of dithering by studios, funders, and eight screenwriters. Aglialoro hooked up with Harmon Kaslow, who had less experience in the libertarian universe but more experience making films, and in six weeks in the summer of 2010 they finished production of the movie. For months they have been previewing it to the sort of people who could help promote it—CPAC, the Cato Institute, libertarian businessmen.
"I put together clips for that Koch meeting that happened in Palm Springs last month," says Kaslow. "I thought, 'Which of these scenes would be the ones that really wealthy people relate to?' " Sadly, the preview never made it onto the schedule.
I saw the movie, which is scheduled to be released nationwide April 15—a date not chosen at random—at a screening for journalists and libertarian activists on Wednesday. The consensus was that the movie is not as bad as libertarians had feared it would be, after all those delays and those iffy prerelease clips and that tiny budget. (Aglialoro says producers have spent "something in the $20 million range" on the project over the last 18 years.)
It doesn't need to be good. Atlas Shrugged has sold somewhere between 7 million and 8 million copies in the United States. In 2009, the first year of the Tea Party, it sold around 500,000 copies. Themes from the novel, like the question "Who is John Galt?" and the concept of "looters" who subsist on the work of others, were sketched onto Tea Party signs. Members of Congress compared President Obama's policies to the policies of the novel's villains, a flabby crew of lobbyists and lazy businessmen.
Of course, the novel is very long. Atlas Shrugged readers remember what age they were when they started the book; they don't always remember if they finished it. This movie, directed by One Tree Hill star Paul Johansson, compresses the novel's first 400 or so pages into 102 minutes of exposition, boardroom scenes, tasteful parties, and computerized high-speed rail montages. Anyone who's seen a SyFy Channel original movie in which a mutated insect battles a mutated amphibian will be comfortable with the production quality. Anyone who's seen a faithful Christian adaptation of a Bible story will be comfortable with the style of adaptation—as much original text on-screen as the screen can hold. The actors and scenes are there to present Rand's philosophy to the Twilight and Nicholas Sparks set.
The plot begins on Sept. 2, 2016, as the disembodied voices of news anchors helpfully explain that oil prices are so high that rail has become the only affordable method of transportation. Times are bad. Sad people warm themselves by the heat of trash-can fires. Businessmen in suits write their résumés on sandwich boards and walk back and forth. It rains a lot. A businessman is followed out of a diner by a man covered by a black hat and opportune shadows. That man is John Galt—a genius who's building a hideaway of geniuses.
"Midas Mulligan!" he yells.
"Who's asking?" says the businessman.
"Someone who knows what it's like to work for himself and not let others feed off the profit of his energy!"
The businessman ponders this. "That's funny. Exactly what I've been thinking."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
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