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Why the "Atlas Shrugged" Movie Bombed

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Despite effusive praise from some Ayn Rand fans and followers, the long-awaited screen adaptation of the controversial author's 1957 novel "Atlas Shrugged" has been a failure.

The critics disdained it, awarding it a measly 6 percent "fresh tomatoes" (for good) on the widely read Rotten Tomatoes website. Of course, the vast majority of critics are left-liberal and therefore anti-Rand. Her "Objectivist," ultra-free-market philosophy would be anathema to them. So a certain amount of bias must be factored in. But that percentage is pathetic.

Furthermore, with the exception of those few fans, the public has, as the cliche goes, stayed away in droves. The movie opened at No. 14, dropped to 18 on its second weekend and looks to be tanking fast. And this was Part 1 of a supposed three-part trilogy. Don't hold your breath for Parts 2 and 3.

So what went wrong? In a word, screenplay. The novel was poorly adapted in what feels like a rushed fashion. It has wooden characters delivering wooden lines (that are largely exposition anyway) with an entirely predictable, poorly paced plot set in an oddly anachronistic near future.

Some 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. 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.

But therein lies the rub. The work has to be good. Having the correct political views (left or right) is again only a part of the solution — and an even smaller part.

First comes art, then (distantly) comes politics. If you're not up to the job artistically, you might as well stay home. And filmmaking is not a simple art. As a screenwriter of intermittent success with a movie of my own coming out in late June, I have viewed this up close. Who knows how many of the scripts that everyone seems to be writing actually get filmed, but it is substantially less than 1 percent. And how many of those (ask yourself) actually become good movies?

The number is minuscule. Maybe a half-dozen a year. Just wanting to do it is not enough. It's not even close. You can't ask the will to do the work of the imagination, as Sergei Diaghilev pointed out. First you have to have that imagination (that is, real creative talent) and exercise it, work hard at it. Think about the story, not about the politics. Make the characters vivid, the plot compelling. Then the politics will follow.

To go the other way around is a certain prescription for defeat. In great storytelling, the politics is most often subliminal. Even when it is not (George Orwell), the situation of the people dominates — their plight is what holds our interest.

And above all, remember this: In movies, the script isn't everything. It's more than everything!

To find out more about Roger L. Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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THE "ATLAS SHRUGGED" FIASCO

THE "ATLAS SHRUGGED" FIASCO



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