When best-selling books like The DaVinci Code or the Twilight series become movies, their fans take to the internet to share their excitement. They argue over the film’s fidelity to their favorite characters and scenes, and revel in their love-object’s moment in the cinematic sun.
So too it has been with Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, the new film based on the first million or so words in Ayn Rand’s popular 1957 novel, which opened Friday.
But in this case the fans include rightbloggers, which has turned the conversation a little weird. Like traditional fanboys, they’re obsessed with the new version; but unlike, say, devotees of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, they believe anyone who doesn’t like it is trying to destroy America.
Perhaps sensing that general audiences might not flock to a movie about the evils of collectivism, the film’s producers have cleverly cultivated a conservative audience, debuting the Atlas Shrugged trailer at the Conservative Political Action Conference and working with tea party and libertarian groups to get the word out.
So the brethren were fired up before the lights dimmed, and rightbloggers mostly told them that Atlas Shrugged was a must-see, whether or not they thought it was any good as, you know, a movie.
There were some old-fashioned staples of film fandom in the rightblogger colloquy, such as arguments over casting: While Right Celebrity found Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart only “so-so,” for example, Stephen Bourque of One Reality found Schilling “quite good-looking in exactly the same way that I’ve always imagined. She has really terrific legs, too, which did not fall short of my mental picture. (However shallow or superficial that observation may seem, I insist upon its importance in the character.)”
“After 1,050 pages I read all those years ago, I can’t recall what exactly the book said about [Taggart’s] appearance,” said Morgan Freeberg at Right Wing News. “My mind’s-eye got all busy with it and churned out something resembling the graphic you see to the right, of a typical librarian icon image, light on the implied fetishism…” Um, we’ll stop there.
But much of their commentary took a beleaguered, defensive tone. No wonder: The film has gotten mostly horrible reviews, not just from traditional critics like Roger Ebert, but also from conservative writers like P.J. O’Rourke and Megan McArdle — though O’Rourke and McArdle made sure to add that they admire Rand and were merely protesting this shoddy representation of her work. (Oh, we’ve seen the film, too; it stinks.)
Aware of the negative consensus, some rightbloggers insisted that these so-called critics could not be trusted because they are elitist and leftwing.
“The reviews that I’d read by the so-called professionals who review movies, panned it,” said Diary of a Mad Conservative. “The dialog was contrived, they said… Yadda yadda yadda: elite critiques from the nose in the air ‘professionals’… They don’t live in the same world that I do so they have no basis to make judgements for me.”
Diary of a Mad Conservative then offered his own, non-professional opinion: “I’ve seen lots worse out of the mega Hollywood studios (I walked out of Independence Day- it so sucked.)”
“I’m shocked, SHOCKED to find out that the (typically leftist, Obama loving, America hating Michael Moore / Sean Penn praising) movie reviewers are panning the new movie, ‘Atlas Shrugged’!!” cried Schteveo of Little Annie’s Orphans. He was just being sarcastic, though; he knew why critics disapproved: “It’s about INDIVIDUALS working for their own best interest. It’s about government getting it’s foot OFF the neck of the producers.” And you know if there’s anything film critics hate it’s producers — look how they treated Darryl Zanuck!
“But face it, in real life, most ‘mainstream movie critics’ believe rich industrialists need to be punished and taxed to curb their ‘greed,’ so they’re offended by this movie’s themes,” said Vin Suprynowicz of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who neglected to tell us how he knew this (maybe the Review-Journal has an investigative report which is currently offline).
“I’m waiting,” he added, “for the first socialist professional movie critic [voted for Obama, believes we need to ‘raise taxes on the rich to make them pay their fair share’] to admit they hate the political and economic THEME of this movie and therefore can’t render objective advice.” Perhaps Suprynowicz should send James O’Keefe to the offices of the National Socialist Film Critics Society to do an undercover sting.
“My movie going friends all know that stellar critical reviews are the kiss of death,” said Foxs News. “If you see a movie with great critical reviews, it might still be worth watching, but best to read the reviews by blogers, because they are a bit more trustworthy.” Q.E.D.
Foxs News also claimed that “the media’s anti-business bigotry” keeps films from being made by “independent film makers who do not produce drek with a liberal bias,” and the public thus “suffers by having to put up with second rate movies, since the best talent is selected against, in favor of those stupid enough to be socialists or soulless enough to pretend to be.” We’ve been waiting years for that explanation of the Fast and the Furious series.
“Even if the critics are using elements of truth in their reviews, could they really be trusted?” asked lygris of Rots Your Brain. “In the book, Ayn Rand mentioned how at least one journalist was smearing the main character Hank Rearden.” Another Rand prophecy fulfilled!
Kushal of Unspoken Words attacked one such looter-critic, Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post, whose review also disparaged Rand: “Huh, so Mr. Jenkins doesn’t like the movie because it’s like the book,” Kushal said. “But that confuses me. Why did he go to watch the movie if he doesn’t like the book?” Our wild guess is that seeing new movies is part of Jenkins’ job.
Having thus steeled their brothers and sisters against the Ellsworth Tooheys of the Left, many of the brethren offered their own boffo raves, some of which were suitable for movie ad pull-quotes:
“Wonderful and true to the book except that the setting of the movie is in 2016… The theater was filled mostly with people over thirty who probably all have read the book several times in their lives.” — airfredd2, RedState.
“Those used to having less certainty and more nuance in film characters will feel out of place, perhaps, but don’t confuse this with cardboard characterizations…” — Ed Morrissey, Hot Air.
“Despite the obstacles of a small budget and a cast of no-name actors, Atlas Shrugged deserves more notoriety than it will receive.” — Jason Pye.
“The two people [I went with] who never read the book found the movie to be interesting but somewhat tough to follow.” — Rhino-itall, The Aurora.
Those who couldn’t bring themselves to praise the movie insisted that it was still a triumph because it brought the Ayn Rand gospel to the benighted sheeple.
“Surprisingly good!” said Matthew Vadum at NewsReal Blog. Why surprisingly? “There is so much information, so much political economy and philosophy, packed into so little movie,” he said.
That doesn’t sound promising, nor does Vadum’s judgement that “the dialogue seems a bit wooden, a bit unnatural, like in a soap opera” and “it’s not going to win any Oscars for various reasons,” the wooden dialogue presumably among them.
But Vadum insisted that “it is definitely worth seeing, especially if you care about America and want to reverse its planned decline.” Because political activism is why we go to the movies.
Also, seeing it would “give a one-finger salute to the looters and parasites who run and influence government,” and spite film critics, whom Vadum said would pan the film because “they despise Ayn Rand’s philosophy of enlightened self-interest.” (Among their number he included not only Ebert but also “alleged conservative Michael Medved.” You’d think Medved’s book Hollywood vs. America would put him on culture warriors’ permanent A-list, but no, said Vadum, “this is a guy who thought the remake of The Omen was much better than the original,” and is therefore capable of any kind of wrongthink.)
Jacob Huebert (“attorney, law professor, and writer”) “thought it was great,” then qualified his praise: “Not a great movie in the usual sense, but a great adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, which is not a great novel in the usual sense.”
Interesting! Tell us more. “Yes, it’s low-budget. Yes, the direction is pedestrian. Yes, the dialogue is often clunky. So people who want to whine can whine about those things.”
But Huebert found in these artistic failings a propaganda advantage: “You can wish the movie had a big budget and better talent,” he explained, “but if you got those things, you would almost certainly lose this movie’s faithfulness to the book’s story and ideas — and the ideas, after all, are the point.”
“The movie does not entertain in the obvious ways,” admitted Timothy Reynolds at Sharon’s Views, “relying instead on dialogue to drive the story,” and “in the absence of explosions, poignant death scenes, and epic battles many critics will quickly pan the film as unappealing to the general audience. They would be right, mostly. But most people don’t vote, can’t name their state senator, and miss the irony in ‘un-paid-for tax cuts.'”
So who cares what those parasite moviegoers think? They’re only interested in thrills, poignancy, and spectacle, whereas Atlas Shrugged is for people who are above such things — people like the ones at the showing Reynolds attended, who “responded to the dialogue with knowing chuckles, outright laughter, and even a blurted comment ‘Way to go lady!’… I estimate the average age to be above 50 years.” (So, basically the audience for Wild Hogs, then.)
Whether they thought the film was any good or not, rightbloggers generally agreed that its existence was important ordnance in the war against looters, Obama, socialism etc.
“It must be seen,” declared Survive December 2012. “It must be understood. This movie is about today. I implore each of you to take a friend to this movie and understand the message.”
“If you’re a believer in capitalism looking for a little entertainment, knowing your hard earned dollars are helping to spread a free market message,” said The Lonely Conservative, “then I would recommend the movie.”
Tamara K of View from the Porch did her bit: “The trailers are showing before the start of Atlas Shrugged,” she reported. “Movie Screen: ‘Disneynature proudly presents: The next great Earth Day adventure!’ Me: *snort* ‘Wow! Target marketing fail!’ People Inadvertently In Earshot: *laughter*.”
She sure told that eco-socialist trailer, and perhaps even converted some citizens with her guerrilla heckling. Nonetheless, Tamara K said the Disney film “looked pretty cool, what with it being about big kitties and all.” But don’t worry, she hasn’t gone soft: “I refuse to go see it on Lenin’s birthday, however,” she added, “lest I inadvertently contribute statistically to the propaganda effort. (Conversely, I planted my butt in a theater seat for Atlas Shrugged two days in a row, for just the same reason.)”
Well done, citizen shill! Her devotion to the Cause would no doubt have lifted the heart of John Nolte of Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, who told the troops just what’s at stake here:
“Our political enemies in Hollywood will be watching how well ‘Atlas Shrugged’ does over the weekend,” he wrote. “There’s nothing they want more than to have another excuse in another story meeting to shoot down an ideal appealing to us based on actual box office numbers. But because we’re the Tea Party and not the Republican Establishment, I’m thinking they’re going to be pretty disappointed. Here’s how you can find a theatre near you…”
All this is dismayingly reminiscent of the old Soviet attitude toward art — that its primary importance is to advance a political agenda, to which all aesthetic concerns must take a back seat. Which is particularly strange coming from a bunch of alleged individualists who are always complaining that Hollywood movies are too politicized.
Fortunately it’s a free country and they can enforce their Zhdanovism only on themselves. So may Galt go with them to the cineplexes and give them a good time. If other moviegoers prefer Rio, Rango, and Hop, why shouldn’t these guys enjoy cartoon characters of their own?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 18, 2011