I am aware that among the hundreds of people who receive this blog not everyone is devoted to Ayn Rand’s ideas, or believes that her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged is a masterwork. Thus, what follows will probably be of no interest to them.
However, for those who revere Rand’s 1957 novel as a superb example of romantic realism—let alone brilliantly predictive—the recently announced third motion picture installment of Atlas Shrugged must be considered the final desecration.
Of the many points I could make, here are only two of the major ones.
The feature film rights to Atlas Shrugged should never been sold (let alone several times over) because the scope, characters, plot, and ideas of Atlas are inherently impossible to dramatize in two hours.
I say this because of two personal experiences.
One is because in 1968 Erika Holzer and I found the missing Italian film of We the Living, a much shorter and easier story to tell than Atlas. In its original form, WTL was three-plus hours long. Only due to Rand’s personally suggested edits, a bit of her restructuring, and some 4,000 subtitles written by Erika Holzer and Duncan Scott, did the film become the international motion picture success it deserved to be.
The second is because toward the end of Rand’s life she worked with a TV producer and writer to create a network miniseries which would have been at least seven hours long. The writer was Oscar-winner Stirling Silliphant, whose writing achievements included the TV series Route 66 and the feature film In the Heat of the Night. At dinner one night in Los Angeles Stirling told the Holzers that there was no way Atlas Shrugged could, with any fealty to the novel, be done as a typical two-hour feature film.
As further proof that it was folly to try, I submit that the eventual producers themselves realized that a standard feature was impossible. So they made three, somewhat connected, but still standard feature films.
I repeat, the feature film rights should never have been sold, and when it was clear the current producers intended to dissect Atlas into three standard feature films, they should have been stopped.
Instead, the producers’ “solution” to the unsolvable length and complexity problems—driven also by the need to begin principal photography before their rights-option expired—was to quickly make one-third of Rand’s magnum opus, with the other two-thirds to come along in two later installments.
As to Atlas I and II (and doubtless the forthcoming Atlas Shrugged III), not a single nationally or internationally household name was associated with the project. This failure was most egregious regarding the script. While it would have been too much to expect that the producers would hire a journeyman writer like William Goldman (All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), there were some well-credentialed Hollywood writers who understood Rand’s novel and could have created a faithfully powerful script. I know one of them.
Worse than all this, by far, is that the well-intentioned producers apparently believed that even though they were making an “entertainment” not a documentary, it was incumbent on them to provide “philosophical oversight.” So they hired the equivalent of a philosophical commissar, to keep the production on the Objectivist straight-and-narrow.
(There’s more. For example: difficulties with distribution, changing actors from one of the parts to the others, miscasting, the impossibility of showing Atlas Shrugged I, II, and III together in a movie theater or even on television.)
The noise you hear is Ayn Rand spinning in her grave. The feature film rights should never have been sold.
In the days of the Italian version of We the Living (1940-1941) it was possible for the film’s negatives and prints to vanish, as nearly happened because of Nazi hostility to Rand’s story about the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution on a fiercely independent woman and the two men who loved her.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of the Internet, cloud storage, digital recorders, and DVDs, there is no way Atlas Shrugged I, II, and III, unlike We the Living, will ever be lost.