Monday, November 5, 2007

The Wisdom of Netflix Users

Lately there have been reports that the much-delayed movie version of Atlas Shrugged may be underway at long last. The producers have apparently enticed international baby-adopter/all-around nutjob Angelina Jolie to play the role of Dagny Taggart, the quasi-female protagonist of the apocalyptic story. Given Jolie's box-office track record of mega-bombs, it's hard to see why casting her in the lead role constitutes any sort of inducement for the money men to pony up the big bucks needed to finance this project, but as P.T. Barnum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute!"

On the eve of the dramatization of Rand's magnum opus, we at RandZapper thought it would be worthwhile to look at the last time Hollywood tackled one of her books. This was back in 1948, when The Fountainhead made it to the big screen, with the way-too-old, slow-talking Gary Cooper incongruously cast as young, dynamic architect Howard Roark, Patricia Neal going all melodramatic as crazy aspiring rape victim Dominique, and Raymond Massey doing his best to preserve his dignity as newspaper tycoon Gail Wynand. Rand herself penned the screenplay, refusing to allow any changes to her deathless prose.

Those unfortunate enough to have seen the resulting turkey know that it consists of embarrassed actors delivering stilted dialogue on expressionistic sets. Roark's "brilliant" architectural creations look like something an autistic preschooler might model out of dog poop. The mood varies from the lugubrious to the ridiculous. Frequent references to "the mob" (meaning ordinary folks) give the film a disturbing fascist air, despite the paean to individualism in the courtroom climax.

But don't take our word for it. Let's see what some of the ordinary folks - i.e., the mob - who rented this abortion on Netflix have to say about it. The most salient observations have been rendered in bold for your reading enjoyment.

So bad it's good. I am a huge Cooper fan, and came to this movie with no idea of what to expect. The lunacy of Ayn Rand's philosophy seems kind of creepy in a post 9/11 world. Blowing up a building to protest its architecture is really not something a likable or even sane character in a film should do. The plot is ridiculous and overblown, and the dialogue beyond trite and laughable.

This movie is truly awful, but entertaining and very compelling in its badness. When I first saw it, within 5 minutes I knew this was a stinker, but with every scene it keeps getting more absurd. So much so that I had to keep watching it to so how profoundly lousy it could get. It's the "Plan 9" of dramas. I don't have the time or energy to list all of the ridiculous plot points, dialogue and directing faux pas. My suggestion: watch this with friends and do a shot every time something idiotic happens or a character makes an overblown speech. You'll be trashed by the end of the flick and have a lot of laughs.

Occasionally interesting, mostly absurd, it highlights the strengths and weaknesses of Rand and her Objectivist worldview. It argues eloquently for freedom and individual achievement, but its absolute disdain and hatred for "mediocrities" borders on frightening as it seems to argue that the only point to their existence is as little more than cattle. What really sinks this movie, however is its absurdly, over the top melodramatic tone and almost religious worship of beauty and achievement. It's like a big, campy, philosophical soap opera.

It's full of ludicrously didactic speeches (by Ayn Rand herself) and mismatched performances (Neal's "expressionist" performance v. Cooper's exhausted naturalism). It is not a forgotten masterpiece, as some have claimed, but it is endlessly fascinating. Rand attempts to align Nietzsche (Roark = Nietzschean superman) with capitalism, as well as modernist architecture. Yet for all its attacks on the masses and mob mentality, the film seems to want us to submit to (to worship) the charisma and force of the male protagonist. How is this not unlike what the National Socialists attempted by claiming Nietzsche as a precursor to fascist ideology? Note, in particular, the final shot and its jaw-dropping symbolism: Roark astride the world's tallest skyscraper as the camera (simulating the POV of Dominique) slowly makes its ways towards his outstretched legs? You might think my write-up a bit exaggerated -- but wait until you see the film! My review is modest in comparison!!

It plays like a trailer, just showing off the highlights in Rand's novel. The music cues are so sledgehammer they end up being hilarious.

Phallus phallus phallus phallus phallus. The moral of the story: if you stick to our guns, you can have the biggest phallus in New York City.

Ayn Rand was a facile writer, and she's sometimes fun to read. But anyone who takes her at her own self-evaluation, as a philosopher -- nay, as a prophet -- has his head jammed where the moon don't shine.

As written philosophy, Rands work is at times compelling while in the end it rings hollow as a workable life philosophy. As theatrical art, Rands work is laughable. Most of the characters in the movie are one dimensional caricatures of Rands vision of good and evil. The only character that has a modicum of true character development is the publishing magnate, Wynand. His inability to maintain Rands view of purity and ultimate self-destruction seem the most human of all the characters. The monologues by the characters, while at first entertaining in its in-your-face manner, quickly becomes tiresome. Overall, this movie hits you on the head with a bat when a more subtle approach would have been more appropriate.

Irritating and bizarre. The novel has a sense of humanity -however marginal - that the film utterly and completely fails to convey. The film also fails to explore the dynamic between Peter Keating, Dominique Francon and Howard Roarke that makes the novel so powerful. Ayn Rand is a better novelist than she is a philosopher and, unfortunately, this film busies itself too much with Rand's Objectivist indulgences rather than just telling the story.

One of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Right up there with Mission Impossible 2 for the greatest all time unintentionally funny films of all time.

What the h#*l was this all about? Ms Rand's philosophical posturings here are ludicrous. The only person who'd enjoy this would be George Costanza who is in to architecture (oh, and importing/exporting and marine biology, of course). It was interesting as a look at a strange point in time when people actually took this story seriously but as entertainment well, the elevator came nowhere near the top floor.

Simply put: it is a mess. There is a point being made here, and that point takes over the plot, overriding any common sense or real drama. Most of the acting and dialogue in the film is very fake. It sounded like a high school kid trying to be a drama major wrote it. Almost every word spoken is stilted and cliched. The music is awful. It tries so hard to tell the story that it is distracting. Patricia Neal walks into the room, and DA DA DA DA, BOOM! It becomes kind of silly after awhile. All this adds up to a movie so melodramatic that you start to laugh. The movie is dead serious, and you're cracking up!

Whole sections of the text are spouted almost verbatim by the characters. And even from the mouths of several truly great actors, the dialogue is at turns mawkish, didactic and always tedious.

Stunningly awful: cardboard characters endlessly spout cliched dialogue in the service of a silly plot. Ayn Rand's screen adaptation of her novel stuffs so much of her very own loopy philosophy into this movie that only true-believing movement conservative types will find any humanity in it.

The dialogue and acting are so over the top that it is comedic. The final scene had us roaring with laughter.

Ayn Rand has some literary talent I will grant you, but as a philosophical tract this movie is positively awful. Very warped view of humanity.

This film is seriously unbelievable. While the architect may have some skills as an architect, he's a horrible leader and is unable to convince anyone to look at things his way. His lack of negotiation and leadership skills squanders what talent he has, making him egocentric, annoying and ultimately a failure. What confuses the heck out of me is that I think the author and director want us to side with him. How can anyone?

Sanctimonious malarkey. Wooden acting. Unlikeable characters.

Haven't laughed that hard in a long time--a five star comedy! Hilarious!

And, oh yes, there were a few - a very few - positive reviews from brainwashed Randolators blown away by the genius of it all. These people really do need to get out more.

RandZapper looks forward to reading the reviews of Atlas Shrugged when it opens in '08 or '09. We suspect they will be very similar to the ones above.

Angelina, baby, you'd better get busy and adopt some more kids. 'Cause when the notices come in on this flick, you're gonna need all the comfort you can get.