Friday, April 28, 2006

Who is John Galt?

Can it actually happen? Is Ayn Rand's monumental novel Atlas Shrugged going to make it to the big screen at last? Showbiz magazine Variety says: "Ayn Rand's most ambitious novel may finally be brought to the big screen after years of false starts." They report that Lionsgate has acquired the distribution rights for the film from the team of Howard and Karen Baldwin. Businessman John Aglialoro, a long-time Rand fan, will produce the project along with the Baldwins.

Variety notes that for the role of Dagny Taggart "it's not a stretch to assume Rand enthusiast Angelina Jolie's name has been brought up. Brad Pitt, also a fan, is rumoured to be among the names for lead male character John Galt." After years of ups and downs the film had made landed on the desk of Philip Anschutz and the Baldwins were working with him to get the film produced. Anschutz, a billionaire conservative might be attracted to the pro-market message of the book but he is also a hard Right religionist who would no doubt find Rand's commitment to reason and individual rights disturbing. In the end Anschutz pulled the plug.

The Baldwins left to form Baldwin Entertainment Group and they took Atlas with them. They told Variety: "What we've always needed was a studio that had the same passion for this project that we and John have." Cost for the film is estimated to be in excess of $30 million. But as a novel Atlas sells around 100,000 copies per year and has a ready made audience of fans who would give their right to see it.

A Pitt/Jolie team could be brought on board. Now that these two are a couple negotiation would be easier. And Pitt, who was too young and too much of a pretty boy for the role, has matured as an actor and in his looks. I suspect Ayn would approve. With the famed couple both Rand fans they may well be willing to take a smaller salary for a larger cut of the profits simply because they like the book. Their names attached to this title would make it a hit at the box office and create hundreds of thousands of new fans for Rand's rational capitalism.

But the most difficult problem still has to be face -- how to turn this leviathan of a book into a manageable screen play. It has been conceived as a mini-series in the past simply due to the length. Howard Baldwin admitted they have considered making two films. In addition large sections of Rand's novel are mired in old technologies that no longer hold the importance they did in the past: Taggart's railroad and Rearden's steel works for example. And the question has to be asked whether the movie-going public will comprehend their vital importance to the plot.

I fear that the novel will not translate well to film and may disappoint many of Rand's loyal fans. But then they are not an easy crowd to make happy as many seem intent on being miserable on principle. But still the combination of the names Ayn Rand, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would still be box office magic. If the film is made it will be one of the most talked about theatrical events of the year and one that is sure to earn back its investment quickly. Millions of Rand's fans will attend the film and I suspect that millions of Pitt/Jolie fans would be inspired to read the novel and at least a few hundred thousand will actually finish it. Those that do are the lucky ones.