Just before noon Friday, when “Atlas Shrugged Part I” was screening for the first time in 300 theaters across America, the film had a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 6% — and “Atlas Shrugged” was the nation’s number-one Google Trends keyword. (“Ayn Rand” held the no. 11 spot.)
According to Atlas Society executive director David Kelley, who served as a consultant on the film, Ayn Rand couldn’t have written it better herself.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said.
Kelley ascribed critical reaction as one that’s common for “the talking class” — i.e., would-be “left-wing” critics and intellectuals — who reject Rand’s Objectivism message that highlights the virtue of selfishness and positions goverment as villainous. “‘Atlas Shrugged’ has become the bible of the Tea Party movement,” he says.
As for the online response, “the fact that it’s opening in 300 theaters is a response to popular demand. It’s buzz on the internet, people asking ‘Where can I find it?'”
Rotten Tomatoes’ audience rating was 86%, with 5,446 votes. The critic-based Tomatometer earned its 6% “Rotten” status with 16 reviews (15 negative, one positive). The film has benefited from a grassroots release campaign through Rocky Mountain Pictures, which has also handled faith-based titles such as “The 5th Quarter” and “The Lion of Judah.” (That said, Rand herself was a lifelong atheist.)
If the film is a success this weekend, it would be following in the novel’s footsteps. While Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says the film “sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal,” the novel “Atlas Shrugged” also received almost universally negative reviews. It went on to become a massive bestseller — not that Kelley is expecting the film to succeed to the same degree.
“I was surprised at how good the acting was, the cinematography,” he says. “It looks like it was made for three or four times the budget. It’s well made and tells the story.”
As for the perceptions of the film through two websites — one a filtered aggregation of “the talking class,” the other a raw feed of people’s interests — he believes Rand would have appreciated the discrepancy.
“She would have been a great admirer of the technology. It’s another way for people to communicate,” Kelley says. “She didn’t have a lot of respect for what came out of the media.”