The Lone Ranger
January 14, 2014
Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski’s first collaboration was on the surprise box office success that was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). They worked together on two subsequent sequels, Dead Men’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007) that, while commercially successful, were less and less enthusiastically received. As the Morrissey song goes, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,” and the press were waiting for Depp and Verbinski to deliver a commercial flop. Sure enough, they did with a re-imagining of The Lone Ranger (2013).
Ignoring the fact that big budget westerns almost always perform poorly at the box office (see Wild Wild West, Cowboys & Aliens, and Jonah Hex), Depp and Verbinski thought that they could do for the western what they did for the pirate movie – reinvent it in a fresh and entertaining way that would appeal to a mainstream audience. Plagued with numerous, highly publicized production problems, there was a sense early on that The Lone Ranger was going to be a hot mess of a movie. So it came as no surprise to anyone when it was savaged by critics and underperformed woefully at the box office.
Utilizing a framing structure that recalls Little Big Man (1970), we meet Tonto (Depp) as wizened old Comanche in 1933 working at a traveling carnival as a historical curiosity. When a little boy, dressed as his old partner the Lone Ranger, speaks to him, it sparks memories of when he was much younger and first encountered the masked lawman. He takes us back to 1869 and the expansion of the West, thanks to the creation of the railroad, which is in full swing with tycoon Latham Cole (Wilkinson) leading the way, all in the name of progress.
Tonto and district attorney John Reid (Hammer) cross paths while being on the same train – the former a prisoner and the latter a passenger – when notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (Fichtner) escapes with the help of his gang and a spectacular derailment that almost kills our heroes. They start off as antagonists with the upstanding Reid viewing Tonto as a criminal despite having his life saved by the Native American Indian. However, they soon become unlikely allies when Cavendish kills Reid’s brother, a Texas Ranger (Dale), and leaves the lawyer for dead. They join forces to find Cavendish and avenge Reid’s brother’s death. As a result, The Lone Ranger is part revenge picture and part origins story as we see how Reid becomes the legendary hero and how Tonto helped him achieve that.
With, at times, an unorthodox take on the western, Verbinski’s movie attempts to fuse elements of the films of John Ford and Sergio Leone with a dash of acid western surrealism. In retrospect, Verbinski’s bizarro animated film Rango (2011), which also featured Depp), was a warm-up for The Lone Ranger with its fascinating subversion of western conventions. He applied some of its cartoonish slapstick with this movie’s action set pieces (something that he also did with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) with Depp employing some of the same shtick as the silent film comedies he admires (see Benny & Joon).
Much like with Cowboys & Aliens, The Lone Ranger was targeted for kids (under the Disney banner no less), but the end result is decidedly more adult in nature with a disfigured cannibal as one of its villains and detours into Native American Indian mysticism that must’ve scared off families expecting a more traditional action/adventure movie. While hardly the train wreck most critics would have you believe, The Lone Ranger is hardly a masterpiece either. It is too long and could be trimmed of some narrative fat. Perhaps its biggest misfire is making Reid something of a naïve bumbler until the end when he magically transforms into an iconic action hero, which betrays the very fabric of the character. That being said, Verbinski’s movie is beautifully shot with some truly impressively staged action sequences. It pays tribute to the western’s rich history as much as it plays with our expectations of the genre.
Bojan Bazelli’s stunning cinematography looks great on this Blu-Ray with texture and detail coming vividly to life.
“Armie’s Western Roadtrip” follows actor Armie Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer as they travel to New Mexico and Utah, enduring extreme weather conditions as they make The Lone Ranger.
“Riding the Rails of The Lone Ranger” takes a look at how the staged the amazing train chase at the climax of the film. The production actually built period-accurate trains for this sequence, which makes you appreciate how they pulled it off even more!
“Being a Cowboy” shows the actors going through a Cowboy Boot Camp in order to learn all the basics: horse riding, firing period-authentic weapons, using a lasso, driving a wagon, and so on.
Also included is a deleted scene that consists of a combination of storyboards, animatics and text in place of useable dialogue.
Finally, there is a blooper reel of the cast flubbing lines and goofing around.