Friday, September 11, 2015

The Lone Ranger

Gallagher’s Forum

By Jon Gallagher

The Lone Ranger (Disney, 2013) – Director: Gore Verbinski. Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Saginaw Grant, & Mason Elston Cook. Color, 149 minutes.

Let me be clear about something right up front: I don’t like reboots. It flat out pisses me off that some idiot thinks that he’s got a better idea of how a story should be told, so he changes what the original author or screenwriter created to mold characters and situations to better fit the rebooter’s vision of a better story.

If the original author or screenwriter had wanted it that way, that’s the way he (or she) would have written it!

Over the last several years, we’ve sat through and endless parade of Batmen, Supermen, Spidermen, Fantastic Fours (Would that be Fantastic Eight? Elite Eight?), and even the Lone Ranger.

Speaking of the Lone Ranger…

I realize the movie came out a couple of years ago, but after reading one horrible review after another, I decided my money would be better spent on other frivolous things rather than a ticket or even a rental. I waited for the film to appear on Encore (which my cable company thinks I should have) and watched it On Demand instead.

I’m glad I saved my money.

The movie is little more than a vehicle for Johnny Depp to display his versatility as an actor. Evidently he was so concerned that he might be recognized in his role as Tonto that he spent most of the movie hiding behind face paint that made him look more like “the Crow” version of professional wrestler Sting than it did an Indian.

The plot, along with the origin of the Lone Ranger, is absolutely horrid. Depp had to be “the star” of the film, so they centered the movie more around the Indian sidekick than they did on the masked man. Armie Hammer dons the mask to hide his identity of John Reid.

We begin the movie with a little kid dressed like the Lone Ranger entering a carnival sideshow that depicts the old West. When he gets to the display of an Indian in his “natural habitat,” he discovers that the wax figure is actually a human being: Depp under several pounds of prosthetics, which was no doubt modeled after Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. After the curious little kid asks a bunch of questions, Tonto reveals the origin of this incarnation of the Lone Ranger.

Of course, since Depp is the star, we have to have Tonto looking good, so he comes off as the brains of the duo, reprising his Captain Jack Sparrow character at times, teaching his protégé, a bumbling nerdish attorney how to be a man in the Wild Wild West. The attorney is John Reid (Hammer), who is the brother of Texas Ranger Dan Reid.

The evil, cannibalistic Butch Cavendish is being taken to his hanging when he escapes with the help of his gang and kills everyone who is trying to transport him. John survives having been deputized by his brother, and shocks Tonto as the Indian is trying to bury Cavendish’s massacre.

The main problem I had with the film (other than a really horrific scene in which Cavendish becomes cannibalistic – that should NEVER have made the final cut of a DISNEY movie) is that director Gore Verbinski couldn’t figure out if he wanted to offer up a straight Western drama or a comedy or a parody of the old West. There are times when he attempts to do all three, and it just doesn’t work. Combine that with the frustration of those of us who grew up seeing the Lone Ranger as a hero, and you can get a better idea of why movie-goers stayed away in droves; word of mouth gets around fast.

The last 40 minutes of the movie aren’t bad at all. There’s a sequence where the bad guys are battling the good guys on a pair of trains that are, for the most part, chasing each other along a newly laid set of tracks. Most of it is CGI, but done well enough to be exciting and only a little distracting (when something unbelievable happens like Silver galloping along atop one of the trains). The thing is this whole scene could have been done just as effectively without the Lone Ranger and Tonto. With the Lone Ranger in the cast, HE needs to be the focus, not the special effects.

One other thing that bothered me a lot was the use of the “William Tell Overture.” Ever since the days of radio, the Lone Ranger theme has been used for every single incarnation of the character. It was used here during the “chase” scene with the trains, but it didn’t work well. I think it was mainly because the action on the screen didn’t match the rhythm of the music, and that might have been too difficult to do. However, the swells and crescendos didn’t match what was going on movie-wise either, and that made it somewhat distracting. Had I been the director, I would have hired the orchestra AFTER the fact and let the conductor watch the movie as he was arranging the score. That obviously wasn’t done and the end result came across as Verbinski saying, “Oh yeah! We gotta include that music thing! I’ll just stick it in here.”

I won’t be as harsh as some have been. The chase scene saved it from getting a failing grade, but it only pulled the grade up to a D. My advice, had this been an assignment of mine when I was a teacher, would have been, “Pick out what theme you’re going to use (comedy, parody, whatever) and stick with it throughout.”

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