Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And The Cowboy Rides Away

How to explain Disney pulling out of the film version of the radio (yes, I said radio) and television adaptation of The Lone Ranger.  Was it because Cowboys & Aliens was a flop?  Was it because one of Johnny Depp's last movie (The Tourist) was not just a flop but a reviled flop?  Was it because Armie Hammer (as good an actor as we have nowadays) isn't exactly a box office draw?

No, now we get a strange version of the reason The Lone Ranger is no more...strange even by Hollywood standards.  No, I take it back: it's not strange, it's downright bizarre--even just plain crazy.  The thing that has killed The Lone Ranger is...werewolves.  Yes, that's something else Jacob Black has screwed up. 

At first I thought I would discuss why budgets are at last bringing some semblance of sense to filmmaking, and I probably will touch on that as well.  However, I am desperate to comment on this werewolf business.

I think this addition of werewolves and some sort of Native American mysticism is changing the tone of The Lone Ranger and shifting the attention from the Lone Ranger himself to his partner, Tonto.  First, the werewolves would make the film less a Western and more fantasy/science-fiction.  The thing about the Lone Ranger is that is was pretty straightforward: the titled hero would ride in, save the day, and then move on.  He was fighting bandits, not weird monsters.

Second, the serial/series is titled The Lone Ranger, not Tonto.  If they had gone ahead and given The Lone Ranger some otherworldly angle, it would be related to the Native American and not the Anglo counterpart. That being the case, the character of the Lone Ranger would be practically irrelevant, reduced to a mere guest star...in his own film.  In this case, I don't think it is because Depp (one of the biggest stars in the world) was going to play Tonto and Hammer (who isn't) would play the Lone Ranger.   Granted, as the bigger name Depp has every right to have the film focus on him and his character, but to my mind it would be like making a new Sherlock Holmes film and focus almost entirely on Doctor Watson. 

There has to be thought given that the Lone Ranger is the lead, regardless of what people may think of the character being over/above Tonto.  Given that, I don't see how the Lone Ranger would be necessary in fighting werewolves that were connected to Tonto or Native Americans.  However much you may want to make a film that appeals to the broadest market, you can't have an icon of the American West fighting werewolves.  It would be akin to having Paul Bunyan battling the Greek gods--totally laughable and insulting to the source material...let alone logic.

I'm going to digress to discuss the issue of Native American stereotypes regarding the character of Tonto.  I know I'm writing from the perspective of a non-Native American, so I have to bear in mind that I can never truly see things from their perspective.  However, from what I remember of the stories Tonto was never subservient to his Anglo partner.  Rather, he was virtually his equal (he was the sidekick, after all), but it was always a partnership.  Furthermore, the fact that the Lone Ranger would have a Native American as his most valued ally and best friend is surprisingly advanced for the times. 

Yes, having Tonto speak in stereotypical pidgin English (example: "Him no friend") is not the most positive view of Native Americans.  However, on the whole we have to consider the times The Lone Ranger was made.  This was acceptable back then.  Nothing would indicate that this unfortunate tradition would be carried on into the Twenty-First Century, where we have seen Native Americans in elected office (such as former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell) and a more respectful portrayal of Native Americans (like Dances With Wolves).  Again, we cannot apply today's standards on yesterday's actions, nor assume that what was done before would be done now.  In short, I think there would have been a more positive portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger than there has been in any major production of the story.

In terms of money, I am surprised that people would think it would cost over $200 million to make a Western like The Lone Ranger.  I imagine the idiotic werewolves added to it, but on the whole, it boggles the mind that so much money could go into something that was once considered relatively cheap to make.  Westerns were once some of the cheapest productions available, and there is no reason why The Lone Ranger shouldn't have been any different. 

I wonder exactly in what such a gargantuan budget would be required.  The cost of the actors?  I hope not: in this time of economic contraction, it's time some Hollywood stars take a pay cut like the rest of us.  The cost of filming?  Perhaps: a lot of things have gone up in cost.  However, you are filming in the outdoors, and states like New Mexico (a good backdrop to a Western like The Lone Ranger) would gladly give tax incentives to draw the business of a Hollywood studio. 

I imagine thousands of dollars (I'm naive...MILLIONS of dollars) have already been spent getting The Lone Ranger to where it was when the plug was pulled.  That poster wasn't cheap: someone had to be paid to design it and put it together and even come up with it.  Money had to be spent on scouting locations, preparing props and costumes (or at least designing them) and writing out the script (even that damn stupid werewolves bit).  Hiring the actors probably cost money (agents don't work out of charity) and I figure people like Hammer and Depp would be paid to agree to star in The Lone Ranger, perhaps even have had to turn down jobs so that they could be free to do the film. 

I don't know whether The Lone Ranger will see the light of day.  It would be nice, but it would be nicer if those involved in the project went back to the basics: a simple story of a masked rider and his partner riding out to right the wrongs they encounter.  However, to do so we have to drop the werewolves and think that perhaps, people don't have to be dazzled by the evil of 3-D or supernatural elements.  The story should be simple, a throwback to the serial.  That might be a better and stronger selling point. 

It would help tremendously if Hollywood started trusting its audience, started believing that people are smart and making films that appeal to people's intelligence rather than dumbing things down to make people even more dumb (examples: The Hangover Part II and Green Hornet/Lantern).  All those films could have been good, but those involved decided audiences didn't want to think, so they threw a lot of things on the screen and hoped people would think it was great.  Some people I imagine think those films are wonderful, but I would argue they are so beneath anything that can be called good, especially when they all waste talent and opportunities for good stories in exchange for vulgarity, overblown effects, poor attempts at humor (or all three). 

Again I say to Hollywood: trust your audience.  You did once, and look what came from it (Metropolis to Nosferatu, Casablanca to Citizen Kane), and even now, we still get good films (Jane Eyre).

Still, what will become of The Lone Ranger?  We shall see.  He may yet ride once more.

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