8 Things To Know About 'The Lone Ranger'
July 2nd, 2013 12:00pm EDT
On July 3, Disney is going to march out a film that they certainly hope is a hit. With an astounding budget and plenty of big name stars it can be easy to get lost in a pool of popcorn butter. The Lone Ranger has been around for a hell of a lot longer than you think, coming from a time when people listened to the radio (and I mean in places other than their cars). As anything that is exceptionally old there is a whole lot going on under that wrinkly surface (the appeal of this piece with the seniors is going to be through the roof) with plenty of stories and information that theaters full of people just have no idea about. You don’t want to be one of the ill informed so saddle up and watch your feet as I drop some knowledge about Disney’s The Lone Ranger.
Not Your Daddy’s Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger began as a radio show in 1933 before heading to a series of books and eventually finding its way to television. The television show aired on ABC from 1949 to 1957 and was a bona fide hit for its network. At the time, the Western was king and The Lone Ranger a proud member of its court. The Lone Ranger helped to define the television Western and was a precursor to Bonanza, Maverick, The Virginian, and countless others. Flanked by his trusted sidekick Tonto and loyal house Silver, the character is a pillar of Americana. Shrouded in mystery and standing for justice and truth, he was a bastion of strength and doing the right thing; a man’s man with a strong moral compass.
The new Lone Ranger isn’t exactly the same. At the beginning of the film he is not even a Texas Ranger, rather a lawyer. He is more brains than brawn and just a bit cowardly. He of course is deputized by his brother Dan, Captain of the Rangers, but perhaps only out of necessity to accurately hold his future title. He is kind of a wimp and the butt of numerous jokes. This time around we are supposed to be learning about how John Reid (they at least kept the names straight) eventually became the Lone Ranger, but for those fans of the original be forewarned that he doesn’t start out so great.
A Hard Role To Fill
Armie Hammer (actual name, for those who have yet to be aware of him) takes a hold of Silver’s reigns this time around. You would think a character that was undeniably popular in his time and made enough of a mark on the American lexicon to still merit discussion today would have been portrayed ad nauseum. However, this is far from the case. If we do not include the numerous voice actors that inhabited the character, there have only been six other actors to don the mask, and even that number is up for debate.
The first appearance of the Lone Ranger came in a 1938 film serial produced by Republic. The serial did not reveal the identity of the Lone Ranger until the final chapter, thus allowing the six actors that portrayed the candidates to each have a shot behind the mask. By the end, Lee Powell was shown to be the Masked Man, but he would not continue to portray the character. A second serial, The Lone Ranger Rides Again, was released in 1939 with Robert Livingston starring, although he spent the majority of the time unmasked. Both of these serials are exceedingly rare, with complete copies of both being nearly nonexistent.
The next, and most famous, actor to fill the role was in the television series. For many fans of the Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore is the only man for the job. He portrayed the character from 1949 to 1951 and again from 1954 to 1957, in addition to two feature films, The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958); due to a contract dispute, John Hart took over duties for one year. Audiences never truly accepted Hart in the role and Moore would spend the next 40 years participating in personal appearances, TV guest spots, and classic commercials as the Lone Ranger.
In 1981, a new film was made. The Legend of the Lone Ranger starred Klinton Spilsbury. The film was shrouded in controversy with a lawsuit initiated by the production banning Clayton Moore from making appearances in the iconic mask and a strange choice to have all of Spilsbury’s lines dubbed by James Keach. In short, the film was a failure.
The most recent attempt came in 2003 when the WB decided to give it a crack. A pilot was produced with Chad Michael Murray filling the lead role. The odd choice was made to change the character’s true name from John Reid to Luke Hartman and the pilot did not fare well. The series was never picked up and the two hour pilot is all that remains.
As you can see, putting the Lone Ranger on screen hasn’t come with a lot of success. It may have been 55 years since he last showed up onscreen, but Clayton Moore remains the most accepted and commercially relevant version. Armie Hammer has his work cut out for him.
The title of the film is The Lone Ranger and all of the past incarnations have centered upon that character, nevertheless don’t expect that to be the case this time. I suppose when you have Johnny Depp in a role that has typically been forced to the background, you can’t just let him sit back there. Early on in the process it started to become clear that Tonto was going to play a much more important part in the story. In an interview with EW, Depp would say:
I always felt Native Americans were badly portrayed in Hollywood films over the decades. It’s a real opportunity for me to give a salute to them. Tonto was a sidekick in all the Lone Ranger series. [This film] is a very different approach to that partnership. And a funny one I think.
During the scripting phase director Gore Verbinski sat down with the LA Times and said about the film:
The only version of The Lone Ranger I’m interested in doing is Don Quixote told from Sancho Panza’s point of view. And hence I was honest early on with Johnny that Tonto is the part. We’re not going to do it [straight], everyone knows that story. I don’t want to tell that story.
As you can see, it has been the case from the get go, so while it may be called The Lone Ranger, it is definitely Tonto’s story.
If you’ve seen any marketing material you have no doubt taken note of Tonto’s decidedly different costume. You may just assume that this is a choice made by the costume department to set this Tonto apart from his predecessors but it actually has a deeper back story than that. The look was inspired by a Kirby Sattler painting entitled I Am Crow. Depp made the discovery and was so inspired that the painting was officially licensed for the film. The most notable portion of the painting, and eventual costume, is the crow that appears to rest on the man’s head. In an interview with EW, Depp had this to say about the crow:
It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior’s head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top. I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive.
The crow becomes a large part of the character’s eccentricity, so it is a bit comforting to know that there was some purpose to its inclusion.
The Score That Could’ve Been
The final score as it’s heard in the film is provided by veteran film composer Hans Zimmer. Zimmer and Verbinski have been working together since Verbinski’s The Ring in 2002; in fact, this film marks their seventh collaboration. Zimmer’s score is fantastic, as is to be expected from the prolific composer, but a different person was initially set to fulfill composition duties.
Jack White, of White Stripes, The Raconteurs and general Jack White fame (seriously the guy has so many bands) was the original choice for the film. White had previously recorded some tracks for Cold Mountain and provided the theme song for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, but he had never taken on the task of composing an entire score. The Playlist reported that the change was due to scheduling conflicts from the film’s mutable release date, clarifying that White still contributed several pieces of music to the production. It is hard to find fault in the film’s final score but part of me can’t help but wonder what Jack White would’ve cooked up.
It’s On…No, It’s Off…Wait, It’s Back On
It hasn’t exactly been an easy ride for The Lone Ranger. Despite a director that had earned Disney plenty of cash with the Pirates franchise and an actor with a devoted fandom and a comedic tone, the production’s history was like a flickering light bulb.
Even for Disney, a price tag of over $200M is quite hefty. Initially, the film was budgeted at $250M until it was pared down to $230M. While they normally would be willing to foot that chancy bill, they already had full investments in John Carter at $250M (we know how that one worked out) and Oz The Great and Powerful at more than $200M. With some casting complete, Deadline reported in August 2011 that Disney had pulled the plug on The Lone Ranger. Luckily, with strong support from the actors and filmmaking team, the production regained its footing and is finally seeing release on July 3. Oh yeah, that release date, let’s talk about that.
Who Knows When It Will Be Released
Upon the announcement that Disney would be mounting a production of The Lone Ranger, a mid 2011 release date was envisioned. However, ever loyal to its established franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides would take over that spot; although it may have also had something to do with The Lone Ranger’s lack of director. Following the decision to employ Gore Verbinski, the release date was reset for December 21, 2012. Then there were all those production setbacks. Delays due to budget concerns and the precarious status of the film shifted the release to May 31, 2013. Nevertheless, even that would not be the final move. Deadline reported that The Lone Ranger was being set up for the 4th of July weekend with a release date of July 3rd. The move came after the announcement of Alan Horn as the new Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Robopocalypse was determined unable to meet its previous July 3rd release date.
So yeah…that’s how we got here.
Johnny & Gore
You may now be wondering how an exorbitantly expensive film with this many changes and delays was able to make it to your local theater. For an answer I point to its star and its director. Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski are the main reasons this film was able to overcome its many obstacles. The duo had produced box-office gold for the Mouse House with the Pirates franchise, and like any company, they were trying to recapture that lightning. It wasn’t Depp and Verbinski’s first foray into the Western genre, with their 2011 computer-animated Rango not only finding commercial but also critical success. Even when the production was thought to be lost, eyes turned to Depp and his devotion to the film seemed to allow it to rise from the ashes.
Depp and Verbinski are a team that has been able to produce financially successful films that entertain audiences across the world. The two appear to enjoy working with another, with The Lone Ranger marking their fifth collaboration. If things continue like this, Tim Burton might want to keep a close eye on the two.
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Photo Credits: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Rui M. Leal / PR Photos, Craveonline