The greatest revelation of the month; The Lone Ranger isn’t a bad film, in fact its actually quite enjoyable. Armie Hammer’s deadpan, fish out of water portrayal of the Lone Ranger is good. Johnny Depp does some great physical comedy in the vain of Chaplin and Keaton. It’s great to see the brilliant Ruth Wilson on the big screen and she makes what she can of the thinly drawn clicked character. And William Fichtner is William Fichtner which is all you ever want him to be in a movie! There are some great sets used for real set pieces and physical special effects rather than overused CGI (doubly a good thing because the CGI is shaky at best). So why am I glad the movie is “underperforming” ? Lots of reasons:
The runtime is a few minutes short of a week, well actually it is only 149 minutes. This doesn’t even feel that long when you are watching the movie especially when you compare it to Gore Verbinski’s oh so long and dull Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. But, at 100 minute movie would have been so much better. I have often said that the greatest art comes from overcoming constraints, if you have creative freedom to make a film on as bigger budget as you want and no real constraints on the runtime you will become lazy as a filmmaker and that is what Verbinski has become, lazy. To such an extent that I don’t even remember why I loved the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but I do remember loving it. Had they taken all the little quirks that do nothing to progress the plot or develop the characters out of the movie, it would have been so much better. Had they been restricted on running time we would have seen the best bits of the chain chase and not the whole convoluted thing.
And this brings me onto the next thing. The budget, it is estimated at $250,000,000. What could they possibly have spent $250million on? Could they have told the story for half that amount? Had they done so the movie probably wouldn’t have gotten the backlash it has got from audiences and reviewers, it would have turned a profit and Verbinski would have been given the opportunity to do what he appears to like doing more than anything. Make a sequel or three. It’s not my place to tell Disney how to spend their money, but someone please tell them this does not make good business sense, did they learn nothing from John Carter? Before either Gore Verbinski or Andrew Stanton (director of John Carter) are let lose with another multi million dollar budget they should be made to prove they can remember how to work within constraints. I suggest something like “The Duel Project”. for those who don’t know, producer Shinya Kawai challenged Ryuhei Kitamura and Yukihiko Tsutsumi to make a movie each using just two principal actors/actresses and one location. They had a week to complete the project and came up with Aragami and 2LDK (both 2003).
I have more of a problem with the Monument Valley location than I ever thought I would. The real issue is John Ford, he famously used Monument Valley as a location for his westerns from his early silent days working with actor Harry Carey through his seminal movies including Stagecoach (1939), the “Cavalry Trilogy” (1948-1950) and The Searchers (1956). The first problem is where Monument Valley is (over 500 miles from any part of Texas). This really wasn’t a problem in the 1920’s and 30’s when ford first started using the largely unknown location as it was no less authentic than the Hollywood back lots that other filmmakers were using. It was new to audiences, where as today it is familiar and distracting. Ford was famous for his epic widescreen landscapes, Monument Valley was the most iconic of these but it was more than just a pretty backdrop. Located on the Utah, Arizona border Monument Valley represented freedom, freedom for the studios 650 miles away in Hollywood. It was also home to a Navajo Reservation that gave for access to extras for his films as well as helping fuel his interest in Interest in Navajo culture. This location along with a few others including the Colorado River became mainstays of Ford’s movies representing many different parts of the old west. Ford wasn’t just telling stories, he was creating a legend that endures to this day, Ronald L. Davis said it best in his book John Ford, Hollywood’s Old Master “He captured the nations creation myth on film”. this spirit of freedom and independence is trampled on by a movie made by Disney with a budget somewhere north of $200million. Then you have the biggest issue. If you are going to film a western in Monument Valley, whether you intend it or not you are invoking the spirit of Ford and his movies, and that is something that should be done with care. The silly tone of The Lone Ranger can be overlooked for the positive portrayal of Native American’s within the culture but that is one tick in a positive box against a lot of negatives.
Finally, the real issue, the film is a mess. Although it condemns genocide, it does it in an almost cheerful and off hand way. Does the film wish to be a hard hitting commentary on the poor treatment of the native Americans, or does it want to be a fun romp? Unfortunately I can’t help thinking it wants to be the latter but pretends to be the former in defense of Depp’s casting as a Comanche. To put it simply although an okay movie, its failure might just prompt film makers to think a little more and work a little harder to make good movies not just okay ones. Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan have proved that big budget movies can be fun and intelligent at the same time and still make a profit.