The Lone Ranger sits alone as one of the biggest financial (and critical) flops of the summer, and perhaps the year. Bad movies are frequent and expected. Expensive bad movies trouble me because it means a whole lot of creative effort went into something that ultimately failed. With a crazy estimated budget of $215M, and a worldwide B.O. take of $255M, by any industry definition, this Gore Verbinski flick is indeed a financial failure. And there are many reasons for this. Johnny Depp likes to blame the critics for spewing early bad reviews. The production had been haunted by stalls and production overruns — never a good sign. But really, what I’m going to point to, is that The Lone Ranger isn’t a particularly good movie. Shocking, right?
In my opinion, it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. Is it a screwball comedy? With drunken horses, pratfalls, and goofy performances? Is it an action movie? Tons of chases on trains might say so. Is it a western with a story of brotherly vengeance and corrupt politicians? I think it COULD have been all that, had the tone been correct and consistent. But, for example, there are a lot of real, gruesome deaths that don’t help the screwball comedy side of things. Sometimes the dialog is off, weird, and definitely anachronistic — but in other parts, it feels more authentic. William Fichtner’s Butch Cavendish is sometimes threatening and dangerous, and other times bumbling. And finally, the bookends of Tonto as a Wild West sideshow display called “The Noble Savage” adds nothing to the message of the story and frankly pulls us out of it in a jarring way. I haven’t read the screenplay, so I don’t know if Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are to blame. Gore Verbinski? Jerry Bruckheimer? I don’t know. In the end, everything became extremely disjointed and incoherent.
Now, lets briefly talk about Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto, which is really Captain Jack Sparrow with more makeup and less drunk Keith Richards. This Tonto could be the singularly most distracting component of the movie. And not because its stereotypical and bordering on racist. The dialect is inconsistent. Sometimes its “Ugh. Big heapum storm comes” — completely devoid of grammatical articles. And sometimes it’s perfect English. Was this an acting choice? Like “Well, Tonto is smarter than he’s given credit for, and is playing stupid so that no one suspects”. Or perhaps it was simply an oversight. Either way, for most of the time, I didn’t want to see Tonto. For that matter I didn’t want to see John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger).
Okay, performance aside, I have a problem with Tonto’s garb. And this has nothing to do with the success or failure of the film. Most people probably wouldn’t even look into this. But, the crow on the head is dumb. I get the symbolism of it, but it’s just…dumb. This whole “crow” concept, Johnny Depp revealed, was inspired when he saw a painting called “I Am Crow” by Kirby Sattler. I noticed this tidbit called out in the credits (Yes, I watch the credits), so I investigated. Now, how often do actors come in and say “Hey, this is what I was thinking for my costume”, and then the costume department or production design says “By all means — lets sew a crow on his head. Great idea, Johnny!” Especially when the production designer is Crash McCreery (Rango, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Carbibeean, among others) and costume designer is Penny Rose (with a slew of BAFTA and Emmy nominations to her name). Maybe because he’s Johnny Depp, his opinion gets more weight on such non-acting matters…. More troubling though, is that the painting is called “I Am Crow”. While there may be crows in this particular painting, the “Crow” refers to the tribe that the subject of the painting is part. NOT THE BIRDS. That said — Tonto, without any doubt in the world, is Comanche. And Comanche, without a doubt, is not Crow. So, is it possible that the war paint on Tonto’s face, inspired by a painting of a Crow warrior, may NOT be something that Comanche would do? I know… this is totally nitpicking, but I like nitpicking things like casting Chinese actors as Japanese in Memoirs of a Geisha. Details like this are important because is shows ignorance and laziness to not at least try to get them correct.
Alrighty — now to the good stuff. And really, the two categories that it received Oscar nods for.
Production value is out of control for this modernized oater. The stunt work and visual effects are probably what made The Lone Ranger so expensive, and frankly, the only reason why one would watch it. I would have liked to have seen more variation than “people fighting on runaway trains” — perhaps some horse chases, fist fights with guys flying through saloon doors, runaway stagecoaches — you know, the usual! Instead, we get stuff happening on speeding trains. And it’s pretty glorious. When the first train sequence finished, I was thinking “How are they going to top this? There is nowhere left to go”. And by the end, we have two trains running on parallel tracking, through mountain passes, with multiple uncoupled cars. Just take the minecar chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and increase it exponentially. I don’t know if the rest of the extremely long two previous hours is worth sitting through. But its a damn fine, and exhausting, ride.
This is the first Oscar nomination. Best Visual Effects. Its certainly deserving of its position, and according to the VFX Branch of the Academy, it’s more worthy than Pacific Rim — which is saying something. VFX Supervisors Tim Alexander (Industrial Light & Magic), Gary Brozenich (MPC), Edson Williams (Lola Visual Effects), and 11 time nominated with 1 time winning (Spider-Man 2) special effects wiz John Frazier, all worked hand in hand to create mindblowing sequences. I’ll be checking out the breakdowns for the VES awards in this coming week, and I’ll edit in some additional info to point out the more spectacular pieces.
Lest you not believe that the work is not Oscar-worthy:
Check out further insight at FXGuide: http://www.fxguide.com/featured/vfx-adventures-the-lone-ranger/
Second nomination is for Best MakeUp and Hairstyling for Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny. As much as I disliked the concept of Tonto’s warpaint, the application is cool. But I don’t think this is what caught the Academy’s eye. I believe one is probably old Tonto, for the prologue, epilogue, and intrusive interstitials, which is comparable to Dick Smith’s amazing work on Dustin Hoffman for Little Big Man. I feel that the make-up had a bit of help from Lola (under Williams’ supervision) to push the character into places that were not physically possible. The other bit of noted makeup is Butch Cavendish’s snarly cut lip, constantly revealing the metal-laid teeth beneath.
My prediction is that The Lone Ranger will not pick up the Oscar simply because the competition is too thick with all bets pointing toward Gravity. On the Makeup/Hairstyle side. It has a chance. I hope beyond hope that Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa does not get recognized. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to devalue the artistry of the make-up. I just don’t want to encourage Johnny Knoxville to make more films. Which leaves Dallas Buyers’ Club as the other contender.
So — that’s it. Try and watch the train sequences. Skip the rest.