Sunday, August 25, 2013

THE LONE RANGER gets no respect!

I’m not sure at what age I first learned of The Lone Ranger but I think it was when the ads for this line of toys appeared in my youth. My one solid memory of this is of the origin tale of the character as it was related on the packaging for these pieces of sturdy plastic. It was laid out in comic book fashion and got across the story briefly and effectively enough that I wanted the toys and spent hours playing Lone Ranger and Tonto with them.

I lay this out because most fans of the character seem to have come to it through the Clayton Moore television series of the 1950’s but to this day I have only seen a handful of episodes of that much loved show. I don’t dislike what I’ve seen of it but it held no particular appeal for me so…….

I remember pretty well the hubbub that sprang up around the production of the feature film THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (1981) and remember thinking it had the reputation of being a silly mess surrounding a character I had walked away from around the same time I lost or mangled beyond repair my old toys. Time marches on and cooler things were out there mostly in the form of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and Fantastic Four comic books. By 1981 I was occasionally able to get to a movie theater but I never even wanted to catch this incarnation of the Lone Ranger and I even passed up any opportunity once it showed up on pay cable a few years afterwards. What few moments I saw at the time seemed very uninteresting especially when time could be better spent watching THE GODFATHER or SUPERMAN again. In fact, the 1981 LR film made so small a ripple in my movie loving mind that I was only reminded of it when the new Disney produced giant budgeted Summer Blockbuster ® was barreling down the chute to a theater near everyone. Now, I thought, now is the time to finally see that long forgotten and badmouthed western.

“Surely,” I thought, “it couldn’t really be as bad as the press made out back in the eighties. I bet it’s actually pretty good. I’m sure the ham-handed way the film’s producers handled the release and the controversy over letting Clayton Moore wear his Lone Ranger mask in public obscured a quality slice of cinema ripe for reevaluation. I’ll dig the film up and check it out before venturing out to see the new version. It’ll be instructive.”

And my friends, it was instructive. THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER is without a doubt one of the lousiest western movies I have ever seen. I don’t say this lightly. I have seen a lot of B grade westerns from the 1940’s and 50’s but I would recommend even the worst of those oaters over this boring, poorly directed, badly photographed attempt to craft a movie. The film’s only good as a curio of how to have a number of things in place and just not know how to line them up. The script is pedestrian with no energy or verve. It goes out of its way to set up the Ranger’s childhood for no good reason serving only to eat up screen time that could have been better used to tell a story about the freakin’ Lone Ranger doing something!

Much has been made of the casting of the lead and I have to admit that Klinton Spilsbury is no one’s idea of a leading man- except the producers of this film! He isn’t always bad but most of the time his performance is flat and as an onscreen presence he is simply uninteresting. In a genre dominated by actors that the camera loves Spilsbury can't hold his own because the camera doesn't seem to know he's there. Sadly, I don’t even like actor Michael Horse as Tonto either. It was nice to see a real Native American in the role but he has many of the same acting deficiencies as his co-star making things dull every time they are exchanging dialog. After a while I kept hoping the film would descend into deeper depths of ‘bad’ so I could at least start having some fun by laughing at it. But the movie manages to maintain a level of mediocrity that made it hover in the tedious range causing my eyes to glaze over at the paucity of talent being brought to bear on this tale. How could such a well known character become so poorly represented on the big screen? Why was this pretty damned good story being handled in such a lackluster manner? It was just a sad thing to see. The 2013 film was going to be much better than this. Easily!

Woo boy.

I sat down in the theater last month to see THE LONE RANGER (2013) with mixed feelings. The reviews had been harsh but I had heard enough good comments from film nuts to make me think this one might be another of the 'hated at the time but loved later on' movies that I find so endearing. Damn.

I will just start by saying that this film is easily an hour too long. That's right- I didn't mistype that sentence. THE LONE RANGER could have and should have been trimmed by at least an hour and the place to start is the framing story of the old Tonto relating the main tale to a boy in the 1920's. Who thought this was a good idea? I suspect the scriptwriters thought that by couching the story as a Tall Tale told by an Unreliable Narrator they could slide some of their more asinine scenes and uncomfortable juxtapositions by the audience. After all- how do you justify a film that shows the genocide of a tribe of Indians right before it tries to convince you that a man on horseback could ride at a gallop through a passenger train car. One is a terrible, dark moment of real weight and the other is a silly, impossible scene that gets dumber as it goes on. Hell- it started with the Ranger riding his horse on top of the moving train in the first place and just gets more ridiculous as it continues with Rube Goldberg contraptions adding to the visual clutter, confusion and my anger.

Which leads to my second major complaint- the movie cannot decide on a tone. The film jumps back and forth between silly humor and harsh violence and seems to have no idea these two things don't belong together. How could a group of smart people think that a scene in which a man carves the heart out of another man's chest and eats it should be followed up by a scene in which Tonto jokes around with a horse over the man's grave? Yeah, Johnny Depp's delivery is funny as he speaks to the possibly supernatural horse but what are these two scenes doing in the same film? Were two different scripts mashed together?

Which leads me to my third problem- why is there a supernatural horse running around this movie? This beast at one point is standing in a tree and repeatedly magically appears where ever it seems most convenient for the plot. The idea is that the Ranger's survival of the ambush that killed the other Ranger's with which he was travelling is a miracle caused by the gods. What? Why do this? Why can't it just be that he was left for dead and lived because he was found and nursed back to health by Tonto? What is wrong with that story? Why complicate the tale for no good consequence? Adding a supernatural element  is pointless and irritating. Its as if the filmmakers didn't trust the story they were telling and decided to add a lot of nonsense to it to make it more 'interesting'.

And why is the character played by Helena Bonham Carter in this film? She serves next to no function and her steam punk inspired false leg is just more pointless silly filigree on an over decorated set. Ugh. I could go on and complain about the stupid CGI aided stunt work that makes every action scene unbelievable and cartoonish but I'm sick of this thing. They should have made THE Lone Ranger film but they blew it and in the process they have set the character back to zero again. Thanks Hollywood. Fail! 


Kal said...

I was kinder with this picture than you were but I can't disagree with any of your points of criticism. Legend of the Lone Ranger was on of those films that hit my awareness just as I was reading a lot about movies and current movies coming out. Anything with an adventure theme I wanted to see. I REMEMBER Legend being the first film that I was really upset with seeing. I thought movies were suppose to be fun...especially masked cowboy movies.

Hunter said...

I'm one of those who discovered the Lone Ranger through the Clayton Moore TV show and movies. Loved those---and still do.

Legend of the Lone Ranger was my first experience with dreading/hating/being pissed off about a movie before it even came out. I despised the way Clayton Moore was treated over his wearing the mask. The fact that the studio/producers did that was enough for me to hate the movie. But I. The end, curiosity got the better of me, and I saw it in the theater. And it was atrocious, as you've described.

Then the new movie was first announced, I had hopes that it would be enjoyable, if nothing else. The first photo of Depp did not turn me off from the movie (the first photo of Depp from Dark Shadows did). No, it was the second or third trailer that included the scene of them on the train and the whole stupid, "We're leaving," "No we're not," "Yes, we are" bit. I knew then that it was going to be wretched. I never bothered to go see it, but I've not heard from anyone who did see it who said they liked it.


Hunter said...

Forgive the typos above. I was typing from my iPad....

Mr. Ghoul said...

I think the key word from your blog is "trust", in, maybe the number one problem with craptastic attempts to launch a franchise based on an established pop culture character is that the "suits" who oversee these productions really DON'T trust the fictional character/story's original charms to be translatable to modern audiences. I suspect that what happens is (a) property is either owned or acquired by major movie company. (b) some higher-up goes to some less higher-up (probably just out of college), drops the property in his lap, and says "develop this". (c) the youngster peruses this property he/she has never heard of, shakes his head and wonders "what losers actually LIKE this?" and then sets about finding elements that are tried-and-true (like...impossible stunts and supernatural horses...)that can be forced onto the property, and if the movie is loud, endlessly destructive and in 3D, maybe...please God willing...your average mall shoppers will plunk down $11 (and upwards) to see it.

Rod Barnett said...

Wow! My podcasting partner may have found the problem. Thank you Mr. Ghoul, mysterious man of evil intent. You thoughts seem spot on to me vis-a-vis the lack of trust in the story. This would explain the unwillingness to do the story strait with out the silly, out of place humor clogging up the film.

And don't worry Hunter - I'm just as bad on my new iPad as well. Hell- I'm bad on my computer keyboard!

Ray Cunneff said...

For me, it's interesting to compare and contrast the film fates of "The Lone Ranger" and "Superman" because as a kid I listened to both on the radio before either made it to television.

Both made the transition to TV well, unlike other popular radio shows - "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" comes to mind.

But where "Superman" has enjoyed several successful film and TV incarnations, "The Lone Ranger" has failed miserably - twice! It may be true that the movie makers did not trust the basic concept - or it's simply too deeply rooted in the 1950's cultural innocence.

Ozone4 said...

Can we say 'The Green Hornet'?


Rod Barnett said...

Oh my! If I spent the time I could detail the failings of the sad Green Hornet film but the thought depresses me.
And Ray- I don't know if the Lone Ranger tale is too rooted in 1950's innocence to succeed in the modern film sphere but you might be onto something there. I suspect the nostalgia tinged view of both fans and producers might have some terrible effect on the quality of what we have seen so far. The desire often is to make jokes a the expense of the character and even the concept as if the filmmakers are too 'smart' to take the thing seriously. Stupid! We just got a deadly serious Godzilla film that works wonderfully because the creators accepted the ideas at the heart of the tale an treated it well. It CAN happen but it takes the right filmmakers.