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!
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.
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