Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Lone Ranger


I’ve got to stop listening to “the Buzz.” You know, the consensus that emerges among critics and cinema wonks that a particular film is a disaster. It happened with John Carter, which wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone was saying. I feel that the same thing happened here. The director, Gore Verbinski, went so far as to publish a rant where he maintained that the critics had already written their reviews before even seeing the movie, before it was even completed, and he had some pretty damning evidence. I think there’s a good case to be made that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The production was “troubled,” went the Buzz. It was way over budget. They had spent a third of a billion dollars, and would never be able to recoup all that. And sure enough, I think enough of the potential audience—who follow this stuff carefully these days—read these items and decided not to go. The reviews were pretty awful … in America. In Europe, oddly enough, it was well-reviewed. Are they stupid, or are we?

I am old enough to remember when no one knew what a studio spent to make a movie. We were aware if a movie was a hit or not, but only after it opened; all you had to do was look at the lines, or lack of them. But we didn’t know the grosses. Those were printed just in Variety. Now all media write stories about that kind of stuff, and quote figures, too. And I do believe it can affect the box office.

Well, I’m reviewing the reviewers, aren’t I, and not the movie. And I’m not maintaining that in ten years it will be viewed as a classic, as Verbinski asserted. But it’s not nearly as bad as I anticipated from the Buzz. In fact, we had a good time. There is a terrific train chase and wreck to open it, and another one at the end. It’s true that the one at the end went way, way, way beyond the bounds of credibility, what with a white horse galloping away on top of a careening train and jumping from car to car … but what action movie doesn’t go over the top at the end these days? I just sat back and mostly laughed at the antics. People have also torpedoed Johnny Depp’s quirky performance as Tonto, and it’s clear that Verbinski and Depp were intending to create another character as dippy as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and it wasn’t as good as that, but I thought he was pretty funny. I also liked that Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger was pretty much a bumbling dope for most of the movie. “What’s with the mask?” was a recurring line, and it was really funny when the ancient Indian chief said it.

The worst thing about it, in my view, is that it tried to transition from broad comedy and satire into attempting to make us really care about the characters in peril. We know nobody important is going to be badly hurt. We know that Kemo Sabe (and what the fuck does that really mean?) will cut the ropes when poor Becky is tied to the railroad tracks or a log headed for the buzz saw. Thankfully, they got through those parts pretty quickly and went back to the comic action and violence.

I have to add that the DVD extras were really good. These days it’s often literally impossible to tell whether what you’re seeing is real, or computer-generated. If it’s a vast vista of, say, New York City in 1920, you can be sure it’s done electronically. But other action scenes can mix real (called “practical” in the trade) and CGI, or be entirely CGI, and you can’t tell. With this movie I just assumed that all the moving train stuff was CGI, and assumed there were no real trains at all. Wrong! The great majority of the action scenes were practical. They built a six-mile oval railroad track, good enough to run Amtrak trains at speed. They built two steam engines from the ground up. They cast the wheels, they made every part. They made all the train cars. I was sure that the climax of the opening train wreck, where the engine slides toward Tonto and the Lone Ranger, was CGI. It wasn’t. They put the engine on its side and dragged it toward the actors. I’d say that even if you don’t enjoy the movie, you might just like the documentaries that show how all that movie trickery was done.