Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1040: The Lone Ranger Autopsy.

First an apology.

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while. Long story short, I was busy last Thursday, then I got sick on Friday, and really didn't start recovering until early Monday.

However, my absence didn't cause anyone to lose a projected $150,000,000+ so my July 4th Weekend so I guess I'm doing a hell of a lot better than the folks at Disney.

It looks like Disney's The Lone Ranger has suffered a fate similar to ITC/Universal's Legend Of The Lone Ranger in 1981 except on an exponentially bigger scale. In fact, the whole thing seems to be a case of history repeating.

Let's look at the facts of the case.

1. The Source Material: If you're not familiar with the story behind the story, The Lone Ranger started as a radio show in the 1930s, then moved into movie serials, comics, until it reached its peak in the 1950s with a popular television series. Up until the end of the TV series it was probably one of the most popular western franchises in pop culture.

In the case of Legend the last instalment of the franchise had been the 1950s TV series and the two spin-off feature films that ended by 1958. Both the TV series and the films had played in syndicated reruns in the ensuing 23 years. In fact, Clayton Moore, the star of the TV series was still making a living making personal appearances as the Lone Ranger at public events.

The 2013 Ranger was made 31 years after Legend, which was a terrible commercial/critical bomb, long after the reruns faded from syndication, and 10 years after the WB network made a Lone Ranger pilot that was seen by so few, most don't even know it even exists.

So where Legend had fond childhood memories of the franchise going for it, and it still failed, 2013's Ranger had either nothing, or the sour memory of a huge bomb.

2. The Genre: The Western was dead, but on life support in 1981 when Legend was released, but even that life support had been pulled by the time the 2013 Ranger was released. The Western had been crushed to death by the weight of imposing the weight of an overly simplified but horribly complex history onto what was essentially a simple genre.

3. Bad Buzz: 1981's Legend was afflicted by bad buzz from day one. First was the brilliant idea the producers had of getting a court order to ban Clayton Moore, the TV Lone Ranger, from continuing his sideline of doing live appearances in costume.

This made the producers look like greedy bullies picking on an old man trying to eke out a living from his past glories.

That's not a good image to have.

Then came the actors...

The lead actor, Klinton Spilsbury, was a complete unknown, then came word of bad on-set behaviour and that all of his dialogue had to be dubbed by another actor. By the time the film was released, Spilsbury was a complete unknown again.

Thankfully, at least for Armie Hammer, there haven't been any reports of bad behaviour on his part, nor was he needed to be overdubbed. Plus, unlike his predecessor, he's worked before and will probably work again.

However, the same cannot be said for Johnny Depp. Not that he was behaving badly, just that the whole project, and especially Depp's performance reeked of movie-star over-indulgence. Too many quirks, too many affectations, and the return of the insulting "Tonto-talk" that annoys Native Americans that at least 1981's Legend had dropped. One critic called it a cross between Depp's Jack Sparrow character and Jar-Jar Binks.

And that's not including the controversy of Depp's casting. Despite what the actor may believe about his genealogy he's considered a "white" actor, and by adapting the most offensive mannerisms of the old TV stereotype heavily ladled with Depp's own love for playing dress-up only made things worse.

Ironically doing the exact opposite of another film Depp starred in, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, which fought to break such stereotyping. Including the casting of actual native actors in the role. There are talented Native American actors out there, Canada alone has loads of them.

Then came the budgets.

Everyone at the time thought the budget for Legend of the Lone Ranger was too high at $18 million. Disney wishes that their version had only 10X the cost, because then they might have had a chance of breaking even. Instead they spent somewhere between $215 million to $250 million to make the film, and probably over $100 million in prints and advertising costs.

The whole project reeked of over-indulgence by all involved, star, director, and producer, and of a studio powerless to stop them.

Now there are those will say that such business talk doesn't affect a film's box office. Not enough people pay attention to the sort of backstage nonsense you read about in this blog.

While it's true that the percentage of people who pay attention to business news is small, it's not true that such talk has no effect.

The zeitgeist of our popular culture is like a big bowl of very loose gelatine. A small smack on a relatively obscure corner can ripple right across. The average moviegoer may not know the details, but they do get a feeling from a project, and if it's not a good feeling, they will stay home.

That's what I think, feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.


  1. Dirty McDingus Sez:
    Not only that; the show couldn't even stay it's own past! It was a "Retelling" from the get go~~~ I've just started watching and stopped watching a show that had the leads meeting each other to recount their pasts during a period of War.. thereby REMOVING themselves from the story because you already know they lived! That stunt from '~Private Ryan' soured the entire damn movie and I still don't watch spielberg at the bijou any longer for it!
    Anywhos' the action was pretty good CG.. and if you want to watch pretty good CG~ it's the show to watch and that's that.

  2. It may not have anything to do with Legend, but I'd say there's another likely big factor to The Lone Ranger's failure. Like John Carter before it, it was a Disney movie that's not really for kids. Sure, it worked for PotC, but to me PotC is looking more and more like a fluke.