I saw "The Lone Ranger" on Saturday with an overflow crowd at the Academy (AMPAS). It ran some two hours and twenty minutes...and rides into the nation's theatres on Wednesday, July3rd. I came out of the screening exhausted, with a mixed reaction....as did much of the older viewers at the industry event. "Who is the audience for this film," asked my date. She then answered herself: "It's the people who loved the same filmmakers' "Pirates of the Caribbean". Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski were so successful with that franchise they decided to transfer it to the American West." "But," I asked, "would you take a young child to see this...since it is very violent in spots. It got a PG 13 rating for violence, adult language, smoking and drinking." She scoffed at my old foggie attitude and said that the teen-age and young adult (Twenties) audience today is inured to such violence and doesn't take it seriously. I wonder.
all photos courtesy of Disney
Tonto talks to Silver
The press made a big deal about the production problems in getting it made; Disney rebelled at the $250 million budget and the filmmakers cut it down to $215 million or some such figure and it was then shot starting in February, 2012, over several months, in Utah and mainly in New Mexico. Johnny Depp has been giving interviews for the past week or so about how he chose the Tonto role because he wanted to do something to gravitas the American Indian presence in films. I was intrigued by the note that he based his 'look' on a painting by Kirby Sattler called "I Am Crow." It depicts an Indian warrior,his face striped white and black, with a bird perched incongruously on his head. Do you remember that Depp directed his first film, "The Brave," in the Mojave desert, also about an American Indian played by Johnny who agrees to be the subject of a snuff film at the end of his life, with Marlon Brando as the sadist. I have not seen it since it has never been released in this country. If you recall, all of the previous Tontos were merely the sidekick to his Kemo Sabe cowboy. The New York Times makes the assertion today that the 50-year old Depp became famous because he is so 'cool,' a claim which is of course mostly true. I enjoyed reading that he thinks he has a modicum of Cherokee blood from his Kentucky great-grandmother (Tonto is Cherokee in the new film). I grew up in the Thirties with the Lone Ranger film and radio series, starting with a Detroit radio serial in 1933, and remember watching the TV series from 1949 to its end in 1957, where a Canadian Mohawk actor named Jay Silverheels played the cartoonish Indian while Clayton Moore played the Lone Ranger. The Post noted that the Tonto character was introduced in the 11th episode of the radio series, and this was later echoed in the pilot of the 1949 TV series when we see Tonto discovering Texas Ranger John Reid, the lone survivor of an ambush by the villainous Cavandish (played brilliantly by William Fichytner) and he nurses the cowboy back to health...and fame. I asked the producers what "kemo sabe" meant and was told it means "faithful scout" or "wrong brother." I was sorry I asked. A production note says that the word was appropriated from a local Michigan camp, Camp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee" by the radio show's director. Google say that the name Tonto drew howls of outrage at the time because it means "stupid" in Spanish. The TV series had Reid saving Tonto as a boy, but it changes in this version to Tonto accidentally getting the tribe slaughtered by white silver miners and thus becoming an outcast to his people. I think I got that plot point right but yes, it is confusing.. An Indian advisor to an earlier Disney film told our Huffington Post that the audiences will probably like this Tonto better than Silverheels', but they would still be "responding to a non-Indian stereotypical image." Frankly, that doesn't bother me. But this did: At the Saturday screening, my friend Penny said to me, "They sure changed history....here we have the U.S. Cavalry as part of the bad guys. Isn't that un-American?" I didn't answer. If you follow Lena Dunham on Twitter (doesn't everyone follow the creator of HBO's "Girls"?), she asked: "Can someone tell me whether we're supposed to be offended by Johnny Depp's portrayal of Toto or not? Must know for dinner parties." No, Lena, we are not supposed to be offended by that. There's enough other stuff to offend us in this film. Mainly, the violence and treatment of animals. Speaking of animals, there is a long article in today's Los Angeles Times that some of the horses ridden by the Lone Ranger (Silver) and by Tonto (Scout) were mechanical horses created over six months by Bob Newton of Creature Effects. To my mind, the best actor in the film was the beautiful white horse which played Silver; he was magnificent.
John and Tonto roast a rabbit.
Depp told Rolling Stone this month that his new Tonto is a rebel upending stereotypes, empowering Indians. "I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations," he told the magazine. Now that's a scene I woud love to observe: watching Indian kids on the reservation as they view this picture. The New York Post today notes that the Comanches consulting on the new film adopted him into the tribe and called Depp 'Mah-Woo-Meh,' which means 'shapeshifter,' a great nickname for an adept actor like Depp. Bruckheimer told the Academy audience after the screening that he had been trying to make the film for several years, ever since Verbinsky first mentioned it to him in 2005 during the filming of the first "Pirate" movie. Originally, the script by Pirates writes Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio did not have a strong Tonto presence, but when Depp committed to it, it became a different kettle of fish. Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe then spent a year and a half making it a co-starring role. They added an opening about a little cowboy encountering the aging Tonto in a museum/circus exhibit, who then recounts the tale we see...how he teamed with a lawyer-turned-masked man named John Reid, played by a youthful Armie Hammer, to go after a fierce, ugly killer named Butch Cavendish. Whoever added the touch about Butch eating the body organs of his victims should have his tongue served up on rye. Depp added the puzzling touch about his character trading bird seed for objects like native pendants taken off dead men he encounters (or kills.)
William Fichtner plays the evil outlaw Butch Cavandish, and he is superb.
What is unquestionably - at least to me - one of the most exciting aspect of the film is the look of it amidst the scenery of Monument Valley, Utah....the whole photographic package is absolutely splendid. Bravo, Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli. I did like Helen Bonham Carter as Red, the brothel madame, she was terrific...and there is a young English actress, Ruth Wilson, who is very attractive as the female lead. The music score by Hans Zimmer works well.
The two lead actors out of makeup with the white horse.
I am sure it will play well to large audiences worldwide and hopefully lead to a revival of Westerns. My Huffington readers will remember that I am a huge fan of Western films, and was one of the producers of Cinerama's "How The West Was Won," which we revived last year for some screenings. To my mind, one of the finest films ever made was a Western, "Red River," with John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and John Ireland. At least we can be reassured that a sequal to "The Lone Ranger" will happen, since Bruckheimer told the audience that Hammer and Depp have re-signed for them. So Hi, ho, Silver...we are off and running.
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