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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thinking about movies, part 2: The Lone Ranger

Note: I'm delving into The Lone Ranger here. If you haven't seen the film yet, go see it and then come back here!

The Lone Ranger was released amidst a summer filled with big summer blockbuster movies, and it's not the only one that has suffered from a rather cold reception. But I'll get to that later.

I was less excited to see this film in comparison to a lot of other movies that have been released this season, and it had nothing to do with the fact that it's a western.

Let's get something straight here - I love Johnny Depp. I especially love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. But - this film is entitled The Lone Ranger, not Tonto featuring the Lone Ranger. And all of the advertising made it VERY CLEAR IN ALL CAPS THAT THIS FILM STARS JOHNNY DEPP AND ITS FROM THE SAME GUYS THAT MADE THE PIRATES FILMS (LOGO!!! - wait why would they literally show a Pirates of the Caribbean logo for a completely different franchise? Does Disney think I can be brainwashed with it? That's rude) - oh yeah and then there's some guy with a big white cap and a black leather mask. BUT LOOK JOHNNY IS BEING SILLY AND THAT WRAP AROUND HIS HEAD KINDA LOOKS LIKE THE JACK SPARROW BANDANA (oh haha with a bird I see what you did there Disney). In the actual film, there were two obvious gags taken from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film - but it worked.

I don't blame Johnny for the way Disney chose to market the film (although he was a producer). Maybe it was Disney's ridiculous advertising that caused Johnny to decide to create his own studio and work out that deal with Disney so he doesn't become their branded product.

Anyhow, I really wasn't a fan of the way this film was marketed, so I wasn't in a hurry to see it in theaters. When I visited Disneyland a few times before seeing the film, I saw plenty of Tonto headdresses, but not a single white stetson or black leather/pleather mask for sale, which I totally would have picked up. Those cowboy root beer glass mugs sold out super fast - hoping I can still get one of those. 

By the way, the Tonto headdress may look offensive at first glance, but the Native American tribe that the character is based from is not offended. It is established in the film that Tonto is an oddball (a fact the other Native Americans laugh about in the film) and Johnny worked hard to sound as authentic as possible. Disability groups, however, are reportedly unhappy with Disney for showing the film's villain with a cleft lip.

Anyhow, the message was clear - Disney didn't appear to be behind the technical star of their film and was over-promoting Johnny Depp.

Image from my buddies over at MiceChat. You can read some very insightful comments on this product here.

Which is a real shame. Because besides the fact that Armie Hammer did a fantastic job in this film and has true star potential and power, the film is actually equally divided between the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Both of the characters get equal screen time on their back-stories and development, and by the end of the film the audience has a solid understanding of why they are who they are and why they become who they become. I guess the payoff of this film was supposed to be that once we saw all of this, we'd be able to see more Lone Ranger flicks with far more Lone-Rangerey action. But the film hasn't done well in terms of American Box Office numbers, and as we all know with Disney - if it isn't an immediate success the first weekend, you can forget seeing any sort of franchise. I hope that people do not consider this film to be a dark mark on any of these actors' resumes - the film was well-cast and full of talent.

The film has its issues - mainly, the fact that it seemed like they were trying to incorporate 4-5 different scripts into one movie all at once. Films can have sub-plots, but it's bad when they jump all over the place and can't carry on a steady narrative. Apparently the writing team from the Pirates films first started on the project, but focused more on the supernatural, like - er, werewolves. Then they brought in another writer in who tried to tone down the supernatural stuff, and there are some really great moments in there, felt like the story had a lack of direction. Yes, it's an aged Tonto retelling a youngster in the midst of the Great Depression what he remembers, and him explaining why they became a team of outlaws that do good. But unfortunately you only have so much time on a movie screen to do that.

As a side note, I wish the filmmakers had taken that opportunity to push forward a message of hope in a dark period. We are, after all, in the Great Recession. House prices may be going back up, but that doesn't mean the majority of us have more money in our pockets to spend. Hollywood and major corporate Disney is probably clueless about all of that, though.

Consider the Star Wars films. George Lucas knew that the beginning of his story wouldn't be as interesting to movie-goers as his middle-to-end story would be, which was why he chose to create A New Hope first - and why, even though the prequels lack solid scripts, a huge fan base came out to see them and continue to make the man rich decades later. Perhaps we needed the middle for the beginning since there was so much story to cover. The source material is from a television series, after all. Perhaps the whole concept would have fared better as a contemporary television show given the HBO treatment, with 44-minute episodes and shot beautifully. Then they could have shown everything and much, much more.

I was going to include some other Star Wars image, but my Google search led me to this and I just had to do it.

Personally, I knew what I wanted to see. I wanted to see some good old-fashioned wholesome heroes in a cinematic look of the west. We got that at times; the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking with its vast scopes of the wild west, and Armie Hammer's portrayal of the Lone Ranger/John Reid is earnest and natural. And let's face it - Silver the horse stole the film in his own right. His "dialogue" with Tonto early on in the film immediately won me over.

The filmmakers went to several states to film in the west's most beautiful landscapes.

But unfortunately, since the filmmakers had to spend so much time covering back-story and shaping these characters, the audience didn't get to see so much of the Lone Ranger actually in action. It's not until the very end of the film that we actually see him take on a "persona," and the film actually ends with John bouncing different names for himself off of Tonto, who shoots down every one of them as they head out into the sunset. The majority of the main trailer shows footage from nearly the end of the film. It just took too long to get to the whole "hero in action" part of the film for me.

But when they finally got there? Wow! I loved it! It was exciting, spectacular and a lot of fun, and I was sorry to know that Disney had already pulled the plug on any future Lone Ranger would see as a franchise. I legitimately want to see more of these characters.

Mainly doing stuff like this.

As Johnny Depp has said, the critics wanted to see this film seriously fail, and they trash-talked it for a long time because of its production issues. The film was expensive to make and Disney had to at one point halt everything to re-work the budget. Everybody has a budget. The critics wanted to see Disney fail, and while the movie isn't doing amazingly, it's really not as bad as they make it out to be. While Disney isn't getting the numbers and reviews it would like over here in the states, the film seems to be getting embraced overseas. That doesn't surprise me - as Americans, we're used to enjoying the novelty of other countries. The same works the other way around, and it's been a while since a western film has been released. Who knows...maybe this film isn't doing what Disney wants it to do commercially right now, but perhaps merchandising, like the film's strong tie-in with the soon-to-be-released Disney Infinity, will help in the long run.

Also, if you just ask a friend who has actually seen it, they're unlikely to bash it the way critics do - based on general public votes online, the film isn't getting remotely as bad of a rating.


But the unfortunate thing here is that the majority of the American public just hasn't come out to see this film (Disney missed much of their target demographic and an older crowd showed up instead), and whenever Disney doesn't have an amazing opening weekend, they try to brush everything under the carpet. When my boyfriend and I came into our theater to see it (it was maybe the second weekend of it being out) we discovered about 5 other people in the theater, and no one else showed up. We literally heard crickets as we walked through the door to find our seat.

Something that the media has been pointing out as a whole is that a lot of the major summer blockbuster films haven't been doing well this summer. Journalists are asking whether or not audiences may be "burned out" by the summer blockbuster formula. I will say that it was odd going to see a special screening of Star Trek early this summer and being flooded with only end-of-the-world film trailers. I had to comment to my friends, and they agreed - it's rather depressing. Life is depressing enough as it is - I'm rather keen on seeing something with a more sunny outlook on life. And I've always been burnt out by films that rely on explosions more than story and character development, but perhaps the demographic that's always loved that stuff is getting fed up with it now too. As I've already remarked in this article, it seems that Hollywood is rather out-of-touch with the ordinary man and woman of today. And it doesn't help that a family trip to the movie theater only continues to get more and more expensive as the public's wallets get thinner - people have to be more discerning about which film they choose to see for their excursion.

I suppose the interesting element with The Lone Ranger in this case is that, really, the trailer made the film out to be far more explosion and action-oriented than it really was. I found that the majority of the film was far more introspective than that. What would have drawn in more Americans? I'm not really sure. I do believe that minimally featuring Armie Hammer and plastering anything Pirates of the Caribbean-related hurt the film. Maybe from a marketing standpoint (in terms of numbers) pirates and cowboys deliver the same results financially, but they are two entirely different genres and they need to be treated as such. Perhaps the public saw through the manipulation - I found a lot of it to be insulting. We are people, not numbers.

In any case, it's a shame that things have turned out this way. Marketing can truly make or break a film, and while there may be more factors to take into account with The Lone Ranger, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it probably had a lot to do with what ended up happening at the Box Office.

If you haven't seen the film, I'd suggest giving it a chance. As a forewarning - you may want to pick up a Stetson when you exit the theater.

Next time, I'll be looking more at a favorite here on this blog - Frozen! There's been quite a bit of material released since I last wrote about the film, so there will be a lot to delve into. So don't forget to subscribe here and follow me on Twitter @MakeItAqua!

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