Lone Ranger, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe witnesses the spiraling sadness of the Disney/Bruckheimer machine...
The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer), the last of his kind, teams with Tonto (Johnny Depp), a dark and mysterious vigilante, to seek vengeance after justice has failed them. It’s a runaway train of epic surprises, as these two unlikely heroes must learn to work together before the ultimate showdown between good and evil explodes. (From Disney’s official synopsis)
Being a home video reviewer, I rarely get the chance to jump on a bandwagon until it has already found its way back into the station. When it was released, Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger was the favoured whipping boy among critics and audiences, but that time has passed, as has the time to complain about everything inherently wrong with the production. Was it stupid for Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer to throw something like a $250 million budget (plus $150 million in advertising) at an adaptation of a 1930s serial – especially following decades of similar flops, like The Phantom, The Rocketeer, The Shadow, and, of course, Disney’s own John Carter? Yes. There was never any chance of enough audience interest to drive a profit on that level of spending. Was it insensitive, nay, offensive to hire Johnny Depp to play a famous Native American supporting character in ‘red face’? Absolutely. Is 149 minutes too long for an adaptation of this type? Oh, my goodness, yes. But five months have passed and these discussions have already run their course, so I have nothing to add to that particular lexicon.
I ended up enjoying John Carter, which gave me something to talk about when I wrote about it months after the poisonous word of mouth had already dried up. Unfortunately, The Lone Ranger is just as spotty, bloated, and racist as I thought it’d be. The script was sloppily cobbled together by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, both obvious choices following their work on the Pirates of the Caribbean screenplays, along with Justin Haythe, who wrote Revolutionary Road. The key issues here are bloat – there’s a ton of plot and a number of characters that could’ve very easily have been deleted – and random tonal shifts – Verbinski and the writers try to cram every genre designator into a simple cowboy adventure story. A similarly confusing tone had arguably worked for the first Pirates movie, but that movie had a semblance of balance. In this case, the story wanders off on obnoxious comedic tangents that have almost no effect on the basic narrative. The framing device, for instance, where a little boy discovers an elderly Tonto living in as a statue in a traveling side-show, at first seems cute, but turns toxic as the film continues cutting back at dramatically inappropriate moments. The occasionally gross comedy is also met with graphic, PG-13-stretching violence. As an adult that watches a lot of horror movies, the film’s gruesome bits doesn’t offend or disturb me, but it seems out of step with the source material and the family movie brand in general. Another issue is that this is yet another origin story/franchise set-up and, as such, it is littered with the hero’s journey clichés. This adds to the already unbearable runtime, since almost an hour is wasted in turning lowly lawyer John Reid into the title character.
The good news is that Gore Verbinski is still a talented visualist and a great action director, so, despite everything, The Lone Ranger has its moments. Verbinski’s images are typically lush and opulent, employing a palette that recalls the famous oil paintings and pop art that signify the Old West period. Disney and Bruckheimer likely hoped audiences would draw comparisons to the Pirates series, but Verbinski is coming off his best and most personal film, Rango, which also happens to be a post-revisionist western. Having gotten the themes out of his system with Rango, the director appears to have taken The Lone Ranger as nothing but an excuse to string together a series of spectacular action set-pieces. These elaborate and explosive high points are certainly spectacular, but the gunk between them bogs the film down. Viewers willing to deny the filmmaker’s prerogative and employ the power of their remotes’ chapter-skip buttons might have something to look forward to. In fact, the elongated Buster Keaton meets Jackie Chan double train sequence is, more or less, the only reason to watch the movie. Following more than two hours of dark and gloomy stuff accentuated by stupid slapstick gags, this light-hearted romp set to Gioachino Rossini's ‘William Tell Overture’ gives us a glance at what kind of movie might have been made, had fewer cogs been crammed into its engine. Verbinksi’s visual references to classic westerns are unsurprising, following Rango’s Sergio Leone catchall worship, but, at some point, The Lone Ranger turns into a theme park ride version of Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, right down to character tropes, story themes, and even music. I suppose there are worse things in the world, and most of them don’t have a cute visual nod to Jordorowrsky’s El Topo, either.
The Lone Ranger was shot using both 35mm and Arri Alex HD digital cameras. This 1080p, 2.40:1 image is a sharp blending of the two formats. It’s generally not easy to tell what scenes were shot using which format, because grain and details are mostly normalized between shots. There are a few wide shots that appear slightly fuzzy, indicating the slightly smaller resolution of 35mm, but the overall image is overwhelmed with front-to-back texture (I did very much enjoy the director’s patented baroque elaborations). Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (who, surprisingly, did not shoot the Pirates movies) keep up a pretty consistent look throughout the film that includes a lot of dusty browns, muted acrylics, harsh contrasts and blown-out skies. Those occasional ‘fuzzy’ long shots aside, the edges are super crisp without any sharpening artefacts. The nighttime images tend to look more digital. The colours here are more aggressively smoothed-over and the highlights that keep the details from disappearing into the darkness tend to purposefully bloom. These scenes are tinted slightly green without sullying the deep blacks or the subtle, consistent reds. I noticed no major instances of blocking or edge enhancement, but a bit of compression noise flashes onto screen during the busiest action moments.
Verbinski’s movies, even the cheaper ones, like Mouse Hunt, are aurally aggressive and this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is no exception. The sound designers do a great job creating a dynamic soundscape that feels at once authentic and stylized. The mix is pretty eclectic as well and includes the use of soft, ‘glowing’ silence to offset the bombast of the driving action scenes. The LFE gets a steady rush whenever horses are trampling, trains are chugging, or dynamite is exploding. The stereo and surround channels get a healthy directional work-out via ricocheting bullets and rushing trains, all of which sounds fantastic and delightfully immersive. Composer Hans Zimmer scores points for this score simply because it doesn’t sound exactly like the Pirates of the Caribbean scores. Unfortunately, he loses a few more points for recycling the tones and themes of his Sherlock Holmes mudic and ripping off Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, specifically ‘Man with a Harmonica.’ The music is best when loudly supporting action or dialogue without overwhelming them.
The extras on this Blu-ray Combo Pack include:
- Armie’s Western Road Trip (14:40, HD) – An Armie Hammer-hosted look at the film’s many real-life western locations and their historic relevance. It includes footage of the cast and crew being welcomed by the various native tribes and dealing with the elements.
- Becoming a Cowboy (8:00, HD) – A glance at the actors’ cowboy bootcamp, including interviews with the cast, crew, and cowboy trainers.
- Riding the Rail of the Lone Ranger (10:40, HD) – Concerning the historical backdrop of the transcontinental railroad and the process of physically building the rails for the film.
- A deleted scene, presented as an animatic (3:50, HD)
- A blooper reel (3:50, HD)
- Trailers for other Disney releases
There are good things hidden within the gnarled mess of stuff that is The Lone Ranger, but the scent of creative malaise permeates beyond any real critical dissection. I just don’t think anyone cared about this particular movie, except for the people that stood to make money from it. The fact that any of it works is a testament to director Gore Verbinski’s skills as an action director, but I hope he stops wasting his talents on empty blockbusters from here on out. The image quality of this Blu-ray is solid with only a few minor blips of compression noise, the DTS-HD MA soundtrack is bombastic, but the extras are weak, likely due to Disney’s disinterest in playing up the film’s rocky production period.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 17th December 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, DVS 2.0 English and DTS Digital Surround 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Riding the Rails of The Lone Ranger, Armie's Western Road Trip, Becoming a Cowboy, Deleted Scene, Bloopers, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter
Genre: Action, Adventure and Western
Length: 149 minutes
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