The Lone Ranger
In the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, several independent game creators talk about how the big game studios always try to sand all the sharp edges off their product and make sure nobody could possibly hurt themselves on it in an effort to cast a wider net. Meanwhile the indie games that the stars of the documentary create have a bunch of sharp edges that could alienate some consumers, but the end result is a more honest and personal game. This analogy also applies to not only movies, but to any other possible area in which you’re given a choice between big corporations and the little guy. I don’t hold to the opinion that only ‘indie’ things are worth your time, or even that they’re intrinsically better. The importance of the analogy here is that if you are one of the big guys you should go about smoothing things over in the right way. Be a Chili’s, not an Applebee’s.
When it comes to movies, Disney is the biggest of the big. The nature of the movie industry and the prohibitive cost of producing a blockbuster movie mean that just like any other big studio, they’re constantly trying to find a very safe, manageable way to make lightning strike twice. The obvious comparisons between The Lone Ranger and Pirates of the Caribbean (same producer/director/writers/star/themes/characters/etc) exist for a reason – it worked before. Since the tone I’m setting up here is that movie studios aren’t automatically evil, I’ll even say that that alone isn’t enough to stop The Lone Ranger from being good. It’s all this…other shit.
Most blatantly, The Lone Ranger never decided whether or not it was a movie for children or a movie for adults. Everyone knows MPAA ratings are stupid but they do exist and if you’re one of the big guys, having your movie be a solid PG-13 is a pretty big deal. Rated R movies just don’t gross as much. What holds The Lone Ranger back is that it’s a ton of Rated R material being squeezed through a PG-13 hole. In this movie a character cuts out and eats a man’s heart. That same character threatens to rape a woman. Two men have their heads caved in by a falling beam. An entire tribe of indians are cut down mid-charge by a gatling gun. So what happens is that the whole movie ends up being cut around the fact that it’s trying to keep a PG-13, so it’s all “gruesome villain begins cutting a man’s heart out. CUT TO – closeup reaction shot of his goofy, cross-dressing sidekick.â€ I would’ve given a movie like Drive a whole bunch of shit for cutting away from Ryan Gosling smashing a dude’s head to mush in an elevator. It wouldn’t have seemed visceral or authentic. Disney’s The Lone Ranger isn’t playing that game though. It’s playing the smooth and shiny game. So maybe don’t make your villain cut people’s hearts out. Maybe just make him act all mean and stuff, and then we can kind of figure it out from there.
Even more perplexing, the titular Lone Ranger was kept strangely true to the original character that nobody gives a shit about anymore, so he’s not really allowed to kill anybody. Sure people can die in horrible, traumatic ways; the Lone Ranger just can’t kill them unless it’s through some sort of Rube Goldberg/JFK magic bullet scenario because he’s the hero. This weird, dogmatic decision took all the awkward cutting-around-things that they had to do and literally doubled it. For anything at all to happen in this movie it had to be an accident, or just something that happened off-screen. That’s not a good recipe for smooth and shiny.
Disney did a poor job of making The Lone Ranger inoffensive. It’s not an adult but accessible film like Pirates of the Caribbean or a harmless kid movie like most of what they make. They also did a poor job copying what made Pirates of the Caribbean successful. They liked how much money the series made for them, so they hired almost all of the same people to make a very similar film. Again, that in itself isn’t bad. The problem is that Gore Verbinski and his crew then copied their own work so exactly and yet so sloppily that even if they had succeeded in making The Lone Ranger smooth and shiny as far as tone and feel go, there still wouldn’t have been anything to latch onto.
Imagine that you went to Disney Land because you heard they have this great new ride. You get there, you wait in line and when you actually get onto the thing, you realize that someone very sloppily tossed a new coat of paint on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride that you’re already very familiar with and then just like threw cowboy hats on all the mannequins. You might have left that ride thinking “well that was disappointing but at least I got to see the same pristine, shining Disney Land that I’m used toâ€ except that at this Disney Land they don’t pick up the trash or chase out hobos, they just cover it all up with big tarps that say “fuck you we didn’t think this through at all.â€
It’s not bad. That’s the whole point – it’s too watered down to be bad. It’s just in that weird Bermuda triangle that movies like this and John Carter slip into when they’re so bland you immediately forget about them as soon as the credits start rolling. I recently talked about A Goofy Movie and how it’s completely forgettable as a stand-alone movie but it kind of reminds you of everything about its time. I predict that in 15 years, that’s what The Lone Ranger will be. You’ll see it in your futuristic Netflix queue and remember that it actually exists, and when you watch it you’ll just kind of think “Oh yeah, this is when Disney just started making movies out a bunch of really old stuff nobody was asking them to make movies out of in the first place.â€