Not long after the shocking announcement earlier this week that “The Lone Ranger” with Johnny Depp was being killed off by Disney, word circulated that part of the reason the western was budgeted at a staggering $250 million was due to the presence of supernatural creatures (not as reported, werewolves). The 2009 draft we read by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio featured supernatural wolves, a legion of coyotes and the Wendigo, a cannibalistic Native American spirit capable of possessing humans. However, in a update on the ongoing saga of the film THR reveals that according to their sources, those elements have been scrapped in the latest versions of the screenplay (the most recent rewrites were by Justin Haythe), but it’s still not enough to bring the price tag down.
The way it stands right now, the film is budgeted somewhere in the neighborhood of $244 million but apparently, Disney won’t budge until that figure is dropped to between $215-200 million (or less). At that cost, the film would need to make $800 million worldwide to turn a profit after Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski receive their lucrative backends deals. However, for this film to happen, not only will talent need to take a paycut, but the film’s three major train set pieces are going to have be scaled back.
So far, word is that Bruckheimer and Verbinski have collectively given up $10 million worth in fees but that hardly scratches the surface. The bigger issue appears to be the centerpiece action scenes, one of which is described as ” the biggest train sequence in film history.” Of course, this begs the question: if you’re going to take scale back on the eye candy, what’s the point of making the film in the first place? As Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief technical officer Andy Hendrickson noted over the weekend about Disney’s “Alice In Wonderland,” “The story isn’t very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves.” People want and expect grand scale showpieces in their blockbuster fare, and even we can agree if you’re going to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars anyway and then cut corners on the one element that compels audiences to see the film, you’re dooming yourself to failure.
This isn’t the first time Verbinski’s expensive tastes have caused him to run afoul of the mouse house. His $300 million price tag for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” soured his relationship with Disney, and while Verbinski has apparently been working the phone to assure cast and crew he’s trying to save the film, should they? We have to admit, as decent as the casting was for the film — Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson and Ruth Wilson were on board with Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale and Helena Bonham Carter all said to be circling roles — it still did little to boost our enthusiasm for a television show we barely ever watched. Granted, Disney would’ve marketed the shit out of it, but all the advertising in the world couldn’t save “Cowboys & Aliens” (whose failure is likely another factor why Disney got cold feet) and moreover, international markets are a lot more lucrative than domestic hauls and westerns have traditionally been poison overseas. So even with Depp leading the charge, it would be an uphill battle.
The timing on this is interesting as Disney is set to kick off D23 this Friday, touting their upcoming slate of projects, but the biggest elephant in the room will be “The Lone Ranger.” Can the film be resurrected at Disney, or will it ride into the sunset elsewhere? This probably is not the last we’re going to hear about this one.