At long last, Disney has started principal photography in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado on producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s epic “Lone Ranger” (May 13, 2013). In the wake of Jon Favreau’s disappointing “Cowboys & Aliens” ($175 million worldwide), which starred Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, Disney chief Rich Ross tussled with “Pirates” franchise partners Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp to bring down the period western’s inflated budget–to a mere $215 million. This is one of those movies that cries out DANGER.
Of course these are all smart talented people–Disney can now boast that director Gore Verbinski just won the Oscar for animated “Rango.” But this is still a risky project that wouldn’t have gotten made if the team hadn’t all contributed to Disney coffers with the “Pirates” series ($3 billion worldwide)–which the studio wants to continue. Right before collecting his Oscar for “Rango” ($240 million worldwide)–which also starred Depp and would have made more money for Paramount if it hadn’t been so costly–Verbinski talked on the Oscar red carpet about how journalists misrepresent his budgets. (See video below.)
Depp stars as updated Native American “spirit warrior” Tonto, who narrates what Disney is calling a “thrilling adventure infused with action and humor.” Verbinski, 46, cited Cervantes to the LAT and indicated that Depp would the “slippery” yang to straight-arrow Armie Hammer’s yin: “I want the version from the untrustworthy narrator who might be a little crazy — but somehow the question is, is he crazy or is the world crazy? That, I find fascinating.” He’s going for a subversive take on the Old West. “The only version of ‘The Lone Ranger’ I’m interested in doing is ‘Don Quixote’ told from Sancho Panza’s point of view.”
“The character’s going to be smart, he’s going to be mystical, he’s going to be funny, all of the trappings and the kind of things that Johnny brings to the screen, which is uniqueness,” Bruckheimer told one interviewer.
But outside of the “Pirates” series, Depp’s pull as a marquee draw is inconsistent: “Sweeney Todd” and “The Tourist” topped out at $153.3 million and $278.7 million (mostly foreign) worldwide, respectively. Outside of the “Pirates” series, which are masterminded by Bruckheimer, commercial and music video director Verbinski’s achievements are more modest: “Mouse Hunt,” starring Nathan Lane, the road movie “The Mexican,” starring Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini, and horror remake “The Ring,” starring Naomi Watts.
Armie Hammer (“The Social Network,” “J. Edgar”) stars as the “famed masked hero,” lawman and “legend of justice” John Reid, while the rest of the cast includes Tom Wilkinson (“Michael Clayton,” “In the Bedroom”), Bruckheimer fave William Fichtner (“Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Black Hawk Down”); Barry Pepper (“True Grit,” “Saving Private Ryan”); James Badge Dale (“The Grey,” TV’s “The Pacific” and “Rubicon”) and Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech,” “Alice in Wonderland”). The movie will take “the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption,” Disney promises.
Believe me, Disney’s new marketing chief Ricky Strauss labored long and hard over this description, which never mentions the dread word “western” –the film is set in classic western territory, post-Civil War, period, in 1869– and sets the movie up as light and fun, crammed with action and thrills–I’m surprised they didn’t go ahead and call it an E-Ride.
Presumably Disney sees the 78-year-old Lone Ranger, who started out in radio and morphed over the years into television, movies, comics, and videogames, as an iconic established easy-sell brand. (The last movie version “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” was a notorious flop in 1981, starring Klinton Spilsbury.) But Disney is reinvigorating and updating the square “Hi-yo Silver”-calling Texas Ranger and his laconic Native American sidekick Tonto (the word means “stupid” in Spanish and was changed in some countries to Toro or Ponto). This one’s all about Tonto, who has been described as both Potawatomi and Apache. Depp has a chance to be an athletic, sexy, horse-riding daredevil here; word is he’s invented a daring, flamboyant take on the character, as he did with Sparrow.
“The Lone Ranger” is written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Eric Aronson and Justin Haythe. The executive producers are Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Eric Ellenbogen and Eric McLeod.
The film also boasts director of photography Bojan Bazelli (“The Ring,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”); visual consultant Mark “Crash” McCreery (“Rango); costume designer Penny Rose (“Pirates of the Caribbean” films); film editor James Haygood (“Panic Room,” “Fight Club”); visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander (“Rango,” three “Harry Potter” films); special effects supervisor John Frazier (“Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”); and stunt coordinator Tommy Harper (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2”).
Disney’s even riskier bet is Andrew Stanton’s performance capture Mars adventure “John Carter” (March 9), which cost more than $250 million (in the same ballpark as the “The Hobbit” films, “The Dark Knight” and “Avatar”), despite lacking a bankable movie-star (Taylor Kitsch ain’t there yet) or a familiar brand to sell audiences.