Friday, July 05, 2013

Review: The Lone Ranger

What better way to escape a hot July Fourth, pre-fireworks afternoon than the latest revival of this classic Western character?

Of all the blockbuster sci-fi, superhero and other genre films out this season, this one struck me as the most fun.

Part of it is the setting: After so much metropolitan, futuristic clutter, the giant, empty vistas of Monument Valley and the Texas plains come as a relief to the ideas, stretching wide across the big screen. It's nice not to be bombarded by imagery for once, and just to have a story unfold and characters reveal themselves. Not that this is at all a quiet or gentle film.

The other part is casting and performance. Armie Hammer, as the masked man, and Johnny Depp, as Tonto, are a blast to watch, sparring comically off one another throughout the film. The story celebrates the heroism of both characters while also managing to poke a little fun at them. It's a nice balance.

The story brings in lots of traditional Western elements: Vigilantism and justice on the plains, the coming of the railroad, conflict between settlers and Native Americans and the lure of precious metals. It's more mythological than historical, but it's nice to see a story that plays with these classic themes. The myth of the heroic, fair-minded cowboy was such a big part of our growing up during the last century, it makes me wonder if we'll see a bit of a Western revival. At the very least, I'm betting Disney's Frontierland area will get a Ranger-themed makeover after this.

As the Lone Ranger mythos goes, the film is fairly faithful. The masked man's origin is retold and holds pretty much to tradition. He also wears a white hat, rides a white horse and fires silver bullets. Hammer is great: Upright, earnest and pure -- and comic as all his efforts to rise above the fray and do things by the book are pretty much literally shot down.

Tonto gets a much-needed update. It's obviously a tricky character, obviously, in this day and age, and some people will be offended by Depp's portrayal, along with his casting.  I understand that, and find some of the criticism justifiable. But there's also part of me who really got a kick out of Depp playing this character, as I get a kick out of watching Depp play just about any part. This Tonto is a bit of buffoon, but also a clever prankster and very much the leading partner in this dynamic duo. It's just that he leads without the masked man realizing it.

Also holding to tradition is the film's villain, the notorious Butch Cavendish. William Fichter brings real menace and creepiness to the character, which in past Lone Ranger stories has been, let's face it, a pretty generic bad man. Young children will be freaked out by Cavendish, and his penchant for cannibalism, along with one of his henchman -- a cowboy-era cross-dresser who creepily tortures a couple different women in the film.

Other leading characters include the great Tom Wilkinson as a pompous railroad magnate and Helena Bonham Carter as a colorful madame with a false leg that doubles as a shotgun. Lost in the plot is Ruth Wilson as the Ranger's sister-in-law/forbidden love interest. Like Amy Adams in the recent Superman film, she's not give anything to do and barely resonates as a personality on screen. Writers of these big action/superhero films really tend to do a lousy job with female roles. It's a bit embarrassing, really.

So, yes, this is an old-fashioned film -- mostly in good ways. The big action sequence near the end, all scored to the "William Tell Overture," of course, is a blast, with lots of trains, horses, shooting, characters in peril, etc. It brings you right back to those Saturday afternoon matinee serials you wish you'd been around to see back in the 1930s and 40s.

Despite being a bit overlong -- like seemingly all films these days -- the films was loads of fun and much more entertaining, warmer, funnier and human than Superman's latest revival.  Sometimes it's nice to see a guy without superpowers or lots of fancy gadgets and weapons -- just a horse, a mask, courage and a faithful friend.

Pop culture roundup: Jack Kirby's Lone Ranger! Dylan's guitar! Abbey Road! Beware the Batman! Doctor Who music!

Bleeding Cool shares some package art created by the great Jack Kirby for a Lone Ranger game from Mattel.


The Fender Stratocaster Bob Dylan used to "go electric" back in 1965 is going up for auction soon.
 The 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster will be auctioned later this year after Dawn Peterson, who has owned the guitar for 50 years, decided to part with the iconic musical memorabilia. Peterson appeared with the instrument on US TV show History Detectives earlier this year and has been informed that she is likely to make a minimum of £333,000 from the sale.


Check out "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," an award-winning short film that pays tribute to the crosswalk outside London's Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles shot the cover photo for their final LP.


Check out the opening credits for "Beware the Batman," which starts July 13 on the Cartoon Network.


The Daily Telegraph explores the innovative music of "Doctor Who."
Doctor Who’s sculptors of sound were free to be as radical as they liked, as long as they didn’t spend too much. Tristram Cary – founder of the first electronic studio at the Royal College of Music – summoned a clanking, growling atmosphere for the first appearance of the Daleks. Richard Rodney Bennett, a promising pupil of Pierre Boulez, created wild woodwind flourishes for the Doctor’s visit to 15th-century Mexico. The fiercely intellectual Carey Blyton composed lurching modern jazz themes on ancient instruments: humanoid reptiles emerged from the earth to a krumhorn accompaniment; the ophicleide heralded the appearance of the Cybermen. Dudley Simpson, a former conductor for the Borovansky ballet, employed water-gongs, car springs, a church organ and the first Moog synthesizer to create enormous soundscapes with a tiny band of session players
And here's a documentary of electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire, creator of the "Doctor Who" theme:

Lone Ranger books, comics, recordings, toys, Lego and more!

Some Lone Ranger items available via Amazon. Click the links to order.

The Lone Ranger: Collector's Edition

LEGO The Lone Ranger Cavalry Builder Set (79106)

LEGO The Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape (79108)

Lone Ranger Omnibus Volume 1 TP

The Lone Ranger: Lost Episodes and Rare Footage

The Lone Ranger: Behind the Mask

LEGO The Lone Ranger Constitution Train Chase (79111)

The Lone Ranger (Little Golden Book)

Neca The Lone Ranger - Series 1 - Lone Ranger 7" Action Figure

LEGO The Lone Ranger Silver Mine Shootout (79110)

LEGO The Lone Ranger Colby City Showdown (79109)

LEGO Lone Ranger and Silver Minifigures

LEGO Lone Ranger Tonto's Campfire (30261)

The Lone Ranger Chronicles

Lone Ranger Deactivated .45 Silver Bullets

Lone Ranger: Iron Horse (Old Time Radio)

Who Was That Masked Man? The Story of the Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger-Stage Line Challenge (Old Time Radio)

Lone Ranger/Green Hornet (Old Time Radio)

The Lone Ranger: Wanted music inspired by the film

The Lone Ranger original soundtrack