Part of my home time ritual from work involves taking off my shoes, booting up my computer, fixing myself a drink (mostly non alcoholic) and cruising over to the Escapist Magazine to watch some of the commentary videos. One of them I watch frequently happens to be The Big Picture and The Escapist Goes to the Movies, both by Movie Bob. Movie Bob is schooled in pop culture and in movies and he’s got a good eye for what works and what doesn’t. Today’s episode went over why the Lone Ranger was terrible.
Here’s the review, then I’ll go into something of my own. Click the link, watch the video.
It’s a little disheartening when a good movie idea comes out and then terrible ideas follow up with that. But the western was plagued with that even before getting out of the gate. It’s disheartening only because of the fact I’ve been working on a story that at its heart is a western. The problem with a western is this; it only has one section of the world that would watch it. Westerns are not big box office draws, and you’ve never heard of a western in recent memory making the top of the New York Times or the Toronto Globe and Mail best sellers lists. Typically, if your name isn’t Max Brand, Louis L’amour or Zane Grey, chances are you’ll be lucky if you top 1,000 copies sold of a western novel. If your name happens to be Stephen King and you end up writing a western the style of the Dark Tower Series… well, that’s a completely different matter. Because that western had a lot of fantasy elements which draw a bigger audience.
The western will do well in the west. Imagine that. When I say “west”, I have to add I mean the western hemisphere of the planet. And in that corner of the globe, only in North America. Typically Canada, The United States and Mexico. Because westerns were based on the pioneering aspects of those three nations. They’re part of the culture and identity of those three countries. While the premise of a western is based on some of the older stories of knights in shining armour from Europe, it’s still six guns. It’s gunslingers and cowboys and “indians” and train robbers, and cattle rustlers and John Wayne. Sadly, unless the western is a retelling of historical information much in the way Tombstone tried (it was a movie, to be honest, not a bio-pic), then your western story isn’t going to go over very well by a wide audience in, say, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia… I think you get the idea.
So thinking that you’re going to make a huge amount of money off of a western property like the Lone Ranger, the first thing you have to do is look back to what made it work. The best known version of the Lone Ranger happens to be from the 1950’s. That version starred Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger, and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. It’s memorable not just for being a serialized western, but also for having an actual Native American playing the role of a Native American. In the ’50s, Tonto didn’t use nature magic or talk to animals and wasn’t a spirit guide. He did get the crap job of being the Lone Rangers gopher, but he could throw a punch just as well as anybody.
The Lone Ranger has been tried several times on the big screen in the last thirty years. None of them have done well, and this last one hasn’t done well either. Partially due to the fact that westerns in a market like Europe don’t go over as well as in North America, but also because of the stupid and overtly racist treatment of Tonto. In other words, Disney didn’t know (or didn’t care) that actors such as Evan Adams, Adam Beach, Lorne Cardinal, Tom Jackson, or George Leach exist. Granted, all of them are Canadian but that shouldn’t matter.
A lot of the blame can be laid at the feet of a really cornball script, which is what happened when Seth Rogan made the recent Green Hornet movie. But at least had the Green Hornet had a good script, then it would have done well. The Lone Ranger, on the other hand, was doomed to follow the way of the western, and have a market that would boom only in North America.