The enjoyable, big western The Lone Ranger still surprises in its home release.
If you didn’t follow the troubled, off-again/on-again production of Disney’s The Lone Ranger, here’s a rundown: origin story merged with werewolves (no kidding) gets yanked by The Mouse House in 2011 after its creators won’t guarantee the pricetag wouldn’t stay below $250 million. Then, it’s suddenly resurrected once the monsters are removed, and Depp is run over by his horse, extending its production to over 140 days. Sadly audiences didn’t care anyway, and the film grossed slightly less worldwide than its budget of (you guessed it) $250 million. Luckily, its arrival on Blu-ray might give it another chance, with an exceptional audio and video transfer.
John Reid (Armie Hammer) and a band of Texas Rangers are ambushed by the inhumane felon Butch Cavandesh (William Fichtner). The Native Tonto (Johnny Depp) finds the bodies but soon realizes that John’s contains The Spirit Walker, a hero that cannot be killed. After his resurrection, Reid changes his identity to The Lone Ranger and rides with Tonto to seek justice for his team’s murder. However, John is not the hero-in-waiting Tonto expects, but instead a legal bookworm who quotes John Locke and is opposed to killing, inviting taunts from his soon-to-be-dead Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale). Tonto is also seeking revenge against Cavandesh for reasons to be revealed, and so after the above-mentioned ambush and some comedy the team is assembled. As their search continues, the two come into conflict with the railroad magnate-in-waiting Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who has plans to haul a fortune in silver to market. Soon, revelations about Tonto’s past return to haunt him, and The Lone Ranger must decide whether to honor his code or seek revenge for his brother’s death, all while protecting Dan’s widow Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) from Cole.
On paper, Ranger should have been a hit: The Pirates of the Caribbean team of Director Gore Verbinski and Depp collaborating again, with a promise of doing the Old West and the Natives story right. But lately, that relationship has yielded bitter fruit (the disappointing Rango and the awful POTC: At World’s End), perhaps leading to the bad press Ranger received before it was even released. In fact, Hammer stated in international press junkets that critics did exactly that before the public got to the theaters. Too bad, because Ranger is actually good. Verbinski employs the long vistas inherent in the genre to wonderful effect, while updating the intensity of The Lone Ranger story arc, including several highly effective (and unlike-Verbinski) nightmarish scenes. The high-flying comedy mixes very well with the deeper story of revenge and double crosses, thanks to Writer Justin Haythe (Snitch) and Producer Jerry Brickheimer, who I think is the hidden star of this team. With Bruckheimer in play, Depp doesn’t go overboard in his comedy while Haythe keeps the story strong and gritty. But Verbinski also shoots a significantly darker arrow here, as the truth behind Tonto’s youth is unexpected. Haythe even creates a personality for Ranger’s horse Silver (the horse’s real name by the way) that results in several comedic interludes that give it a real personality, adding another layer to things. Without Bruckheimer, The Lone Ranger is merely a western version of POTC. Hammer is suitable as Reid/Ranger, but he’s not yet cut out for full leading man status; his pretty-boy collegiate look doesn’t include the gravitas needed to go toe-to-toe with Depp or the other heavyweights.
In the end, this is Depp’s movie and he moves between times as both a storyteller and Ranger’s philosophical pain in the butt. Perhaps the non-linear origin story also helps, but Depp gives Tonto more than the paper-thin version we got in the television and radio series. His recounting to an unsuspecting audience in the boy Mason Cook is done with a warmth and uniqueness that provides important anchors throughout the film. That, and the comedic/action moments tell you a lot about what Verbinski and Haythe think of Reid/Ranger: his is not a superhero, but a nerd reborn into a hero’s role. Whether moviegoers will respond to that is anyone’s guess, but our creative team certainly sweetens the pot by surrounding Hammer with terrific talent, while Haythe throws in some nice tips-of-the-hat to fans of the classic series. The introduction of Reid’s brother, the dusting off the great villain Cavandesh – and the casting of Dale and Fichtner respectively to portray them – should go a long way to satisfy the purists. There’s also Wilson, who plays the widow with a western toughness, while Tom Wilkinson oozes greasy puppet master and piner to perfection. We don’t think the 140-minute runtime reduced the film’s effectiveness, reminding us that if a movie is engaging, let it take all the time it needs.
Sadly, we could be looking at this as a flop in the home market for another powerful reason: westerns no longer sell well. We love the new attention to detail that recent ones have received, but the numbers just don’t support their future feasibility. It’s entirely possible that Ranger will remain on the DVD shelves for quite awhile, unless it attains the cult status we saw with Dredd. That’s too bad: granted, its plot has a few holes, and its action is totally implausible, but none of them torpedo the story or ruin the experience. Its good cast and well-balanced story make for great theater, while proving that creative talent will always trump misconceptions, even if the numbers aren’t what one expects. This might be the last western we’ll get for awhile, and certainly the last Lone Ranger we’ll see in the near future, so allow yourself the pleasure of its company and we promise you’ll have a good time.
The Lone Ranger rides in with a 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer that’s as beautiful as anything we’ve seen this year. The digital print is nearly flawless, showing off the vistas of Monument Valley in New Mexico and the greenery of Colorado with stunning accuracy. Verbinski’s print was masterfully shot to begin with, and Disney lovingly embraces his vision by keeping the grain while ensuring that clarity remains, which appears on everything from the purposely-aged locomotives to Tonto’s makeup and everything in between. Speaking of Tonto, his Old Man costume retains an absolutely authentic look as does Cavendesh’s scarred face and the general worn-in tone of the film. The transfer excels at bringing us a bloody and sweaty-faced West, but these elements are not the only to shine. Stitching on clothes, the unshaven faces of the Rangers, and the enormous vistas and backdrops all stand out without a single drop of aliasing, ringing, or edge enhancement. However, Verbinski does take some liberties in outside shots, leading to crush in brighter scenes; this is not Disney’s fault however, so any blame by videophiles should be placed on the director instead. In more controlled scenes – such as the brothel and the Old West Museum – shadows blend agreeably into black, while the reds and creams of Helena Bonham Carter’s dresses look radiant. Outdoors, the pitch-perfect color scheme does favor the browns, but at no time does anything become washed out. In short, we are granted a terrific and accurate transfer by Mouse House that should be celebrated as one of the best of 2013.
Thundering like a pack of wild horses, Ranger‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is as expansive as the time it portrays. To say this track is loud and immersive is understating its power and majesty. Historically speaking, most 7.1’s created for modern cinema are loud to begin with, due to the downmix and the addition of more speakers. But The Lone Ranger is different, existing to educate the listener in Sounds of the Wild West 101. Smashing wood, the assembly of rail lines, and gunfire force their way through the front speakers with pinpoint accuracy. The lecture continues to the rears, delivering everything from desert wind and town chatter to the sound of crackling fires and the steam of engines as they await their cargo. In the center channel, we’re given crystal clear dialogue, which also shows up in the fronts, bolstering its presence without forcing us to play The Remote Game. The LFE also has a poweful role to play, pulsing and pounding with each chug of the locomotive and every bridge explosion and punch by our heroes. Composer Hans Zimmer’s score is nothing short of gorgeous, emanating from every speaker with glorious results. This is reference quality sound, and its presence should make even bookshelf speakers grow facial hair.
Sadly, Disney drops the ball on what should have been a deep and insightful collection of supplements. What we get instead includes no commentary and HD insights that barely scratch the surface. For a film that desperately needed a final word from its director – and endured so much before and during production – all we get is something akin to an ‘ahem’:
- Armie’s Western Roadtrip (14:37): We join an energetic Hammer as he heads west with Bruckheimer and Verbinski to shoot the film. There, the team deals with dust storms and freezing temperatures, while enjoying beautiful vistas from Colorado to New Mexico. The American Southwest is on full display here.
- Becoming a Cowboy (8:03): The actors go through a Cowboy Boot Camp to learn the various aspects of playing in the Wild West. They fire authentic weapons, learn how to ride horses, and lasso their victims with great effect.
- Riding the Rails of The Lone Ranger (HD, 10:39): Building every rail line and locomotive from scratch, the creative team discuss their construction and use during the film. We also learn about the incredible techniques used to bring the climactic chase to life. It’s a spectacular sequence, and the ingenuity by Verbisnki and his team create a sense of realism you couldn’t achieve on a soundstage.
- Deleted Scene (3:49): Utilizing what looks like a combination of storyboards, PreViz, and brief semi-shot scenes, we learn of a cut sequence involving Old Man Tonto and a locust.
- Bloopers (3:51): The cast show us that 140 days on set was actually funny for short periods.
Again, we probably won’t ever see a director’s cut or new supplements arrive ala The Hobbit, and that’s too bad At least its embossed slipcase is nice, telling us that Disney did do a few things right with the home release. But, the lack of more features is disappointing to say the least.
Led by a very good cast, The Lone Ranger returns the story of the Wild West back to its roots, when justice and revenge seemed interchangeable. Verbinski’s direction is stellar, Depp’s performance and that of his supporting cast are great, but its lack of supplements and poor box office numbers don’t renew my faith in a sequel. Pick this one up if you like the premise and enjoy a beautiful audio and video transfer. The Lone Ranger is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 149 minutes.