How The West Was Almost Lost: Inside Near-Death Experience Of 'The Lone Ranger'

Features
by Drew Taylor
July 1, 2013 1:25 PM
3 Comments
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Hammer isn't exactly right on that past part. As negotiations extended, from August into September of 2011, things started to get whittled away. Besides the locust sequence being removed altogether, there were at least two major losses to the creative team: musician Jack White, who was scheduled to provide the original score for the movie and Dwight Yoakam, who was set to appear in the role of formidable villain Bartholomew "Butch" Cavendish, a fiendish outlaw.

"Jack White's score was going to be… something different." - Gore Verbinski
Bruckheimer blamed the shutdown on the reason that White couldn't work on the movie (even though Disney continued to flaunt his involvement after the movie resumed). "I think that since the picture was delayed because of the budget issues, his schedule got screwed up. He got so busy that he couldn't fit it in," Bruckheimer said. Not that White would have survived the process of scoring a hugely budgeted action movie. "I went down to Nashville a few times and his schedule and the iteration involved in something like this was going to drive Jack nuts." When we quizzed Verbinski on what White's score was going to sound like, he just teased that, "It was going to be… something different." 

Some of White's music managed to find its way into the final film, however fleetingly, according to Bruckheimer. "He wrote just a couple of background pieces that are in Red's that the band is playing," Bruckheimer said, referring to a scene in the final film where the Lone Ranger and Tonto go to a whorehouse owned by Helena Bonham Carter's Red, looking for answers. "I think those are his." Hans Zimmer, who had worked with Verbinski on a number of previous projects, stepped in and replaced White.

By October 2011, things were looking up for "The Lone Ranger." Disney and the creative principles had settled on an agreed-upon budget that, while still high, was more manageable. Most of the supporting cast, like Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson and James Badge Dale, were still onboard. The proof of Disney's optimism can be expressed in the deals Wilson and Hammer signed upon returning, which locked into a three-movie deal for more Wild West adventures. Depp, whose contract only consisted of the single film, quietly expressed interest in returning, should the opportunity arise. A May 31st, 2013 release date was tentatively penciled in, with production slated to begin (for real this time) in early February 2012.

Rumors persisted that one of the main things that was removed from "The Lone Ranger," from before it was shut down, to after, were elements of the supernatural, including some very creepy werewolves. Bruckheimer pretty much told us the same, "We had a little more of the supernatural in it – we had supernatural coyotes that were kind of like the rabbits." (In the final movie, there are some possessed rabbits that could be evidence of nature being out of balance due to the spread of evil in the west, or could just be some random weirdness.)

Verbinski, however, claims that this was never the case. Sounding sort of exasperated, he laid it all out for us: "In 2006 I started talking about 'The Lone Ranger,' with Johnny as Tonto. I had my take on it. And Ted and Terry had their take on it." Ted and Terry, of course, are Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the team behind Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy and the writers' whose unfinished screenplay for the latter two films nearly caused Disney to shut those movies down. "They were the ones who first brought it up and tried to get the rights from Sony and brought it up with Jerry. I was the one who said, 'We should get Johnny as Tonto and take it from a different perspective.' So they wrote five drafts and I went off and did 'Rango.' And Johnny asked me to come back and I said, 'The only way I'll do it if is if I can tell it from Tonto's perspective,' which was not in any of those drafts. The story you're seeing is the one I always intended to do."

And indeed, a draft that we have that's dated March 29, 2009 differs in these key aspects – Tonto is still very much a sidekick, and there is tons of supernatural mumbo jumbo laced throughout the script, including an encounter with those coyotes. (Tellingly, the locust sequence does not appear in this draft.) When asked if the supernatural elements were relegated to Rossio and Elliott's screenplays and not the one that was eventually fashioned by Verbinski and "Revolutionary Road" screenwriter Justin Haythe, and the director gives the best possible answer. "Apparently. I didn't read them."

On the supernatural, Verbinski had a very clear point of view: "In my version of this movie, the only thing supernatural was the question of – is Tonto suffering from Alzheimer's or is there mysticism present here or is it greed or is it Wendigo or can he turn into a bird or not… And I think those are wonderfully unanswered questions. I just wanted it to be about trains and about progress and that's your villain."

One of the sticking points in the negotiations during the breakdown had to do with Verbinski's insistence that there be a wraparound included, a kind of framing device that allowed for Tonto to literally tell the story, as an old man. "That's something that was one of the deal breakers," Verbinski admitted. "When I was about to come in, I said that if I'm going to do it, I have to do it the way I want to do it, which is to tell it from Tonto's point of view. That was the way to make him relevant. Otherwise, you've miscast. That was the problem. They'd written five scripts called 'The Lone Ranger' and Tonto wasn't the hero, he was the sidekick. And that's why it never got anywhere. It was like, 'Let's make this Tonto's story. This is the solution to casting Johnny.' Because for a while it was, 'Yeah we've got Johnny as Tonto…. How do we do that?' So this offered a solution. It also offered thematic opportunities to deal with loss and the landscape and our connection with nature, the collision of these two belief systems."

In late February of 2012, after production had finally gotten underway, it was officially announced that Yoakam was unable to recommit to the movie. In his place was beloved character actor William Fichtner, who gave the role an almost reptilian menace. "I was the last cast member, actually," Fichtner clarified to us. "I had a conversation with Gore on a Saturday or Sunday and my first day of shooting was that a Thursday or a Friday. Literally that short." Verbinski said, diplomatically, about the cast switch-out: "The performance was outstanding once Fichtner became involved."

The release date shifted once more, from May 31st to Fourth of July weekend, but even with the extra time, it was still a nightmare to complete. When introducing the film at the first public screening in New Mexico, Verbinski spoke to the scale of the production saying, "Sometimes 700 people were working on this thing." (In the summer of 2012, an extensive Hollywood Reporter piece stated that delays due to sandstorms and other production hiccups caused the budget to creep back up to the $250 million Disney was trying to avoid.) The screening in New Mexico was the end of a very long journey for the film, one that many thought would never actually see the light of day. But just like the Lone Ranger himself, the movie rose from the dead. 

As always Jerry Bruckheimer said it best when he told us: "We trimmed back a lot of stuff that I don't think you'll miss, because it's still a pretty big movie." 

"The Lone Ranger" opens on July 3rd. Read our review here

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3 Comments

  • The Clintidote | July 3, 2013 7:28 PMReply

    And after all that toil and trouble, sweat and hassle . . . . . it's apparently a $250M crapfest. A shame, that.

  • raphael | July 2, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    i wish for nothing but the best for these awesome guys.

  • raphael gouthier | July 2, 2013 12:41 PMReply

    wow........ it certainly looks like the movie business has a lot to give and take back, and that's tough to endure. especially in regards to the creators of this film, more on that matter the nonsense they have to deal with. like the politics of the film, by that i mean all the business and such. one of these fields can be one of the most agonizing in movie history as we know it.

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