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Johnny Depp and Pirates Crew Reinvent Western Lone Ranger, Tonto

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 8, 2011 at 10:15AM

Now that Cowboys & Aliens can be viewed as a too-pricey western tentpole wannabe, how does Disney feel about Jerry Bruckheimer's Lone Ranger going into pre-production? They've ditched "the," and buttressed themselves from criticism by staffing up with their tried-and-true --but pricey-- Pirates gang, now that #4 yielded a satisfactory $1.03 billion worldwide and Johnny Depp is considered a major movie star. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio penned the script, rewritten by Justin Haythe. Gore Verbinski has worked with Depp four times, including the modestly successful but costly animated western Rango ($242.8 million worldwide to date). And what marquee loyalty does Depp command when he's not Jack Sparrow? Neither Sweeney Todd nor The Tourist was a slamdunk, topping out at $153.3 million and $278.7 million (mostly foreign) worldwide, respectively.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Now that Cowboys & Aliens can be viewed as a too-pricey western tentpole wannabe, how does Disney feel about Jerry Bruckheimer's Lone Ranger going into pre-production? They've ditched "the," and buttressed themselves from criticism by staffing up with their tried-and-true --but pricey-- Pirates gang, now that #4 yielded a satisfactory $1.03 billion worldwide and Johnny Depp is considered a major movie star. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio penned the script, rewritten by Justin Haythe. Gore Verbinski has worked with Depp four times, including the modestly successful but costly animated western Rango ($242.8 million worldwide to date). And what marquee loyalty does Depp command when he's not Jack Sparrow? Neither Sweeney Todd nor The Tourist was a slamdunk, topping out at $153.3 million and $278.7 million (mostly foreign) worldwide, respectively.

Thompson on Hollywood

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 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 (video below). When I ran into the phlegmatic Bruckheimer last year he was very high on this one--for someone who doesn't express much, he was as excited as he gets. It's not updated--it's set in classic western territory, post-Civil War, period, in 1869. They aren't sure where they're going to shoot yet; the movie co-stars Helena Bonham Carter, who played opposite Depp in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland.

Thompson on Hollywood

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."

Thompson on Hollywood

We'll have to wait and see how far the film diverges from the established origin story of the Lone Ranger. According to wikipedia:

Six Texas Rangers are ambushed by a band of outlaws led by Butch Cavendish. Later, a Native American named Tonto stumbles on the scene and recognizes the lone survivor, Reid, as the man who had saved his life some time in the past. He nurses Reid back to health. The two men dig six graves for Reid's comrades, among them Reid's brother, and Reid fashions a black mask using material from his brother's vest to conceal his identity, so that Cavendish will think there were no survivors. Even after the Cavendish gang is brought to justice, Reid continues to fight evil under the guise of the Lone Ranger.

[grosses from The-Numbers]

This article is related to: Box Office, Directors, Franchises, Genres, Headliners, Hollywood, Studios, IN THE WORKS, Remake, Western, Johnny Depp


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