February 20, 2011

The Lone Ranger as Don Quixote?

Johnny Depp rides into the unknown as Tonto in remake of The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp's decision to play the Lone Ranger's sidekick has Hollywood talking

By Paul HarrisDepp's Tonto, however, will be rather different from the original ally who stuck by his cowboy friend through thick and thin. Instead, his character looks set to be at the heart of the film and have the dominant role in its narrative.

Director Gore Verbinski is taking inspiration for the central relationship not from the dusty reels of the TV show, but from literary classic Don Quixote. In the new version, the Lone Ranger turns out to be a misguided fool and Tonto the voice of sanity, akin to Quixote's companion, Sancho Panza.

"The only version of The Lone Ranger I'm interested in doing is Don Quixote told from Sancho Panza's point of view," Verbinski told the Los Angeles Times's "Hero Complex" film blog last week. Suddenly it becomes a lot easier to see why Depp would take the role. "I was honest early on with Johnny that Tonto is the part. We're not going to do it [straight]; everyone knows that story. I don't want to tell that story," the director said.
And:Some celebrity experts believe tinkering with such a beloved series could be risky. "There are going to be Lone Ranger purists and then you come along and take the Lone Ranger concept to the next level and you might really annoy them. It might be best to leave that material alone," said Gayl Murphy, a California-based celebrity interviewer and media expert.

There is also potential controversy in the role of Tonto itself. The original character, with his pidgin English, has long been seen by many Native Americans as an insult. Later versions of the character--in comic strips and the 1981 film Legend of the Lone Ranger--gave Tonto more depth, making him an equal partner of the Lone Ranger. However, it still might irritate some that Tonto will be played by a white actor, mirroring the controversial practice of many early films that put Native Americans characters on screen but did not use Native American actors to play them.
Comment:  Making the Lone Ranger a Don Quixote-like fool certainly won't please the purists. That would be like making John Wayne or Clint Eastwood a foolish character.

Indeed, several superhero movies have done poorly while making relatively minor changes to the hero's background. How will fans react to this wholesale reimagining? Perhaps like they reacted to Batman and Robin, Wild Wild West, or The Green Hornet.

Hollywood has done a fair number of spoofs in which the gunslinger, detective, spy, or superhero was propped up by his sidekick. People don't remember these knockoffs because they're not the real thing. I don't think anyone has ever built a movie franchise by making fun of a beloved character.

But it's possible...

Of course, it's a time-honored tradition to have a sidekick play the straight man to a crazed but brilliant hero. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey, Montgomery Burns and Mr. Smithers, et al. It can be done if it's done right.

Someone, perhaps Verbinski, also compared the movie's approach to a Far Side cartoon in which Tonto reveals that "kemosabe" means "horse's ass." That's been a staple of jokes and cartoons for decades, so it's not inspiring. And it's not what I'd call a Don Quixote approach. Sancho Panza didn't mock his master; he revered him despite his madness.

I'm glad the article came out and called Depp a white man. His part-Cherokee heritage is a fig leaf behind which the producers will try to hide. Many black actors have some white ancestors, but would anyone cast Denzel Washington as JFK? No.

For more on the subject, see Marty Two Bulls on Johnny Depp and New Approach to the Lone Ranger?


tate engstrand said...

depp has played an indian in the past...in a film he directed.


Rob said...

Yes, I know. That doesn't make it right or good.