August 19, 2011

Lone Ranger writer denies rumors

Terry Rossio, a screenwriter on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and The Lone Ranger, has denied that the Ranger script has or had werewolves. At least one person who has seen the script also denies the werewolves.

In a forum Rossio runs, he responded to postings by the media and forum members. Alas, his responses raise as many questions as they answer.

Below are the postings, Rossio's responses (in italics), and my responses to him.According to one report, there was a post on a different site that caters to WGA members, "… it was never going to be a semi-traditional was never going to be Zorro. It was going to be a Tonto show mainly. Tonto as the top dog and more dominant than the Lone Ranger. Tonto and the Indian spirits like Obi Wan Kenobi and the force. The driving engine was going to be Native American occult aspects worked in with werewolves and special effects. But flavored with doses of Native American spirituality in a serious way."

No. Completely inaccurate in every detail, save a bit at the end ... you can't do a film with a Native American character and not 'flavor' it with some doses of spirituality. Other than that, a rather complete mischaracterization.
Rossio's claim about Native spirituality is ridiculous and arguably racist. Most old Westerns--indeed, most Native-themed movies until Dances with Wolves--didn't include Native spirituality. A quasi-religious movie like A Man Called Horse was a rare exception.

Admittedly, Native movies often mention spirituality these days. But it's usually pretty mild: a few references to ceremonies, beliefs, or spirits. And it's certainly not a requirement. Depending on how Rossio defines spirituality, some Native movies lack it.

Tonto not the star?

As for Tonto's role...Tonto isn't the dominant one of the pair? That's not what people have been saying. Some quotes on the subject:

The Lone Ranger as Don Quixote?"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.New approach to the Lone Ranger?One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is the way that the hero/sidekick dynamic is flipped, with Kato being a genius martial artist and brilliant with gadgetry, while the Green Hornet is a bit of a schlub. According to Johnny Depp, that very same dynamic will find its way into the film about Britt Reid's grand-uncle, The Lone Ranger.Johnny Depp talks about TontoNow the 46-year-old actor is considering offers to play Tonto as a shrewd man behind the legend in a remake of "The Lone Ranger."

"Tonto needs to be in charge," says Depp, who is part Cherokee Indian. "The Lone Ranger should be a fool, a lovable one, but a fool nonetheless."
Rossio meet your fellow collaborators Depp and Verbinski. They seem to to disagree with your characterization of Tonto. So which is it?

As for the werewolves, "no werewolves" is potentially misleading, since the movie could have hundreds of supernatural creatures or spirits that aren't werewolves. Skinwalkers, Wendigos, sasquatches, shapeshifters, demons, spirits, and other things that go bump in the night. If the movie has no supernatural element whatsoever, where did the rumors come from?

Let's not even get into how there's no such thing as a generic "Native American spirituality." Rather, there are hundreds of tribal cultures with hundreds of versions of spirituality. Rossio's reference to the generic doesn't inspire confidence.

Why the $250 million budget?There should be a $100 million "Lone Ranger" movie...anything more and you're misjudging the audience.

You would have said the same thing before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and you would have turned out to be wrong.
If you'd said something similar about other adventure or Western movies that bombed--Cutthroat Island, The Alamo, Sahara, Heaven's Gate, The Postman--you would've been right. So that doesn't prove much.

The Pirates movies had Johnny Depp in the role of a lifetime. A dozen other movies starring Depp didn't do nearly as well. The Lone Ranger might be another Pirates, or another The Tourist, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or From Hell.A Western. The Native American shapeshifters... a Texas Ranger hunting the gang that murdered his fellow Rangers... how does that cost $250 million? Or even $200 million? Bring the script in at the right point and "The Lone Ranger rides again..."

Here you make the mistake that the script, or screenwriter, can control a budget. Scripts get written and designed on the desires of studios, directors, producers, and stars. And studios feel more comfortable making big spectacle bets these days; a mid-level budget is harder to green light than an upper budget event film.
Studios won't approve mid-range movies...yet Cowboys and Aliens is in the theaters with a $100 million budget, while The Lone Ranger is on life support. Hmm.

Most action/adventure and superhero movies are budgeted in the $150-$200 million range these days, at most. But a Western needs to exceed them all by 20-30%? How do you figure?

Disney may not greenlight mid-range movies, but they also don't greenlight high-end movies at $250 million. They're negotiating for a budget of $200 million, which suggests they prefer spending in the same $150-$200 million range. So who's missing the boat here: the commenter above, or Rossio and company?

I do like how Rossio is shifting the blame responsibility to Bruckheimer, Verbinski, and Depp. Depp seems to be the only participant with an inkling about Native beliefs and cultures. I suspect his ideas about how to play Tonto will dominate the story.

No special effects?Johnny Depp wanted to do a tribute to his mentor Marlon Brando by elevating the status of Native Americans? If so, don't want them overshadowed by the special effects.

It's incorrect for you to presume a high budgeted film has many special effects. The budget of the (now cancelled) Lone Ranger was high because of plans to shoot on location, with lots of extras. I don't know that there was a single effects shot planned; probably, but the usual 'enhance the background' stuff. (Actually I take that back, I think there were some animal shots planned to be done as effects.)
$250 million just for location shots with extras? So that's makes it what...the most expensive film ever shot on location? The most expensive film ever without special effects? Troy cost only $175 million and I thought that was considered extravagant.If Depp drops out, find a 100% Native American to play Tonto.

The studio would not proceed with the film at any budget without Johnny Depp.

The success of "POTC" came from creating a single character that captured our imaginations.

This is an utterly false premise. You've discounted Geoffrey Rush. You've discounted Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom. You've discounted the thrill of swordfighting skeletons in the moonlight.
Rossio seems to be contradicting himself here. Depp's presence is necessary, or it isn't. Well, which is it?

I agree with Rossio's critics about the success of Pirates. Nice of him to spread the credit to the other actors, but try selling Pirates V without Depp and see what happens. Every actor in the franchise is replaceable except him.

Disney understands this, which is why they wouldn't do The Lone Ranger without Depp. They clearly hope to replicate the success of Pirates. I'm confident they're looking for lots of swashbuckling stunts and SFX a la Pirates, Zorro, National Treasure, Indiana Jones, etc. If there's a quiet scene of Tonto saying a prayer or performing a ritual, I'll fall out of my chair in surprise.

Lone Ranger = Zorro

Rossio disagreed with the posting that said The Lone Ranger wasn't going to be another Zorro. That means it is going to be another Zorro. Unless Rossio didn't understand what he was saying.

The Mask of Zorro is a good point of comparison. The character is a nostalgic pulp hero in an Old West setting. The charismatic Antonio Banderas played him with style and panache. The movie cost $95 million and earned $250 million worldwide. That probably makes it a moderate success.

The Lone Ranger supposedly has none of the swordfighting skeletons that made Pirates a hit. Unless Rossio is misleading us, as I said. It's going for big live-action scenes a la Zorro. Again, why in the world would you expect The Lone Ranger to perform like Pirates and not like Zorro or From Hell (a period thriller starring Depp that earned only $75 million worldwide)?

I'm still not seeing a justification for the budget or for casting Depp. A $100 million movie with Armie Hammer and a Native actor could take off like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, etc. None of these franchises required big-name actors to carry them. Like the Lone Ranger, they relied on the audience's familiarity with the characters and concepts. That approach would work for this movie too.

For more on the subject, see Disney May Revive Lone Ranger and Werewolves Doomed Lone Ranger, and Disney Shuts Down Lone Ranger.

Below:  A movie where Natives have no spirituality because they're bloodthirsty savages who eat people. Co-written by Terry Rossio.


Anonymous said...

So he's managed to marry Westerns, space opera, and werewolves? Intersting, though it does make my refrain that the ghost of Sir Alec Guinness is telling all these celebs about their Indian ancestors when they learn "on the set" all the more hilarious.

Rob said...

Screenwriter Rossio says no werewolves. And the "space opera" is in Cowboys and Aliens, not The Lone Ranger.

Ariel said...

Hmm, I thought the plug was pulled on this. I was kind of hoping that was that. A friend of mine online read the script and said it was absolutely putrid. She didn't go into further detail.

Well, maybe if they decide to regroup and proceed with a smaller budget they'll revamp the script and come up with some better casting. It would be nice to see an unknown young Indian actor given the opportunity. In fact I'd love to see both lead roles cast with unknown young Indian actors.

Tom Cotrel said...

Hogwash. TLR can be done with anybody. POTC I could have been done with anybody. POTC II-XXXVVVIII could not be done with anyone but Depp after he established that character as his own.

TLR was all about the plot, writing, action, characterization. If you have that, production values don't matter. Vasquez rocks may be unavailable as a shooting location, but the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine are still there.

If you have good writing and a talented, no-name crew, TLR will be a hit with a $30 million budget. If you don't, every star in Hollywood and a $300 million budget won't save it.