I may have to don a mask myself when the feedback for this review starts rolling in, as 'The Lone Ranger' – a movie I fully expected to hate given my historical dislike of Johnny Depp's 'quirky character' movies – turned out to be perhaps my favorite of this year's summer movies that I've had the chance to see. Given the box office failure of the film (although thanks to foreign receipts and, now, home video, it might actually turn a profit) and the drubbing it got my almost all of our nationally known critics, I thought I might have a fun time picking apart the flaws of the movie in my review. It goes without saying that I was shocked when I found myself liking what was transpiring, and checked myself for a fever when the end credits rolled and I had all but fallen in semi-love with the movie. 'The Lone Ranger' isn't without some flaws, but the good here far outweighs the bad.
The movie doesn't open in the Old West, but instead in 1933 San Francisco, where a young boy (dressed in a cowboy costume and mask) at a carnival makes his way into an Old West exhibit, where he comes upon a statue of 'The Noble Savage' that doesn't turn out to be a statue at all, but rather an elderly Tonto (Johnny Depp). Tonto begins to tell the story of The Lone Ranger to the child, beginning in Colby, Texas, in 1869. Tonto is a prisoner alongside Butch Cavendish (a barely recognizable William Fichtner), who viewers will soon learn is one of the major 'baddies' of the film. District Attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) is also aboard the train, albeit in the passenger compartment. Reid – who will later become the Lone Ranger – and Tonto first meet when Butch's gang stages a raid of the moving train on horseback in an attempt to free Butch. Reid finds himself chained to Tonto as the bad guys take over the train, leading to a fun opening sequence that ends with the spectacular crash of the locomotive.
I won't spend this review rehashing and ruining the plot, only to say that Reid's transition into the Lone Ranger more or less follows the traditional established story. The major difference in this new movie version is that a great deal of humor has been inserted, although the film never crosses the line into parody or slapstick. It's more along the lines of the type of humor you'd see in an action-buddy film, and the best comparison I can make as far as a Western is concerned is to Richard Donner's Maverick update, although I'm not sure that even the humor in 'The Lone Ranger' is ever quite that broad or frequent.
I'm not a loyal 'Lone Ranger' fan by any means – I only have the vaguest remembrance of the Clayton Moore television series and, although I know I watched it as some point, no remembrance of the 1981 film, 'The Legend of the Lone Ranger' – so I had the advantage of going into this movie with no expectations about how the characters should be portrayed. With that in mind, I'm sure more die-hard 'Lone Ranger' fans might be turned off by the fact that the character of John Reid is portrayed as very much of an anti-violence kind of guy, to the point that he often comes off as slightly wimpy and passive when compared to the more ready-to-take-action Tonto. Of course, much of this is so that the movie can show the change in Reid from a man schooled in the law to an actual lawman, so rest assured by the time the movie's final action sequence gets underway, the Lone Ranger is very much the familiar action hero we've been expecting to see.
Like many, when I first heard that Depp would be playing Tonto, I cringed at the thought of him mocking a traditionally beloved character. While Depp still has plenty of moments where Tonto seems more of a stereotypical Native American than a real-life flesh and blood one, the writers here have given the character a heartbreaking backstory that allows Depp to put some real sadness behind Tonto's eyes. Tonto is probably the most-changed character from previous versions, but I think it's a change that works for the purposes of this movie.
'The Lone Ranger' is far from perfect though – while it has some of the best cinematography I've seen in a film this year, and a wonderful soundtrack from composer Hans Zimmer (much better than his Man of Steel score, in my opinion) – like most of director Gore Verbinski's movies, the action sequences go on a bit too long, meaning a movie that is just short of 2 ½ hours could have probably had 30 minutes cut from it with no ill effect on the storyline. There's also a minor character (a one-legged hooker with an ivory leg that packs some punch) played by Helena Bonham Carter whose scenes only seem to serve the purpose of finding a role that the filmmakers could use Ms. Carter in (as she certainly wouldn't have been a good choice for the only other major female role – Reid's sister-in-law and romantic interest, who is played by Ruth Wilson). Thankfully, although CGI is used sporadically throughout the movie, its only really major and all-too-obvious use is in the film's final locomotive chase sequence, which – again – goes on a little longer than it should. Most of 'The Lone Ranger's scenes and stunts make use of real stuntmen, real set pieces, and real locales, which is a refreshing change of pace for a big-budget summer movie.
There won't be any sequels to 'The Lone Ranger'. In fact, the disappointment of this movie both critically and at the box office may mean that Hollywood doesn't attempt a big-budget Western (at least not one geared toward the masses) for a long time. I can't change those facts, but I can say that if you've been avoiding 'The Lone Ranger' because you've been believing the bad buzz about the film, do yourself a favor and give it a chance. You might hate it as much as everyone else does, but you might join me in enjoying this vastly underrated movie.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Lone Ranger' rides onto Blu-ray in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy pack, housed in a standard keepcase (with one of those little opening flaps on the side, that Sony uses often, but I've rarely seen on a Disney keepcase) with the DVD on the inside left and the Blu-ray on the inside right. The case also contains two inserts – a fold-open one that has both the digital copy code and a code for Disney's Movie Rewards program, and an insert advertisement for the Disney Movie Club.
Upon inserting both the Blu-ray and the DVD, viewers will be asked to select the audio for the movie, as no audio option appears on the main menu (although one can still use their remote to switch if they so choose). Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with skippable trailers for 'Saving Mr. Banks' and 'Muppets Most Wanted'. While the DVD's main menu just consists of a still from the film, the Blu-ray menu features video of a long-shot of the Lone Ranger and Tonto overlooking the vast countryside on their horses. Menu selections run along the bottom of the screen.
This release also includes an embossed slipcover that matches the cover of the slick. Also of note is that fact that at least one retailer – Best Buy – is offering a release with a variant slip cover (as far as I know, the only difference is a red border instead of a sliver one) that also includes a download of the album "The Lone Ranger: Wanted", that features music 'inspired' (that's code for 'does not actually appear in') by the movie.
One of the best-looking titles I've reviewed this year, 'The Lone Ranger' comes with a stunning MPEG-4/AVC 1080p transfer that is completely free of any noticeable defects. The color scheme of the movie is just ever so slightly desaturated, to give it a historical feel. Details here are fantastic, as every line and wrinkle in the actors' faces and every crack and crevice in rock formations of the landscape can be made out. There's an early scene that takes place where viewers can actually make out a fine layer of dust blowing around in the air – that's the mark of a wonderful transfer.
Contrast is solid throughout, and black levels are deep and inky. I did not notice any instances of banding, aliasing, artifacting, or other frequent glitches or compression issues with the transfer. The only real downside here is that when the film gets heavy into CGI use (which it really only does in the last half hour of the movie), the effects are probably a little more obvious than the filmmakers would have liked. Still, there's nothing to complain about here with a video transfer that I'm going to label as reference quality.
If I could give a higher rating than a '5' for audio, I'd certainly do it with 'The Lone Ranger's fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. While I ranked this film's video quality as among the best I've seen this year, there's no doubt that the audio here is the best I've heard all year. Loaded with an immersive feeling that puts you back in the Old West, viewers will feel like they're right in the middle of every action sequence, with plenty of directionality throughout.
There's some fun low-end rumblings too, particularly during scenes involving those big lumbering locomotives (of which there are several), but it's the subtleness of the track in quieter moments that also impressed me. Have you ever been watching a movie and hear sounds that you know 'must' be coming from somewhere in the house, only to realize later that they're actually part of the soundtrack to the film you're watching? There are a lot of little moments like that in 'The Lone Ranger', which proves just how meticulously good the audio is here.
While the DVD replaces the lossless English 7.1 track with a 5.1 Dolby Digital one, both discs contain an English Descriptive Video Service Dolby 2.0 track and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles are available on both discs in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
I not only liked, but I actually kind of loved 'The Lone Ranger', which I realize puts me in a huge minority (although Quentin Tarantino seems to agree with me, so I'm feeling better already) among critics and movie fans. I found the film to be everything that I expect a big budget 'popcorn' movie to be, and at times more moving and emotionally engaging than I expected. While I can't change the minds of those who have already watched and dismissed the movie, maybe those who haven't yet seen it and happen upon this review will give it a chance. Highly recommended.