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The Lone Ranger

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Tried too hard to be serious. That’s how I would sum up Gore Verbinski’s attempt at remaking The Lone Ranger. The basic story is straightforward: the film tells us how lawyer John Reid met the Comanche Tonto, and how Reid eventually becomes the Lone Ranger. Throw in some stuff about greedy prospectors, some issues between white men and native Indians, a bit of romance between Reid and his brother’s widow… and you have the movie.

I read many reviews of this movie before going to see it, and I have to say that I can understand all the criticisms about the length of the film, the treatment/portrayal of the Indians, the high body count, and so on and so forth. It really was too long (almost 2.5 hours), and the framing story – an old Tonto in a carnival telling the story of the Lone Ranger to a little boy – was really useless. It also disrupted the flow of the story several times when they reverted to “present day” and had the little boy questioning Tonto about stuff. A bit like The Princess Bride, really, but less effective. If they had hacked out all those parts, the story might have flowed better (and been at least 15 minutes shorter). I’m not sure I saw the point of having the framing story, unless it was to suggest that this was all part of Tonto’s imagination.

If you take the framing story out, I think what’s left is actually not nearly as awful as other reviewers made it out to be. It isn’t exhilariting, but neither is it a dead bore. There are iffy parts (e.g.Tonto’s preoccupation with feeding the dead bird on his head is just bizarre and pointless) but there are also some funny lines and the action sequences on trains seem to work rather well, really. (On the topic of funny lines, Anna and I were the only two people in the cinema who seemed to get the joke in the exchange between the Lone Ranger and the “bouncer” at the brothel. The fact that no one but us two laughed at it just made me want to laugh more… haha)

The movie seemed to be at its best when it was being light-hearted and action-packed. I really liked it whenever the William Tell Overture made an appearance (twice, I think). It just really set the mood, enhanced the action sequences, and made me smile. There was just a sense of “Yes. This is the Lone Ranger I want to be seeing.” I quite wished that the whole movie had been happier and funnier.

I think the main mistake here is that they tried to make it both serious and funny. That’s an incredibly difficult combination, and it didn’t quite pan out the way they wanted it to. If they had just set out to do one or the other – make it either a serious, “realistic” depiction a la Nolan’s Batman trilogy, or make it a straight-up action comedy (one that, like Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, is a nod to the source and the style yet doesn’t take itself too seriously) – I think it would not have gotten half as many bad reviews. Moreover, when dealing with representation of minority groups in this politically-correct day and age, it’s even more difficult to aim at “funny” because people are definitely going to be offended.

Regarding the portrayal of the native American Indians in Lone Ranger I can little to say that hasn’t been said by other reviewers more experienced and intelligent than I am. I didn’t feel strongly that Tonto was a mockery of the American Indian people, nor that any part of the movie was especially insulting. But perhaps this is because I’m not American, let alone native American Indian. I do have one friend who is native American Indian though, and she seemed pretty annoyed with the movie – as were many American reviewers. I get how stereotypes can hurt – I don’t think many urban Malaysians can be unaware of that, especially not those of us who belong in the minority groups; we fuss over lots of these stereotyping issues too. I’m aware that Tonto in himself and the other American Indian characters in the movie are not an accurate portrayal of the culture, and that they are probably a vastly exaggerated version of it (Depp’s Tonto most of all). So I do not in any way think that the on-screen versions of the American Indians are representative of reality.

Sometimes I wonder if we are not all of us kicking up too much fuss… or if we are kicking up fuss in the wrong direction? Screaming at Hollywood and other moviemakers isn’t necessarily going to help a great deal. If I stop to ask myself why I am not “deceived” by the movies, my answer is: because I know better than to believe the movies blindly. How do I know that? (1) Because I’ve been taught that they are mere stories – and stories are not always real or true. (2) Because I’ve learnt that there are methods and tricks to all the arts that can be used to produce certain emotional effects, and these can be deployed very effectively by the best – be they writers, artists, musicians, or movie directors. (3) Because I have been exposed to things outside of a handful of movies and books, and I know that there’s more to it than what I see or read or hear in one story. Even history can have multiple versions, depending on who you ask. So instead of merely scrutinising one side of the story – i.e. the moviemakers’ side – should we maybe also be thinking about improving media literacy and general knowledge (and common sense)? Hmm. I wonder.

Getting back to the movie…

This movie had quite a few things in common with the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies: director Gore Verbinski, screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, Johnny Depp being odd, Hans Zimmer music, and there was even that one minor baddie who resembled the one-eyed pirate in the Pirates movies. One can’t help but suspect that they were – maybe subconsciously – trying to recreate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and banked too much on the amusing kookiness Johnny Depp brought to his roles. Even so, these similarities are what saved the movie from being a dead bore to me. There was just enough humour to keep my attention, and the train sequences were pretty fun to watch. And there was definitely something wrong with that horse. hahah

The Lone Ranger: ★★½
[My star ratings guide]

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