Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Lone Tonto

Friday, some of my family and I went to see the new Lone Ranger movie. I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts about it.

The Movie Itself

I was not expecting much. When it was suggested that we go see it, I checked online for the running time in order to decide food choices for that afternoon/evening. And then I saw the reviews... “Eek” to say the least. Critics would have you believe that this movie is awful - the worst piece of film to hit theaters since Battlefield Earth, practically. When I rechecked Moviefone, critics have it (as of the evening of 8 July) 2/5 stars; has it at 24% (to the good), an average of 160 professional reviews -

- but judging by the quotes on Rottentomatoes, these are the type of people I troll on Facebook. Allow me to indulge:

Peter Travers, from Rolling Stone, writes, “Your expectations of how bad The Lone Ranger is can't trump the reality.” Really Pete? How do you know what my expectations are? Do you moonlight for the NSA?

Liam Lacey, of the Globe and Mail, writes, “When it comes to mining boys' adventure stories, defaming pirates may be fair game, but stories about western justice and native Americans [sic]? Not so much.” Defaming pirates? Pirates really don’t have a much in the way of a good name to besmirch - they’re pirates.

Rene Rodriguez, of the Miami Herald, writes, “Director Gore Verbinski has adopted the more-is-better approach he used in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, crowding the movie with so many extraneous characters and subplots that the film becomes an endurance test.” ...Fair enough.

“Disney spent over $200 million to prove The Lone Ranger is too old-fashioned for such a newfangled, smart-aleck world,” writes Mark Keizer, from Boxoffice Magazine. Really? Remember Les Miserables from... oh so long ago, it’s hard to remem- last year. 148.8M USD domestic, 288.9M USD foreign from a budget of 61 million for a musical about the French Revolution. How’s that for old-fashioned? Also, help yourself to a “Get off my lawn!” sign; “newfangled”? really?

And finally - “Too long, too weird and too darn tootin' unfunny,” or so says Tom Glasson from Concrete Playground (Australia). Too long, I’ll grant ya. The rest of that sentence is so, so wrong. “Too weird”? Get out. Off my planet. Obviously has never seen anything by David Lynch. Or Terry Gilliam. Or - god forbid - John Waters. “Too darn tootin’ unfunny”? Granted, I’m no expert on Australian colloquialism, but I’ve yet to hear or read that particular -ism from any Australian - or anybody else, for that matter. However, if Tom Glasson is really Yosemite Sam, then I apologize.
- Also: did I mention the missing Oxford comma?

Thank you for your indulgence.

So anyway - my experience was like the majority of ‘ordinary folk’ (ie. non-critics) who went and saw it: it wasn’t bad. Not fantastic, mind you, but it was funny - in large part due to the Star of the Show, Johnny Depp. Without getting spoilery, Tonto and the Lone Ranger never really gelled as buddy cops, in fact Tonto really eclipses the Lone Ranger in just about every scene. The action was a bit overdone - but the sequence where they pulled out the “William Tell Overture” was the only part that really made me roll my eyes. Helena Bonham Carter’s last appearance in the film isn’t really explained - or even set up - at all (or maybe I was distracted by the really clunky “scrimshaw”...). Otherwise, it’s not a bad matinee, if you’ve got 2-1/2 hours to kill on a Saturday afternoon on an Action-Comedy. It’s got some humor - mostly through Depp’s facial expressions or verbal reactions, but there is some banter, too - and certainly there is action - racing trains that go nuts, plus there’s one gag that puts me in mind of Harold Lloyd, which is nice.

On the other hand, one of the reviewers said that the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. That’s kind of true, because intermixed with the other is Tonto’s backstory, which is tragic, and there a message that Greed is Bad (mm’kay?), and the white guys who run the railroad and the cavalry are self-serving, murderous bastards. This doesn’t mesh well with the “comedy” part of the Action-Comedy equation.

The opinion of said ‘ordinary folk’, according to Rottentomatoes: 68% favorable (compared to critics’ 24%) and Moviefone’s 4 -1/2 stars from 96 reviews (versus 2 stars from the critics). Having said that, will it earn back the 215 million budget? Not domestically, maybe in foreign markets. The film only - “only” - brought in less than 30M - because everyone went to see the Twinkies in overalls in “Despicable Me 2”. Will people make up for it next weekend? Probably not, this being Summer and all, there’s plenty more big action movies out there - WWZ (opened last weekend) and Pacific Rim (opening with it’s big robots next weekend). It is not going to be “Pirates” big but it won’t be a total bomb either. It’ll probably more than break even when everything is said and done, but don’t hold your breath for a Lone Ranger 2.

So that’s the movie. What about...

The Controversy

So a guy without any formal or legal relationship to a federally recognized tribe got cast as a Comanche. Has there been some talk about it? Yep, a little...

I was going to go into this big, long thing about this - then I read this post by Kevin Gover, the Pawnee who heads up the National Museum of the American Indian. He sums things up much better than I could. This is his post:

He writes, in part:

“Mr. Depp’s Tonto is understood by all—especially the Comanches in the movie—to be a very strange man. We learn from the plot that his eccentricity is actually a mostly good-natured madness arising from a childhood trauma. So Tonto’s weird dead-bird headdress, which has generated much discussion among Indian cultural critics, is not presented as traditional Indian dress. Rather, it is a manifestation of Tonto’s madness.”

When I saw the movie, I was put in mind of Don Quixote, not as in “quixotic” but actually in a place where the don saw castles instead of inns and giants instead of windmills, you know: delusional. He was so immersed in his delusion that the objective world was overlayed with his subjective narrative so completely that it created a world unto itself in his mind. And yes, there are real Native actors playing Comanches without birds on their heads. They’re the ones who tell Reid Tonto’s backstory, describing him as no longer being Comanche, but in essence being a tribe unto himself. Thus acknowledging that Tonto isn’t playing in the real world anymore.

The bottom line for me is the fact that the real/now/present-day Comanches themselves don’t seem to have a problem with Depp’s efforts in this movie. He was adopted into the Comanche Nation at the home of LeDonna Harris, who the Indian Country Today Media (read the article here) staff describes as “an esteemed Comanche who is president and founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO)” with Comanche Nation Chairman Johnny Wauqua attending. As a Cherokee, it’s really not my place to say who the Comanches can approve of to play a Comanche. So far, I haven’t seen anything coming from their community saying that this was hugely inappropriate. Maybe it will come up in their next election; I couldn’t tell you.
In the end, the movie was a bit overdone and unfocused, but not as much as some of the discussion that hit the Internets before the movie was released. Why was this actor cast in this role? Box office draw. When a entertainment corporation spends in excess of two hundred million dollars on a movie, they’re going to do whatever they can to make it back, including hiring an actor that’s a big-name draw. Go figure. Why wasn’t it an Native actor? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that just about every other Indian in the movie was Native - and there were quite a few, even a couple with some actual lines.

You want more? Ok, go make it. If Star Trek and Firefly fans can put together projects with a cast, sets, special effects, original music (with four part harmony (for all you “Alice’s Restaurant” fans)) with no way of marketing the movie as Product because everything is copyrighted by someone else, surely you can shoot a script and get it to an audience. Remember Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible” - an Internet download? If you need cash, why not try Kickstarter - Kristen Bell raised 5 million bucks for a movie continuation of a TV show that’s been off the air for six years, Amanda Palmer raised 1.2 for an album and an art book - surely someone could put together an idea that could raise enough for an HD camera, a good boom mic, and a copy of Final Cut Pro. Ok - I know it’s a little more complicated than that, but still... It can be done, if you’re willing to do it.

Star Trek Fan Films:

Firefly Fan Films

No comments:

Post a Comment