The Lone Ranger Reimagines the Old West, Scenic and Otherwise
By: Ellis Nassour
Broadway producer David Merrick was famous for saying, "If you have the money, you can do anything." Movie studios have money. They’ve been known to do a lot of things with it.
The relaunch of another beloved hero franchise arrived July 4 with The Lone Ranger [Disney], starring Armie Hammer as the masked Texas Ranger out for justice and Johnny Depp as his sidekick, the disgraced Indian Tonto who is out to rehabilitate himself [and the stereotype of Indians in countless films].
There were delays: several years of development with various writers and directors, rewrites, weather; wildfires, a chickenpox outbreak, "cowboy school" (lesson on the art of horseback riding, gun slinging, lassoing lessons); and, most sadly, the death of a crew member. All that cost a lot of money: an estimated $250-million. That’s not exactly burger and fries money even for a studio as flush as Disney.
The film got mixed reviews; however, it has a lot going for it. Accuracy is and isn’t one of them.
Depp’s get-up as Tonto has gotten a lot of press, but Oscar-winning make-up artist Joel Harlow, who created the actor’s look in the Pirates franchise and Alice in Wonderland, based his look on the warrior in Kirby Sattler’s painting I Am Crow – where the Comanche’s face is painted white with black warrior stripes, and even has a crow atop his head.
Harlow added the parched-earth look and even incorporated a few of the star’s tattoos. For his ancient self, whom we see at the beginning of the film and several times again, Depp literally wore a prosthetic suit and required about 90 minutes in make-up.
Director Gore Verbinski (the Pirates franchise) filmed in Utah (mostly around Oljato, Utah, home to the Navajo and majestic Monument Valley), Colorado, New Mexico (the base camp was in Rio Puerco, near Albuquerque), Arizona, Texas, and California.
Dorothy knew she wasn’t in Kansas anywhere when she reached Oz. And certainly audiences will, hopefully, know they’re not in Texas when they see cinematographer Bojan Bazell’s lush images of Monument Valley. But movies have been known to stretch the facts. It does get a bit confusing when the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad come off as robber barons instead of pioneers trying to bridge a nation. But that’s what comes of mixing non-fiction and fact.
If you’re a train lover, then this is the film for you. Instead of creating miniatures and using CGI, or utilizing period trains, in quite an engineering feat, two 250-ton locomotives and 15 cars were built along with five miles of railroad track and a rail tunnel – amounting to nearly four-million pounds of 33-foot rails, bars, and ties.
The trains are authentic to the last detail with one exception: the locomotives work on hydraulic power rather than steam.
Props are also in order for stunt supervisor Tommy Harper and his team for accomplishing the seemingly impossible – especially those hair-raising stunts atop the moving trains that bookend the film.
"Depp, Hammer, and William Ficthner [who plays the outlaw Butch Cavendish] loved doing as many of their own stunts as possible." Harper points out. "The trains were never slower than 40 miles per hour. There were special tracks on top of the cars so that stunt players could run along."
There’s no CGI or special effects here. It’s all the real thing in real time. Harper and his team tethered the actors and stunt players to safety lines, which of course onscreen you can’t see. There were constant safety checks.
"All that was needed," Harper says, "were actors crazy enough to stand, run, and fight atop them as they soared along treacherous hairpin curves and barreled down mountain passes. But we had Johnny, Armie, and William. They quite often took our breath away since, fingers crossed and all, we were holding it in."