The Long Ranger – Oh, the Humanity!

Thanks to purchasing Oz the Great and Powerful (Blu-Ray combo pack) for my daughter and granddaughter, I had a FREE ticket for The Lone Ranger.

One-line Review: Depp has lots of fun in The Tonto Show, movie just meh.

The Lone RangerThe Lone Ranger (2013) – Rated PG-13

Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.”

The Lone Ranger is such a shame.

My wife’s major complaint with the film is that Johnny Depp essentially plays the entire film in ‘redface’. There would certainly have been outrage if Johnny Depp had played a quirky African-American in blackface but apparently it is still okay for Caucasians to take leading roles as Native Americans away from actual Native Americans. My wife chose not to attend.

Admittedly this is a century old problem for Hollywood. Jeff Chandler (born Ira Gossell) practically made a career out of playing Cochise, assaying the role three times in four years (1950-4). 1962’s Geronimo cast Chuck Connors (aka The Rifleman) in the titular role. A decade later, Charles Bronson went native in Chato’s Land. Sitting Bull has been portrayed by actors as varied as African-American Noble Johnson (1926), J. Carrol Naish (1950, 1954), and Michael Pate (1965). Later films ‘solved’ the racism issue by casting a leading Caucasian as a white man among the Indians (“Little Big Man”, “Dances with Wolves”).

Leaving that aside, there are still more opportunities for outrage. The new movie is clearly an affront to anyone who values the old Clayton Moore series (1949-1957). I doubt anyone even remembers the Klinton Spilsbury outing (1981). In our latest outing, Armie Hammer plays John Reid aka The Lone Ranger as a cross between a gibbering idiot and a total git. Honestly, the film would only have been a half hour long except that every time someone else was going to be a hero, Reid stepped in and bungled everything. This skewering of a pop culture hero can be done as farce (a la The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu) but here it is just a given that Reid is absolutely hopeless (albeit with phenomenal luck).

If you aren’t outraged yet, how about releasing a big budget Disney film during the summer (with all the cachet and family members that brings) and finding out that the villain is not only sadistic but a cannibal as well. Butch Cavendish pulls out and eats the heart of a still living (okay, not for long) heroic sheriff. Some of this is offscreen to preserve the PG-13 rating but they show as much as they can and then you can hear more. If you still missed it, don’t worry they will explain it in detail later.

Still not outraged? The wholesale slaughter of Comanches is perpetrated but it is so insignificant as to be relegated to an almost missed sideplot save for a key dialogue exchange during a standoff. Not being a subtle movie, our dashing cavalryman Fuller is made up to look like George Armstrong Custer. Christianity takes a beating throughout the movie as well.

Okay, I give up. If I can’t outrage you, let me tell you that The Lone Ranger clocks in at an excruciating two hours and twenty-nine minutes. I love epics and some movies need over two hours to develop their plot and/or characters. The Lone Ranger could easily have chopped half an hour, probably an hour without losing much.

Having typed all of that, there is much to like about The Lone Ranger. Johnny Depp’s performance is as wonderfully quirky as ever, though it will remind you of Jack Sparrow from time to time. It is to the film’s credit that it realizes that Depp is the star and the film should be titled Tonto. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual eccentric self but the role is rather a one-trick pony.

Sadly none of the other actors are given much to do. Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, and Barry Pepper are all very capable character actors but strangely don’t make much of an impression here. James Badge Dale is suitably scruffy and heroic but isn’t in much of the movie. Armie Hammer comes across as rather bland, when he isn’t being a prig.

There are elements of the unreliable narrator here that are very amusing. The outrageous stunts and setpieces are entertaining. The Lone Ranger borrows a lot from other better films, particularly Little Big Man, so if you haven’t seen the films Lone Ranger references, then you might think it quite imaginative. There is a particularly wonderful dialogue exchange during a standoff.

Mild spoiler ahead:

The climactic setpiece is cleverly set to the tune of the William Tell overture. Of course, because this is an overblown blockbuster, director Verbinski has to have Hans Zimmer add to the classic tune as well as recycle it. The climax just goes on forever.

Oh, and Verbinski, we get it – Indians trade.

Battlefield Earth – Solar System week

In honor of my father-in-law, a retired professor of astronomy, this week we will spend exploring our solar system in the movies. Today we will visit our home planet Earth. Battlefield Earth is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: Battlefield Earth (2000) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language and violence.

“In the year 2000, an alien race known as the Psychlos devastated Earth and turned it into a wasteland. In the year 3000, the aliens — led by the horrific Terl (John Travolta) — still hold the surviving human population hostage and have forced Earthlings into slavery. But when human Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) discovers the aliens major weakness and leads the final fight for Earths survival, the parasitic Psychlos are in for a shock.”

“I am sorry – the gods took your father in the night.”

“I am sorry. I cannot take you Chrissy.”

I am so sorry if you had the misfortune of seeing this film.

First off the official title is Battlefield Earth – A Saga of the Year 3000. How positively generic. If you still did not get it then the first text onscreen is “Man is an endangered species”. The alien race are Psychlos so you know they are not good. Our hero is Jonny Goodboy Tyler. I understand that subtlety is not a strong suit for many but this is some serious overkill.

This film is sooooooo bad. I have not read the book by L. Ron Hubbard but this inane plot had to have come from somewhere so he definitely has to share the blame. Especially since they rejected the screenplay written by J.D. Shapiro as not being faithful enough to the book.

They have a deus ex machina in an alien device that teaches Jonny not only to speak Psychlo but also teaches him (and this had me laughing hysterically) Euclidian geometry (among other things). So apparently after Euclid, a Greek, developed geometry, he must have left the planet to teach the aliens geometry since they named theirs after Euclid as well.

There is another real head-scratcher as well. Perhaps it is better explained in the book but there is no indication that the alien device would teach Jonny how to read English (or that he would have time to do so after being shown a human repository of knowledge). Strangely Jonny knows that gold was stored a thousand years ago in Fort Knox.

Another character – a human savage – refers to something as “a piece of cake”. Really? Terl refers to the humans constantly as “man animals”. Do we refer to elephants as “elephant animals”?

Jonny teaches the other savages how to fly jets (I swear I am not making this up) by using a simulator from a thousand years ago (still not sure what power source it uses). Oh and he does this in a week – obviously our Air Force spends far too much on training. This is so they can properly use the 1,000 year old jets with 1,000 year old jet fuel in them.

Please note that these jets were completely ineffective in 2000 at the time of the Psychlo invasion. In fact, Terl states that humanity put up a fight for only nine minutes.

Battlefield Earth swept the Razzies in 2001. It won Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor – John Travolta, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Supporting Actress – Kelly Preston. The only reason Forest Whitaker did not win his Worst Supporting Actor nomination was that Barry Pepper won it by being even worse. The most amusing Razzie was that Battlefield Earth won Worst Couple – John Travolta and anyone sharing the screen with him.

In 2005 Battlefield Earth won a Razzie for Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years. It won again in 2010 for Worst Picture of the Decade and Worst Actor of the Decade – John Travolta. At the Razzies, Battlefield Earth was referred to as Plan 9 from L. Ron Hubbard.

What happened to John Travolta? He made a fabulous career comeback in 1994 with Pulp Fiction. He had some great roles right after that in Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Phenomenon and Michael. He did an excellent nuanced Clinton impersonation in Primary Colors (1998).

Then Travolta went kablooey. He was abominable here, awful in Swordfish, dreadful in Domestic Disturbance, and cringe-worthy in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. He even revisited (poorly) his character of Chili Palmer from Get Shorty in the sequel Be Cool.

I think I could write an entire week on just the different facets of this awful movie. AVOID at all costs!

People Watch: Kelly Preston, wife of John Travolta and fellow Scientologist, has a brief but painfully funny role as Chirk.