So after Disney invested nearly $250 million — and a whole lot of franchise hopes — into it, The Lone Ranger is likely going to be just that: a one-off, underperforming misfire instead of the springboard for an enduring movie series. There are a lot of reasons why the Johnny Depp-Armie Hammer actioner fizzled. Did the much-coveted teen male demographic have any built-in interest in a property that's best known as a TV series that debuted in 1949? Probably not. But oddly enough, if director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had followed the template set by that TV series, starring Clayton Moore as the masked avenger and Jay Silverheels as his Native American companion Tonto, they might have made a more successful movie. Here are six reasons why the 64-year-old TV series is better than the new film.
1. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Really Are Equals
People think that Silverheels' Tonto is just a sidekick in the original series. But from the very beginning he was the Lone Ranger's true partner. They were equally competent and enhanced each other's strengths, offering up an ideal of Anglo-Native American cooperation and harmony that obviously never happened but is a utopian vision worth striving for — especially considering the tendency of many other Westerns of the time to glorify the genocide of the Native Americans. But for that vision to ring true, the Lone Ranger can't be a bland doofus, the way he is in Verbinski's film. He can't be dragged through horse manure. The mere fact that Depp is credited above the title, before Hammer, shows that the Lone Ranger isn't even as important as Tonto in this take on the characters.
2. The Pilot Gets Right Into the Drama
Verbinski's film offers up a framing device in which the story of the Lone Ranger is being retold by an ancient Tonto in 1933. But the pilot episode of the original series, "Enter the Lone Ranger," gets right into the drama. Six Texas Rangers are led into a canyon where they're massacred by Butch Cavendish's gang — within the first five minutes of the plot.
3. It Doesn't Linger Over Personal Revenge
One man, John Reid, survives and crawls away to safety before being rescued by Tonto, just as Reid had saved Tonto many years ago. We learn later that his brother was one of the Rangers gunned down alongside him, but the "This Time...It's Personal" dynamic of Reid's journey toward becoming the Lone Ranger in the movie, doesn't exist in the show. Cavendish is evil, but not the kind of guy who actually eats the heart of Reid's brother. The idea of fighting for justice, to bring order out of chaos, was satisfying enough.
4. ...But It Doesn't Skimp on the Brutality
When the posse of Texas Rangers are gunned down in the pilot episode, Cavendish's men inspect each one, kicking over their cold corpses with their boots then leaving them out in the sun without any proper burial. Cavendish even shoots Collins, the man who helped lead the Rangers into the trap, in the back, to get rid of him as a witness. This is the archetypal template for much of today's superheroes: a tragedy-scarred survivor haunted by his past fights for a world in which such chaos isn't possible. But in the movie, the brutality against the Rangers isn't as ruthlessly mechanical, it's cartoonishly over the top (again, the eating of the heart). And when the cavalry are massacring the Comanches, senseless slaughter is glossed over by the Lone Ranger and Tonto's gallivanting around. The violence is more extreme, yet somehow less consequential.
5. There Isn't a Supernatural Element
In the movie, Reid is actually brought back from the dead by a "spirit walker," according to Tonto, meaning that he can't be killed in battle. But in the TV show, he's really just nursed back to health. He didn't need to have supernatural ability or blessing to be formidable, only his convictions.
6. The Lone Ranger Was Vulnerable
Fran Striker, who created the Lone Ranger for radio in 1933, decreed that his adventures always had to be realistic. The Ranger couldn't win against impossible odds or flee a hail of bullets by riding toward the horizon. That mantra applied to the TV show as well, meaning that the Ranger never found himself in the kind of over-the-top set pieces that are in the movie. It was attainable heroism. He could bleed, he could nearly be killed, but you believed you could be him. That's not a fantasy Verbinski's film offers its audience.
For a taste of what this great Western mythos was originally like, check out the pilot episode of The Lone Ranger TV series from Sept. 15, 1949 below.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt | Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_com
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Previously, on The X Factor: Steve Jones disappeared without a trace. A giant, neon "X" fell from the sky and exploded onto the streets on Manhattan, killing thousands. Britney Spears' troubled, possibly drug-addicted old duet parter Don Philip was painfully exploited for the sake of good TV. L.A. Reid danced in his chair. Talent was discovered, maybe.
Now, it's time for day two of the audition round, and for some reason we're back in San Francisco — that Godless town populated by drag queens and Joey Gladstone. (Seriously, did anyone count the number of drag queens they showed between tonight and last? San Francisco's homophobe travel rate is about to go way, way down.) We essentially learned two things tonight: First, that you can't be pretty, talented, and from San Francisco all at the same time. Second, that this show is doing everything it can to make Britney Spears uncomfortable. Last night we suffered through Philip, and tonight her "biggest fan" was made to look like a psychopath in front of the entire X-Universe. I mean, he acted like one, but that's probably why they shouldn't have let him onstage. God, I'm getting too old for this.
Thankfully, we started with some good: 16-year-old Johnny Maxwell and his MILF had a cute little pep-talk in their Honda Accord or Toyota Land Cruiser or whatever. "There's hecka people here, Mom," Johnny mused. Johnny was right: Auditioners were packed outside the "Cow Palace" like, well, cows going to the slaughter. Lucky for Johnny, he was a special cow — even though his energy seemed to initially scare Britney, who is quickly becoming the queen of facial expressions, his original song "All These People" was a hit.
According to Johnny, "All These People" is about "doing it big, and not letting, like, what anybody says that's negative or anything get in the way of your dream." Kind of a basic message, but the crowd still treated him like Bill Clinton at the DNC. It's hard not to compare him to last season's Astro or Chris Rene, because he's sort of a mix of both, just not as good. Still, everyone stood up and freaked out, and L.A. Reid even sang along. One of my favorite recurring motifs on this show is how L.A. acts like he disapproves whenever someone says they're doing an original song, then he sings along and chair dances like me when I'm at a bar and a song comes on that I like but I'm too lazy to get up and dance. He fools me every time! "It's all feeling sooo good right now," L.A. cooed. "You have swag," Demi Lovato agreed. AAAnnnnd he's through!
Next: Unattractive and/or untalented people take the stage!
The next cow to be slaughtered was 22-year-old dancer Alexa Berman, who, like most of America's Millennials, felt like she has something special — something unnamed — that made her deserve all the fame and all the riches. (Boobs?) "That's what the X Factor is," she explained. "There's not a word for it for a reason." Okay! She also said that she was going to marry rich if she didn't get past the judges, and at that point we officially knew she wouldn't get through. Still, she was super hot — we were treated to a fun montage of pimply boys oogling her Fergalicious curves. To get a taste of Alexa's affect on men, please see below:
"You're Jersey Shore meets the Kardashians," Simon Cowell said with wonder. (Aside: In some circles, like Simon's, this is meant as a compliment.) Unfortunately, Simon's words were more than just your standard Cowell-esque pervy praise — they were also a premonition. Because once Alexa started singing "Too Close" by Alex Clare, it became clear that, much like the cast of Jersey Shore and the Kardashians, she was all looks and no talent. "It was like one tone the whole time as you were singing, and it was just really boring," said Britney. Simon tried to get her through, but everyone else said no. Still, he did get the chance to check out her junk in the trunk as she dejectedly marched offstage. I love silver linings :)
We were then treated to an epic montage of attractive but utterly untalented people offending the judges with their terrible-ness. How dare they be attractive but not have the voice to back it up!?!? Dylan Osborn was cute, but terrible. Ezekial McCarter had a six-pack, but no pipes. "We need someone hot who can sing," bemoaned our judges. Generically hot girl group? Nope. Ripped dudes wearing practically no clothes? Sorry. Hot twins? Maybe next time. "You can't destroy that song, sweetie," Britney said to our final hot, talent-less contender. What is wrong with you, San Francisco? Is it the water?
Then, finally, we found our hope: Jason Brock, a 34-year-old tech support guy slash gothic Elton John who was just so excited to be there. Brock was a total queen and seemed really sweet, so naturally I was really nervous that X Factor would use this to exploit him. "You are really excited right now," Demi said when he first took the stage. (Understatement of the night.) He was kind of nervously obnoxious when he rambled on about dreams and concerts and glitter explosions, but his rendition of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" was flawless. L.A. went so far as to leave his chair/dance studio for a standing ovation, then said, "Every songwriter wants a guy like you to sing their song." You guys — this was adorable. My sad, icy heart almost melted for this lovely guy. I hope to see him during the live shows.
NEXT: An extreme high, and an even lower low
Ugh, Patrick Ford. Can we just skip talking about Patrick Ford? No, we can't. "I can't believe I'm meeting Britney Spears," said 20-year-old cashier Patrick, to his fellow auditioners. "It's like meeting God. I think she might be my sister. Do I look like her at all?" He was being serious, you guys. His demeanor was wildly unsettling, he needed some serious dental work, and his mom clearly dressed him for the audition. Awful. Awful! Mentally, this guy was so not all-there. He came out with a bouquet of flowers for Britney, and she looked only slightly less uncomfortable than she did during Philip's performance last night:
But this performance was like, 3,840,834 times worse. There was squawking, there were awkward white boy at his first middle school dance dance moves, and the whole thing was set to Britney's own "Circus." Unlike last night, with Philip, Britney's fellow judges didn't ask her to respond. "I won't even bother you," L.A. said. "It's like you had an argument with Britney Spears, got drunk, and decided to scream the song at her," Simon added. Simon's words were admittedly funny, but not when they were directed at someone who is clearly mentally unstable. "That's all you've got for me, Britney?" Patrick said, with horror. "Just a no?" You guys, she didn't even acknowledge him. Then the producers added this suspenseful thriller-flick music while Patrick just stood there, frozen, and it looked like he was going to start shooting. I know this is supposed to be fun, but it's not cool to exploit mentally unstable people on national television. Just — no.
But, again, we ended on a high note: 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar was adorable, and her parents were sweet and supportive, and, most importantly, normal. There is nothing I love more than well-adjusted people on reality television. Maybe that's sad, but it's rare. Carly sang "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone, and it was spectacular. Within the first 20 seconds, you knew this girl was a front-runner. She has it, guys — that factor of X that has no name. It was the best audition we've seen so far. It was an audition that is literally impossible to snark on. All of the judges, and even her backstage competition, were standing up and cheering. I know the judges said they might have found their winner in Providence, and I'm thinking Carly could be it. My only hope is that they don't pluck her and primp her and turn her into some Disney-fied overly-sexualized teen dream, because right now Carly is a delightful, refreshingly normal looking 13-year-old. And I think that's what we really need. Plus, her parents are ADORABLE! They're totally September's Raismans.
NEXT WEEK: We meet someone who isn't here to make friends.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: FOX]
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"Texas John Slaughter made 'em do what they oughta, 'cause if they didn't they'd die..." as was heard in the opening theme song of this occasional series presented as fifteen segments of "Walt Disney Presents." The series, set in Friotown, Texas, during the 1880s, relates the exploits of John Slaughter, a Texas Ranger, then sheriff, as he attempts to maintain law and order. Based on actual incidents in the life of John Slaughter, Civil War officer, trailblazer, cattleman, and lawman.