by Mickey Reece
I like Gore Verbinski. Critics hailed his digitally animated “Rango” as one of the best movies of 2011 and it will probably end up being on a “Top Ten Westerns of the Decade” list or two when it’s all said and done (provided there are 10 Westerns made between now and 2020). “The Lone Ranger” may be a little convoluted at times but is not too far off from being a live action version of that film mixed with a little bit of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” formula here and there.
Never have I seen a summer blockbuster that owes so much of its successful filmmaking to the silent films of the 1920’s, particularly Depp’s channeling of Buster Keaton in the crazy train stunts. This action is constructed in just such a way that all you really need is a facial expression from “Tonto” to make the first domino fall. Verbinski is also borrowing from “Once Upon a Time in the West” but that was the case with “Rango” as well. Speaking of “Tonto,” the casting of Johnny Depp as a Native American has caused some controversy. That’s silly. If there were a Native American actor that could carry the film’s monster budget I’m sure they most certainly would have cast that actor instead. As it stands Armie Hammer and say, Taylor Lautner, are just not a big enough draw to warrant having their names atop a summer blockbuster movie poster.
I’m not going to write a synopsis of the plot because you can always look that up on Wikipedia or any other movie review. I’m not even going to go into the fact that there is a cannibal with a transvestite minion or a whore with a wooden leg. I’d rather use this space as a commentary on how the media can tear a movie apart. This Johnny Depp vehicle is already being considered a flop. It could have something to do with the 25% “rotten” rating it received on Rotten Tomatoes last week.
Thankfully, I don’t always agree with the critics. They burned me on “J. Edgar” a few years ago. Not to mention one of my favorite movies of all time ‘Gummo’ is sitting pretty at 33% (also “rotten”).
For anyone reading this that isn’t familiar with Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a website where the staff collects reviews from notable critics and determine for each review whether a movie is fresh or rotten. They aggregate those reviews until they come up with a solid percentage: 0-59% being “rotten”. 60-100% being “fresh.” So even if you never turn to this site before seeing a movie it is still a pretty legit consensus considering it’s taking into account every review from every notable critic. Apparently, out of 159 critics, 120 of them think Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” is terrible.
I told an average Joe at my work that I saw ‘The Lone Ranger” over the weekend and he came back with, “Oh, I heard that was terrible. Didn’t it do really bad at the box office?”
I guess when you’re spending $225 million dollars on the production of a movie you can’t really gauge it’s success on whether or not critics liked it but, in this case, I think the negative reaction hurt the chances of getting more people into the theater a great deal. Now I’ve argued it before and I will argue again that a filmmaker who makes movies that are critically successful is no more talented than one who makes movies that bank a hundred million dollars. It’s those rare directors in-between that are the true geniuses in my eyes (I’m looking at Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell).
Now because Gore Verbinski chooses to make these over-the-top, expensive ass spectacles of entertainment for Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t mean he couldn’t very well make a movie as deep as Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.” He doesn’t have to. He already has an Oscar and his movies have made billions of dollars worldwide. He’s got his own style and it’s great. As far as blockbusters go I put him a step above Christopher Nolan but I’d also rather see a director’s sense of humor shine through in big characters as opposed to pretentious brooding in lifeless personalities.
Now the thing about critics is that the majority of them are judging a movie based on something they’ve already seen. For example, say a Journalist major read this article and said it was poorly written because I didn’t follow the aesthetic guidelines they learned in school. Is it therefore not good writing because it doesn’t fall into the criteria of what they have been taught is good writing? (Probably so in this case.) The same goes for film critics and film goers. We are familiar with “Unforgiven” which is what most people would consider to be a good Western. The plot is simple: A man has to go back to his wicked ways in order to provide for his family. In ‘The Lone Ranger” the basic plot is: a man’s brother dies and he sets out to avenge his death. It gets more complicated when we throw in Tonto’s back story, a whore house, Comanche Indians, some railroad barons, the love story, etc. Ultimately, the story becomes more than what one bargained for when they sat down to watch a popcorn movie that they already had preconceptions about it, of course already having seen movies in that particular genre. Personally, when I’m shelling out 10 bucks at the theater I want it to be long as hell and action packed. If they need to throw in more story elements to achieve that then so be it. Make the plot suffer. It’s a different kind of approach to filmmaking than a critical darling like Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.” You don’t need a shit ton of money for a coming of age drama set in rural Arkansas. Who is to say someone like P.T. Anderson could make a successful summer blockbuster with a $200 million dollar budget? He’d probably lose his mind with that kind of responsibility.
What I’m proposing to critics and audiences alike is that maybe “The Lone Ranger” isn’t that bad. Maybe it’s just more complicated than “True Grit.” Maybe “J. Edgar”” was deeper than “The Aviator” and maybe “Gummo” had a vision that no one else could see. I’m saying that if the only way we can really judge whether art is good or bad is with a template then we’re closing ourselves off to the possibility of innovation.