Bruckheimer: A ‘Lone’ Stab at Reviving the Western

The all American genre has taken a beating in recent years, but Bruckheimer hopes to turn that around

The Lone Ranger was created in Detroit. So was Jerry Bruckheimer (the former in 1933 at radio station WXYZ; the latter in 1945). “So I guess that there’s some synergy there,” the producer says.

Synergy and circularity: The first film ever to bear a “Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer” credit line was a revisionist shoot-’em-up called The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972), directed by another first-timer, Dick Richards ( Farewell, My Lovely ). Bruckheimer’s latest — The Lone Ranger , which opens July 3 and stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp — brings Bruckheimer back to a genre that was once the heart and soul of American moviemaking, and has been little better than dormant for the past two decades.

Still, Bruckheimer’s instincts — unlike, say, the western — are more reliable than not. And he’s obviously enthused about the Gore Verbinski-directed update on the radio-cum-TV series that his generation grew up on. And delighted that the film’s star is Johnny Depp.

“He’s somebody I’ve had a great relationship with and a lot of prior success,” Bruckheimer says. “I had told him we had the rights to The Lone Ranger , and a month or two later he sent me a picture of an Indian with what looked like a crow on his head and I said, ‘What is this?’ And he said, ‘That’s me!’ He and his makeup artist designed it, and that was great.”

Having the non-Native-American, Paris-dwelling Depp playing the Lone Ranger’s Indian companion Tonto may seem a bit tongue-in-cheek. But Bruckheimer insisted the movie is not. “It’s not camp,” he says, as if to disabuse anyone of such a mad notion. “There’s a lot of humor in it, but it’s not a camp Lone Ranger .”

It is, however, a high-tech Lone Ranger , which certainly separates it from the old Clayton Moore TV show, as well as from the westerns of the recent past.

It’s been a rather sober, and sobering, genre in recent decades, during its sporadic returns to the screen — Silverado and Pale Rider in 1985, Dances With Wolves (1990), Tombstone , Unforgiven (1993), The Quick and the Dead (1995) and, much more recently, the mixed bag of Open Range (2003), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Appaloosa (2008) and True Grit (2010).

If Oscars counted, the western might be in better stead with the studios: Both Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven won best picture (so did 2008’s No Country for Old Men , if you want to stretch the category a little), and True Grit got 10 nominations.

But in an era of 3D, CGI and the various other special effects with which Hollywood has been festooning its pictures, the western seems to have missed the stagecoach to the 21st Century. The Lone Ranger — to judge by the trailer at least — is a veritable symphony of fx, with exploding bridges, runaway trains and people taking flight. But the essentials — the settings, the costumes and the possibilities endemic to the western (never mind the egregious Wild Wild West remake of 1999) — seem to be immune to technological enhancement, Cowboys & Aliens not withstanding.

“I mean, we all know what a train looks like,” Verbinski said in a recent interview. “And we all know what horses look like, and it’s not a giant robot or a flying saucer, so what are you going to (do), put someone against a blue screen?”

Bruckheimer recently told CNN that Verbinski “doesn’t like to do it with the visual effects, so those guys are really on the train, the train is actually moving, it’s not a CG shot — so everything you see here is real … it had to be built.”

As Verbinski put it, understandably, making westerns in general is “really hard.” But so is the task of making them relevant to generations whose frame of reference doesn’t include masked men, horses, shootouts at the local saloon and for whom “Hi-Yo Silver” sounds like something they’d yell on the floor of the commodities exchange.

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