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The Lone Ranger

On February 12, 2012, filming began in New Mexico on Disney’s new version of the classic Western adventure The Lone Ranger, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Oscar-winner Gore Verbinski, and starring Johnny Depp as Comanche “spirit warrior” (not “sidekick”) Tonto and Armie Hammer as the masked Texas Ranger, John Reid. The impressive supporting cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, William Fichtner, James Frain, Barry Pepper, and James Badge Dale. The official press release promises that “The Lone Ranger is a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice—taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.

The Lone Ranger is written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio of Pirates of the Caribbean, Eric Aronson and Justin Haythe. The executive producers are Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Eric Ellenbogen and Eric McLeod.”

The Lone Ranger has been a part of American culture since its debut as a radio series in 1933. Writer Fran Striker thrilled Depression audiences with the story of a masked avenger and his Native American friend who journeyed through the Wild West helping the powerless gain justice. The radio series ran for more than 20 years and spawned novels, comic books, movie serials, and eventually a hit television series. The half-hour TV series, which starred Clayton Moore as the Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, ran from 1949 through 1957.

The editor of the Journal of Popular Culture, Professor Gary Hoppenstand, considers the Lone Ranger a quintessential American icon. As a 19th-century knight-errant who helped the downtrodden in their pursuit of justice and never accepted any payment for his services, the Lone Ranger was “a hero made for radio audiences of the Great Depression,” Hoppenstand said on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. The Lone Ranger might have operated outside the law, but he worked on behalf of law-abiding citizens when their local officials could not, or would not, help them. He rescued ordinary people and restored their lost liberty and property, as well as their faith in society and hope for the future. Trustworthy and resilient, the Lone Ranger brought an optimistic message to lift morale in tough times.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has faith that the Lone Ranger’s mythology will play well in the 21st century. The movie “has elements of humor, which Gore brings to everything he does, and great action as well,” Bruckheimer told MTV News. However, this time the story is told from Tonto’s point of view, and the Comanche spirit warrior is no longer “the servant that he was in the radio series and television series.” To Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican, Bruckheimer explained that “Tonto and The Lone Ranger aren’t exactly in sync. They share the same quest for justice, but they approach it from two different points of view. The Lone Ranger is a prosecutor coming back to his home in Texas from back east, and he believes in the law of the courtroom, where Tonto has a whole different perspective on the law, and likes to take it into his own hands. They see justice completely differently.”

The role of Tonto is a natural fit for Johnny Depp, since he is part Cherokee; he was also adopted into the Comanche nation in the spring of 2012. As Johnny told Douglas Brinkley in an interview in Vanity Fair, “You know I’m always for the Indian in the cowboy movie. Always.” The Lone Ranger saga is unusual because the Texas Ranger and Tonto are friends, not enemies—a rather radical, optimistic vision of universal brotherhood for a western which began in the 1930s, when positive portrayals of Native Americans in mainstream media were few and far between. Johnny’s vision of Tonto is even more radical: “Tonto needs to be in charge,” he told Brinkley. “The Lone Ranger should be a fool, a lovable one, but a fool nonetheless.” Brinkley qualifies the remark by saying it was made “half in jest,” but even so, it suggests a fresh and intriguing approach to the legendary partnership of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

“What was most exciting for me as an actor [. . .] was the opportunity to play the classic character of Tonto, but to take that shape, let’s say, and mess around with it a little bit,” Johnny told a reporter during the Dark Shadows press junket in May. “He’s been a lot of fun to play. He definitely looks at things very differently. [. . .] He’s born Comanche, but he’s sort of left the nation to right a wrong that he feels he committed, early—in his youth—and it’s essentially the story of that: Tonto righting that wrong.”

The Lone Ranger has filmed in spectacular landscapes in Utah’s Monument Valley; in the mountains around Creede, Colorado; and in the high country of New Mexico. The Lone Ranger will open in movie theaters on July 3, 2013. --Part-Time Poet

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