Thursday, July 04, 2013

"The Lone Ranger": "tons of fun" with trains and 19th Century technology

In depression-era San Francisco, with the half-built Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, a boy visits with Tonto at a local carnival.  Tonto, a very made-up Johnny Depp, tells the story of “The Lone Ranger”, where a bookish, self-righteous county prosecutor  John Reid (Armie Hammer) in the old West turned into a force for vigilante and homemade justice. 

Gore Verbinski  has made an imaginative and fantastic western adventure,  monetizing Nineteenth Century technology to its ultimate, particularly around trains and railroads.

The story starts in Texas (the countryside looks more like Shiprock in New Mexico) and move up into Utah for the closing of the first transcontinental railroad, which generates the climactic sequence of the movie.
There are two enormous train wrecks.  The first home happens with an attempted robbery, as the train runs to the end of the tracks, and the locomotive scuttles sideways across the desert.  In the ensuring coplications, Reid is kidnapped and left for dead, but found by Tonto.  Reid quickly returns to health and becomes the western legend.  The second  wreck occurs in a complicated layout around a mine, after a trestle has been blown, with the train falling into the river, with an effect much like in “The Cassandra Crossing”.

There’s a curious scene where a boy plays with an electric train, before electricity would have been widely available.  The model railroad scene contributes to the metaphor in the story. 
Armie Hammer (26), in his appearance, makes the most possible of young male virility. There is always a soft edge to his somewhat intellectual personality as he becomes the famous character.  In a bizarre scene in a native American camp at midpoint (and the sacking of native Americans is another theme in the movie) Tonto opens him up, in order brand or tattoo a little bit of his super hairy chest. 

The movie is also a parable about “progress”, as railroads were seen as a way of mastering
“time and space” in a way that predicts today’s Internet.  And it takes its potshots at extreme capitalism.
The official site (Japan) from Walt Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Touchstone Pictures is here

The film seemed not to be available in 3-D. I saw it in Extended Digital (almost Imax) at the AMC Courthouse late lastnight. Oddly, the show the first night (Wednesday July 3) did not quite sell out. The localization of sound is as detailed as I have ever heard in a theater. 
The music score, while borrowing from Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, is by Hans Zimmer, and often uses a curious slow waltz rhythm.  The ending credits present music like a late romantic symphonic slow movement, ending quietly on a dominant chord. 
The film is long (150 minutes) but eventful, and may well be in the Oscars race this year despite its “summer movie” genre.

Picture: from Roadside America, PA, 2011.  

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