Disney reportedly pulled the plug on the off-beat western two years ago, for both budget reasons and poor performance by similar genre pictures.
At the time, Disney was saddled with two box office bombs, “John Carter,” and “Cowboys and Aliens.” Carter, about a cowboy who is transported to Mars to fight in a red planet rebellion, earned a reported $282 million against a $250 million budget and probably lost money.
“Cowboys and Aliens,” which starred Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell, grossed $175 million against an estimated $163 million production budget.
But Depp was eager to tell the story from the Indian’s point of view as Tonto. And, he had “Pirates of the Caribbean” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Gore Verbinski in his corner. Who could say no after the Pirates’ spectacular performance? The four-movie franchise grossed nearly $4 billion worldwide.
Disney green lighted the film in Oct. 2011, but only after Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Depp, and co-star Armie Hammer, who plays the Lone Ranger, agreed to defer 20 percent of their salaries to cut costs. Now they may have to bite the bullet.
Principal photography began in March last year and struggled with delays. The film hit another stumbling block when Native American groups protested Depp’s depiction of Tonto. The Lone Ranger’s sidekick is supposed to be Comanche.
But Depp’s use of ghastly white facepaint and a dead crow headress is not even close to authentic Comanche dress, according to Rod Pocowatchit, a Comanche, who lives in Kansas and writes for the Wichita Eagle.
Now that seems like the least of the film’s problems. “I mean, no wonder Depp’s in disguise. No wonder Hammer wears a mask. Wouldn’t you?” wrote Stephen Whitty, of The Newark Star-Ledger
“Mournful scenes of genocide and stolen immigrant labor are tastelessly juxtaposed with silly slapstick humor,” adds Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post.
And, those are the milder pans. But a few contrarians are among critics and, fortunately, most people who have seen the film liked it.
While the picture received a certified rotten, 22-percent rating from critics, 73 percent of ticket buyers gave it a thumbs up, according to rottentomatoes, which tracks reviews.
But critics seem to have made the right call, so far. The film only grossed an estimated $15 million when it debuted today (July 3), under-performing Disney estimates, according to reports. Hopefully word-of-mouth will outweigh the pros as the weekend progresses.
As Charlie McCollum of The San Jose Mercury News, noted: “In the end, ‘The Lone Ranger’ is one hot mess–an entertaining one, to be sure–but still a mess.” And, he liked it!