The Lone Ranger: past and present

OK, in the UK right now, it might be a little bit too hot (very unusual) to think about films but by August this may all have changed. And hardened film buffs carry on film-watching regardless.

The Lone Ranger – starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer – is finally, after many delays, incidents and an accident, due to charge into UK cinemas on 9 August.

The challenge with a remake like this is to resonate with the original much loved stories while bringing something new and modern to the film. Time, then, for a look back to the original. The Lone Ranger was an early TV series in the 1950s, about an unnamed, masked Texas Ranger in the American Old West, who galloped about on his horse Silver, righting injustices with the aid of his wise but laconic Native American assistant, Tonto. Silver was introduced to the audience at the beginning of each episode as ‘A fiery horse with the speed of light!’ At the end, the Lone Ranger would famously say, ‘Hi-Yo, Silver, away!’ (often misheard by the audience as ‘Hi-Ho’), as they galloped off. The series theme tune was the ‘cavalry charge’ finale of Rossini’s William Tell overture. The Lone Ranger had well over two hundred episodes and ran from 1949 to 1961, including re-runs. It successfully made the leap from black and white to colour TV in 1956.

The original Silver was a magnificent horse, white all over except for a couple of black dots around one eye.

So what about the remake? The film dramatically reveals much of the back story to the old series: why the lone ranger was “lone” and why he wears a mask. Importantly, the film’s director Gore Verbinski has taken a similar line to Steven Spielberg’s in War Horse: he’s gone for real stunts wherever possible and spectacular real locations instead of taking the easy way out with CGI. From the trailers, it looks like this has really paid off in terms of the film’s excitement factor. 2013’s Silver, is also a fabulous white horse – but this one even gallops inside a train.

Check out the trailers. On YouTube there’s even a behind-the-scenes trailer which shows the sheer dangers involved in shooting hair-raising action sequences. For example, there’s some action set on a rickety scaffolding on top of one of the rocky buttes in Monument Valley. There’s also has a clip of Johnny Depp’s (real and unscheduled) dramatic accident as he falls off his horse and gets dragged.

Fast-moving, stunning Western locations – amazing train and horse scenes. Let’s hope the film lives up to its trailer hype. I’ll be going for the horse scenes anyhow.

For more, especially on Johnny Depp’s character, check out ScreenwritingU’s Jenny Miller recent interview with the film’s screenwriter Justin Haythe – see http://www.screenwritingu.com/blog/screenwriter-justin-haythe-writing-lone-ranger

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Falling off horses – and Johnny Depp

Anyone else find that falling off horses seems to be getting more dangerous? I was a fearless teenage rider – once. When I was 13, I nonchalantly  wrote in my diary that I fell off some pony called Fudge (not even a pony I remember anything about) seven times in two months. It didn’t bother me. Much more recently, though, when I fell off (horse bucked) everything seems to go into slow motion, I was plain scared. My neck was twisted and painful for three weeks after. I realised I just don’t “bounce” any longer when I hit the ground. And there have been five horse and rider accidents in this small village alone that have involved a hospital. Frightening.

And now Johnny Depp has told US TV host David Letterman about his own fall while filming The Lone Ranger. Film sets usually have stuntmen and safety measures galore. But filming The Lone Ranger has been dogged with mishaps – and as we know, horses can be unpredictable. And they are large. Johnny Depp’s account is quite graphic:

“We were shooting at a different place in the desert where there’s these little bumps and things, And so the horse that I was on decided to jump a couple of these little obstacles. The horse was unaware that the saddle I was wearing to sit on top of it was jury-rigged, kind of faked … to give the effect that I’m riding bareback. So basically it’s not very tight on the horse. So when we came down, the saddle slipped and I went to the left and had the reins here and somehow had the wherewithal to grab the mane of the horse. All very calm for some reason, I figured that fear would kick in but it didn’t. I was waiting,” he said with a laugh.

Depp is said to have been dragged a whole 25 yards with the horse.

“All I saw in front of my eyes were these very muscular horse legs and striations of muscles moving, this kind of death machine. One word popped into my head: Hooves. Mind the hooves.”
“So, what do you do when you’re in that position?” Letterman asked.
“Well you make a decision: Will I go with the beast until someone wrangles it or will I drop?”

“I dropped”.

So this mishap ended ok – we’ll still have The Lone Ranger to look forward to. And very importantly, we still have Johnny Depp. There’s no mention of any injury to the horse so I’m hoping it was fine. We’ll have to look out for any American Humane statement in the film credits – you know the one “No animals were harmed during the making of this film….”.

For more on film stunts and how Errol Flynn fought for key changes to stop cruelty to horses in filming, see Chapter 9 “Tricks and Stunts: How did he do that?” of Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film .

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