At a reported budget of $250 million, you have to wonder if anyone behind Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger actually has respect for the source material. The character is a guy with a Native American partner who fights bad guys. That’s about it. But apparently that’s not cool enough for modern audiences and this notion that bloated spectacle is automatically better is why you now have Disney holding off on making The Lone Ranger and their sticking point is that they have to make it cost $215 to $220 million (or less) instead of $250 million. A source tells THR, “It all starts with [Verbinski]. If there is any saving this version of the movie, he’ll have to find substantial savings. If he can, maybe we can hold this together.” Only in modern blockbuster filmmaking run amuck could knocking $30 million off a $250 million budget qualify as “substantial savings.”
Hit the jump on why the film still costs so much and why Disney remains skittish (and rightfully so). Johnny Depp is still attached to play Tonto with Armie Hammer set as the title character.
The original script included werewolves and other supernatural creatures from Native American myths. Those bells and whistles have been jettisoned, but according to sources who have read recent drafts, three massive action set pieces involving trains remain, including one described as the biggest train sequence in film history.
I can get on board with one train sequence (how can you do three in one movie unless it’s something routine like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?) and making it really spectacular. But Verbinski has reached the point where he doesn’t know how to go small. That doesn’t mean he now makes bad movies (Rango is one of the year’s best), but he’s asking Disney to make a huge gamble on a film that could easily flop.
We don’t even need to go back to The Wild Wild West (another big-budget adaptation of an old western TV series) to see how this could all go terrible wrong. We can go back eight months. First, there was The Green Hornet, which was also based on an old TV and radio serial. It was a flop because the audience it was trying to reach (male teenagers) had never heard of The Green Hornet and I seriously doubt that demographic is familiar with The Lone Ranger.
And then of course there’s Cowboys & Aliens. You can put two major stars in the leading roles and you’ll still barely beat out the freaking Smurfs (and then sink like a stone in the following weeks). Part of that has to do with the movie not being any good and its spectacle being unspectacular. However, it’s also proof that audiences aren’t going to automatically go for a high-concept western and may prefer something that doesn’t feel the need to embellish on a genre (e.g. True Grit).
Disney also has prior obligations to the $300 million John Carter. But they’re also a studio that has gambled big in the past and come up with huge victories. Last year they became the first studio in history to have two films gross over a billion dollars worldwide (Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3). However, the studio also played hardball with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, lowered the budget and still got a $1 billion worldwide gross.
Even if Disney and the filmmakers are able to negotiate the movie down to $215 million, that price tag basically says “We want the title, the lead characters, and we’ll CGI in some charm in post.”