I can't say I was exactly on the edge of my seat with this whole "will they/won't they" Lone Ranger drama. If you haven't heard, Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Johnny Depp originally wanted to make their upcoming adaptation of the practically ancient license at a price tag of something like $275 million, which is a fucking insane amount of money to spend on a Western. Disney haggled with them, eventually shutting down pre-production, but it looks like the film's back on, at a more svelte $215 million pricetag. It's not a license that reverberates much with me, so I can take it or leave it at this point. The question is: is that still too much to spend on the movie? And what will this do for the western genre as a whole, which is largely moribund, at least in the big-budget arena? Cowboys & Aliens, after all, is going to wind up a major money-loser for its backing studios, despite the sci-fi tie-ins.
Thinking about the first question, Disney is putting themselves in a position where this movie needs to make well over half a billion dollars worldwide in order to achieve profitability, considering that they only receive half of the box office, and they'll be spending $100 million+ on marketing. Westerns, being a quintessentially American genre, have never done resoundingly well overseas, either. That said, Johnny Depp is the biggest movie star in the world right now, with two billion-dollar grossing films in two years. And, to be fair, the pirate genre wasn't all that hot before he and Verbinski rejuvenated it with the first Pirates of the Caribbean, so if anyone can bring the western back to life, it's probably this group.
Still, even the new, lower budget is more than the vast majority of western films have made in worldwide grosses, with Dances With Wolves being the only major outlier. And The Lone Ranger franchise isn't exactly a huge one, with the most memorable exploitation of the character coming from a TV show that stopped airing in the 1950's. We all know the name of The Lone Ranger, but Verbinski, et al, will have to do some major work to make us actually care about it. Compounding matters somewhat is that Depp won't even be playing the Lone Ranger, instead taking up the mantle of Tonto. I guess that'll give them some room to make him be oh-so-wacky and make funny faces, which is basically what he's paid a gazillion dollars to do in these films.
Despite all my trepidation about the success of this movie (especially given the deteriorating quality of the Pirates movies, the other prominent Verbinksi/Bruckheimer collaboration), I'm hoping that it might be able to spark a bit of a resuscitation in the Western genre. We live in an era where the majority of films have to make 60% or more of their gross overseas just to break even, and that's always been difficult to do with Westerns. It's a genre that affords pleasures that are, if not unique, somewhat rarely seen nowadays, not the least of which is the beauty of well-shot midwest geography. (Seriously, have you seen Shane lately?)
Even if the revisionism of Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves might have muted my enthusiasm for the old-school, black-and-white, good-versus-evil plots of the older generation of westerns (and I think we can all agree that we'll likely never see another cowboys-vs-Indians tale anytime soon), it's still a genre that could use a good shot in the arm, if only for the sake of variety in our summer blockbusters. Cowboys And Aliens wasn't a good omen for the genre (even if the sci-fi was balanced with the western), but True Grit made plenty of waves (and a fair amount of money) last year, and maybe The Lone Ranger or Django Unchained can help make it seem hip, or at least relevant, once more.
Have any thoughts on the matter? Do you want to see more westerns get made, or do you not particularly care one way or the other?