The new Disney epic adventure THE LONE RANGER is getting rather bad reviews for a number of reasons. It's title character is rather 1-dimensional and even foppish. The tone is a strange mix of the heavily violent juxtaposed against sitcom-style male buddy banter. And Tonto isn’t played by an Indian actor. But where the real egregiousness lies is in its ridiculous length of 2 and ½ hours. What should have been a smart, tight rollercoaster ride ends up being an overstuffed, dragging extravaganza that does the one thing that no action film should ever do. It bores. This western adventure felt more like the CENTENNIAL mini-series on TV back in 1978. That long-form TV western lasted 21 hours. THE LONE RANGER just felt like it.
Now, there are some things to admire in THE LONE RANGER. Johnny Depp is very funny, as always, if you can get past the arguments against him playing the role of Tonto. The special effects are excellent with a lot of terrific CGI throughout. And the first action scene, set on a runaway train, is a visual marvel. But the film never matches that first set piece, even though it tries. God knows it tries! And at the climax of the movie the filmmakers haul out another train chase. There’s bookending, and then there’s never ending.
That last action scene not only repeats a lot of what we’ve already seen, but it becomes a drawn-out mess with dueling trains, track jumping, crashes, explosions and collisions that left me exhausted, not elated. THE LONE RANGER takes an eternity to tell its rather simple story about how a good man turns into an outlaw to bring justice to the West. And all along the way, the movie makes mistake after prolonged mistake that turns something light into something lethargic. Did the movie really need that self-indulgent framing device with an elderly Tonto narrating his story to a kid in a sideshow? Isn’t the first rule of action adventure supposed to be that action pictures need to move?
So why are so many in Hollywood forgetting that most basic of rules? I liked a lot of MAN OF STEEL but then that last half hour choked on its own excesses of city destruction and endless fisticuffs. Christopher Nolan restored the seriousness to THE DARK KNIGHT franchise after the garish Joel Schumacher campiness, but why did each sequel become more bloated, with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES clocking in at 165 minutes? Why is producer Jerry Bruckheimer able to produce such tight, fast-moving TV shows (The CSI franchise, THE AMAZING RACE) while the length of his PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels just went on and on and on?
Maybe too many filmmakers feel that movies need to be epic to offer something that TV cannot. They think the big screen needs to show big, larger-than-life sequences that just can’t be seen on the small screen. There may be some truth in that, but it’s reaching a point where the excess is just that and little more. Certain visceral emotions, like laughter, fear and adrenaline, are hard to sustain onscreen for any extended period of time. Even the most exciting thrills become familiar after a certain point, and that’s why most genre films clock in well under two hours. Horror films and comedies mind the time, why not action? And long movies aren’t even good for the box office as lengthy screen times mean fewer showings per screen, and that means less profits for everyone.
Storytellers in Hollywood should be able to take their time telling stories. But extended, sustained narratives are meant for TV series or miniseries. And indeed, certain film's stories need more time. The movie WATCHMEN felt cheated by being condensed to a less than three hour running time. The intricate, multi-layered source material needed something more akin to a miniseries to tell it. THE LONE RANGER however did not need 149 minutes to tell its rather obvious story. What it needed was a deft 100 minutes and not a moment more.
How badly was some judicious editing needed on THE LONE RANGER? Well, when the movie strikes up the William Tell Overture for that final train battle, it’s exciting. But after the soundtrack repeats that three-minute Rossini piece for the third time, you know the train isn’t the only thing hurtling off the tracks. The movie as a whole is. And Hollywood’s sense of what constitutes genuine thrills jumped off with it too.