“The Lone Ranger” shows Hollywood’s new paradigm, since films were too deep for us

Summary:  Today we have film critic Locke Peterseim’s review of The Lone Ranger, showing the new paradigm of American entertainment: we go to the theater to see spectacles, not films. It works for us in New America, since even simple films were too deep for us — all those plots, character development, and so forth. Now we watch two hours of big set-pieces loosely strong together, plus some slapstick humor as filler. Hollywood gives us what we want. It’s a bad sign that we want this. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Lone Ranger


The Lone Ranger:
Embrace the New Dominant Paradigm!

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
11 July 2013
Reposted here with his generous permission


So, The Lone Ranger, yeah… Pirates of the Old West… Johnny Depp, Buster Keaton, old-age make up… and so forth… a mystic loon with a dead bird on head, etc… Armie Hammer, “what’s with the mask?”, yes, that’s his real name and his real jaw… blah blah… ‘30s radio show, ‘50s TV show, Clayton Moore, Jay Silverheels… yeah yeah…and so on…

Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Pirates director Gore Verbinski, Pirates writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (plus newbie Justin Haythe)… blah blah… Tonto-centric tale… revisionist reverence… blah blah…

Monument Valley, Once Upon a Time in the West, Little Big Man, Rango… blah blah blah… railroad, civilization, progress, future, justice, the law, corrupt American empire … and so on… bad guy eats a human heart… whatevs… anti-Native American racism, genocide, noble savage slapstick, buddy cop shtick… and all that… light comedy and tragical history, tonal and thematic incongruities… deeply offensive, exploitative… truth, legend, stories, fact… blah blah blah… big stunts, sloppy storytelling… too long… Silver steals the show… blah blah… Helena Bonham Carter, whore with an ivory leg… same old, same old, on and on…

All right, stop. Collaborate and listen. We’ve been going at this all wrong.

Lone Ranger & Tonto

Every year since Pirates of the Caribbean was a surprise hit a decade ago, Disney and other studios have not so much released as launched, landed, and stormed more and more giant-sized “events” like The Lone Ranger into theaters. Massive, sprawling affairs based on familiar (“high brand awareness”) pop-culture properties; full of big stars; bejeweled with CGI special effects; and crammed full of over-complicated, nonsensical and pointillist plots that feel as if they’ve been mapped out with a Spiralgraph.

And for years now, with the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Princes of Persia, the Alices in Wonderland, the Transformers and Battleships, the John Carters, and the Great and Powerful Ozs, film critics, writers, and observers (myself included) have understandably twisted themselves into apoplectic knots decrying ridiculous pacing problems, narrative tangles, and thematic muddles and contradictions.

Ruth Wilson in the Lone Ranger

We complain about how these films’ creativity is hollowed out in the shallow service of expedient entertainment and “four-quadrant” profits. In other words, like birds in gilded cages (another from The Lone Ranger’s smorgasbord of motifs), we critics have been flapping ourselves to death trying to explain why these are bad films.

But they’re not. They are large. They are aggressively marketed spectacle. They are amusement rides built around merchandizing shelves. They are corporate ambition wrapped in franchise dreams. But they’re not bad films, because they’re not really films.

And while that may sound like a sneering condemnation, I’m not so sure it’s entirely a put down. Yes, these sprawling, invasive entertainment properties are recorded by cameras and later edited (I think) and projected on screens. And yes they utilize sets and lighting and actors and music and “scripts” — all the elements of sound and vision we usually associate with motion pictures. But anymore they exist in both the Zeitgeist and Cineplex as something else. Something different. And God help me, I sometimes find myself enjoying parts of these something differents.

Tonto and Silver

All of which is a convoluted, pseudo-intellectual way of saying I didn’t hate The Lone Ranger. At least not as much as everyone else seemed to.

Just as you know that most of your time in an amusement park will be spent waiting in line or trying to wash Slurpee syrup off in a bathroom sink… Just as you know that even when you get on the roller coaster log flume loop-de-loop, you’re going to spend the first half of the ride being slowly, painfully yanked, jerked, and pulled up a hill by aging, creaking machinery… Just as you know the first hour of a rave is going to be a lot of standing around over-packed into a sweaty crowd of people and their body fluids until the E starts to roll …

Ruth Wilson in the Lone Ranger
Ruth Wilson in the Lone Ranger

So you enter over-sized “happenings” like The Lone Ranger knowing there will be lulls. There will be long stretches of clumsy character and plot exposition tailor-made for bathroom breaks and visits to the concession stand. There will be multiple ginned-up plot tangents that feel jury-rigged solely to pad the running time out to nearly three hours. There will be gags that do not work or are offensive–or rather would be offensive if any of it bore a connection to anything like reality. You know the parts will not add up to any sort of whole.

Helena Bonham Carter in the Lone Ranger

And yet, there’s funny stuff here and there, some of it very funny. Sure, Johnny Depp’s particular brand of on-screen peculiarity has long felt less inspired and more processed for mass consumption — the pre-packaged eccentric; a noble bescarfed and braceleted nut job bemused by his own sardonic misbehavior.

But that well-worn wryness only feels weary if you insist on thinking of Johnny Depp — and everyone else in these films — as “actors” instead of “attractions.” If you keep trying to think of their “performances” as whole endeavors, instead of as a series of on-stage moments strung together. And I laughed at many of Depp’s moments.

In fact, I say the only way we’re going to survive this never-ending, forever-escalating march of bigger, dumber “event movies” is if we stop looking for the whole. Adapt or die! These things are not cinema, but multi-faceted, spinning mosaics made out of movie parts, shined up for endless resale. You don’t watch them; you hide out inside the air-conditioned distraction of experiencing them. You move over them like a scavenger on a garbage scow, picking and choosing a wry joke here, a bit of stunt spectacle there. If at the end, you’ve filled your bag with enough “good bits” to feel okay about how you’ve spent the last two hours, then you call this thing a “success” and head home.

Texas Ranger badge

I know some of you think I’m being facetious. I’m not. Well, mostly not. I really did have a generally enjoyable time at The Lone Ranger. Once I stopped pretending I was watching a “film” and embraced the inherent narrative, thematic, and artistic disjointedness of an “event” like this as fact, not failure, I ended up liking more about it than I disliked.

And if that’s not really a rousing endorsement, let me add this: The climax — when “The William Tell Overture” and the Lone Ranger and Silver all gallop across the screen with genuinely impressive, joyous, heroic precision and glee — is one of the best-executed, most rousing, fun, action-movie finales in years. (And yes, that includes the one that opens tomorrow with the giant robots punching the giant monsters.)

Lone Ranger and Silver

Studios like Disney, producers like Bruckheimer, and directors and writers like Verbinski, Elliot, and Russio are not making these things as films anymore. They don’t think of them as films, and neither do the audiences happily paying to see them.

We film critics like to tell ourselves that we stand in the wilderness, howling like John the Baptist in the hope of educating and enlightening everyone about why these are bad movies. But it looks like we’re the last ones to get the memo.

Click here to buy the DVD of The Lone Ranger.


(2) About the author

Locke Peterseim writes the Hammer and Thump film blog at Open Letters Monthly, an online arts and literature magazine. A film critic whose work has appeared on Redbox, WGN Radio, and in the Magill’s Cinema Annual, he also serves on the board of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

These days he still enjoys films on their artistic and entertainment merits, but also finds himself as much if not more interested in them as cultural mirrors; artifacts of how we want to see ourselves–and how mainstream studios want to sell those desires back to us.

Some of his other reviews:

  1. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” asks if you want a Revolution.
  2. Transformers 4: the Greatest Film Ever Made About 21st Century America.
  3. 300: Rise of an Empire – The Half-Truths and Bloody Fog of Cartoon War.
  4. “Edge of Tomorrow”: Cruise, Again and Again.
  5. A new Man of Steel for 21st century America: a warrior superman.
  6. Elysium Shouts Big, Loud Messages About Health Care & Immigration Reform. Gun Control, Not so Much.
  7. “The Lone Ranger” shows Hollywood’s new paradigm, since films were too deep for us.
  8. Hollywood transforms “The Hobbit” into The Desolation of Tolkien.
  9. Fury: the big screen display of America’s love of war, & inability to understand it.
  10. Interstellar’s Quantum Love and Other Cosmic Horses#*t.

Cat sees lion in the mirror

(3)  For More Information

See my review of this movie: The Lone Ranger tells us about America.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  You might enjoy other posts about Book and film reviews and Art, myth, and literature.

(4)  The Trailer

6 thoughts on ““The Lone Ranger” shows Hollywood’s new paradigm, since films were too deep for us”

  1. The idea that such theatrical spectacles are events as opposed to actual films supports Baudrillard’s brilliant and confusing theories regarding simulation: film simulates life, now we have these cinematic attractions that simulate film.

    In terms of the evolution of visual media, film is a milestone but may be in the process of being eclipsed by video games. We went from drawings and paintings to photography (which caused painting to become more abstract) to moving images to moving images plus sound. These days, video games are about to the point of animated features with the player controlling the protagonists. (See for instance the previews for the Witcher 3 and Shadow of Mordor for PS4. This is not an advertisement though, I no longer play video games but it struck me one day to catch up on what was out there.)

    Like many others, I had suspected that, as the trend has been towards greater and greater simulation of reality and interactivity/immersion, new media will include holographic displays (to do for 3d what film has done for 2d, but then robots are kind of like puppets without strings – dynamic sculptures) and virtual reality. The notion of films as amusement park attractions is a new wrinkle: engages the body and allows for interaction by having throw-away scenes convenient for ducking out, that’s actually pretty funny. Doesn’t say a lot for popular film as art though.

    We might also look to video games for additional information about the patternings of media and society. And in fact, a popular type of videogame are the first person shooters/combat simulators. Martin van Creveld in “The Culture of War” compares the use of remote weapons with arcade games. Sony is at work on Project Morpheus, a virtual reality type helmet that looks to be used in conjunction with their motion tracking system. Ideal for simulating combat more fully, and for shutting out the outside world. Do humans yearn to be closed systems? All that will be required is to have a safe spot and the essentials of life fed intravenously. (This last thing occurred in the Doom 2099 comic.)

  2. Bottom line, it’s still a movie and by the way it sucked! Without the CGI these blockbuster bombs wouldn’t be possible and those writing for and those acting in them wouldn’t be able to get by with their mediocre results.

  3. For an attempt to find the method in Gore Verbinski’s madness, I highly recommend Eileen Jones’ review in Salon by way of Jacobin: http://www.salon.com/2013/07/17/the_lone_ranger_is_a_failure_of_a_film_but_its_still_fantastic_partner/

    Despite hating computer cartoons specifically and most modern Hollywood output generally, I liked Rango. On the other hand I never could get into the amusement-park-ride-turned-movie-franchise Pirates of the Caribbean so my personal jury is still out on Gore Verbisnki. I suppose I’ll have to watch this incoherent mess now and see what it does for me. Or to me.

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