The Lone Ranger: Unmasked
I was going to write a review of The Lone Ranger, but I am sure you
have read enough of them. Perhaps we can do something a bit more
positive: If it didnʼt succeed, how can we learn from that? After all, the
team that made it are great at what they do, so is there anything we
can all learn to simply make better films going forward?
But before getting into all of that, here is my quick analysis of that
The Lone Ranger: $250,000,000 budget: Story, plot, character,
action, comedy, more action. No concept.
As a result, The Lone Ranger will join these:
Jack the Giant Slayer: $195,000,000 … no concept.John Carter:
$250,000,000 … no concept.Mars Needs Moms: $175,000,000 …
like everyone else, I still havenʼt seen it. Probably no concept.
Concept and The Lone Ranger
This is the simple truth: Concept is different than story. Concept is the Alpha and Omega of film. If the clay itself is defective, what you build using story, character, plot will shatter after it is baked (produced). The result we associate with hindsight: Suddenly the obvious things are visible in hindsight, right after the premiere.
Jerry Bruckheimer is a fantastic producer. Gore Verbinski, Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio are all extremely talented. They did great work actually, but they did it without doing a Concept Model on The Lone Ranger first. How do I know? The essence or true concept of the Lone Ranger was not in this film.
Now, you might be thinking: Of course it had concept, it was based on The Lone Ranger.
But if you put on a white hat and a mask and ride a white horse and add some references back to the original, it still doesnʼt make it The Lone Ranger concept. Most of those items or elements are symbolic of deeper concepts that are 100 times more critical. By concept I mean the true essence of what defines him, archetypes, humanity,drivers, principles and all.
There is a hint in many criticʼs reviews that mentioned the attempts by this team to replicate the amazing success of Pirates of the Caribbean, which they had all worked on before. Here is the first hint that concept is the issue with The Lone Ranger: Nothing could be farther from the Lone Ranger Concept than a Pirate.
The creators of the original Lone Ranger, Fran Striker and George W. Trendle, put together some guidelines on the franchise. (I will quote them from Wikipedia throughout.) Roughly estimated, this film violated at least 60% of those guidelines. From a Concept Modeling perspective, those guidelines are not the core concepts but they can guide you to them.
An example of one of the guidelines: “The Lone Ranger is never seen without the mask or a disguise.”
That points to an even deeper concept layer: What is the concept of the Lone Rangerʼs mask? It is vehicle that allows us, the audience, to feel we can bring out the hero in us – something others around us may not recognize. Something hidden within us. The mask, and how it is handled within the story, connects the Long Rangerʼs soul to ours. And that is just one of the concepts housed in the Quancept (core grouping of concepts) that makes Lone Ranger so darn attractive.
Here is another one of the guidelines: “Criminals are never shown in enviable positions of wealth or power, and they never appear as successful or glamorous.”
It is so interesting because all writers are taught that you need a great villain to have the heroʼs victory be even greater. The Lone Ranger looks to be an amazing exception to this rule, but in the end, it is not.
The reason is that the rule above is inextricably linked to another guideline: “Even though The Lone Ranger offers his aid to individuals or small groups, the ultimate objective of his story never fails to imply that their benefit is only a by-product of a greater achievement—the development of the west or our country.”
You see the secret to the masked Lone Ranger is his “masked” enemy — the hidden enemy hiding behind the faces of the villains. This real enemy is the potential of “evil itself” or “lawlessness” to destroy the development of the country during this Wild West period. And that enemy is humongous. It just isnʼt in the flesh like we see in a great Bond film.
You make a Lone Ranger movie like that and you could have a potential epic story and blockbuster — a hero of the America West who himself (a little known fact about the real Lone Ranger) lived a good part of his life with Indians. Doesnʼt that sounds almost like the blockbuster Dances with Wolves?
The Lone Ranger concept is not opinion – it is part of the essence that made him so popular to kids with ideals back then. Individual opinion arises as to whether that “manifest destiny” was a good thing or not. The “civilizing” of the West is not the issue many regret; it was the way we treated Indians along the way. You see those issues reflected in the cynicism this movie held.
The problem is that cynicism has no place in the Lone Ranger Concept; in that way he is very much a “Superman,” fighting for truth, justice and the American way.
The Lone Ranger actually faces only one Lone Risk: losing what a strong, grounded, nation brings to its citizens — justice and order. We may not like some of the “justice” we saw in our history, but the point this media property was making was that without a strong law-based nation, no justice would exist at all, anywhere. That is why the Lone Ranger — and this is another principle — never kills someone intentionally; he is always there to bring them to justice.
A note about talent and intuition
Today, studios rely on a talentʼs technical skills married to their artistic intuition. And it works much of the time. Intuition is the way we all touch concept. Capturing deeper layers of concept is what great talent does “intuitively” – often they get it right, but sometimes, they simply donʼt. Intuition can be wrong. Concept Modeling takes intuition and locks it down so everyone can be on the same page and ride off onto a better script. Hi-oh … Silver Screen. Away!