Johnny Depp may have to temporarily halt those Scout auditions.
Oh no! Disney has shut down production on ”The Lone Ranger,” a film which has provided us with so many happy days of casting rumors. The new big screen version of the classic radio/comic/TV series was supposed to star Armie Hammer as the masked/do-gooder/vigilante/Texas Ranger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick Tonto. Gore Verbinski was to direct and Jerry Bruckheimer was producing. The film was set to begin production in New Mexico in October.
The reason was the film’s ballooning budget–Deadline says Verbinski and Bruckheimer had it around $250 million, but were trying to cut it down to $232 million. Variety says Disney wanted it to be about $200 million, especially with two other big budget films in line–”Oz, the Great and Powerful,” which is currently filming and is supposed to be costing around $200 million, and the completed “John Carter,” which was supposed to be about $250 million (by the way, why did they change it from “John Carter of Mars?” That sounds like an action, sci-fi movie. “John Carter” sounds like an uplifting, emotional drama about an everyday guy who loses everything, then finds himself.).
While Disney has been making an effort to rein in production costs, it should be noted that the Depp/Verbinski/Bruckheimer team has earned Disney billions of dollars with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films; Verbinski and Depp’s “Rango” earned over $200 million worldwide; and Depp’s “Alice in Wonderland” also is one of the top earning films in the studio’s history. So you could argue that if Disney was going to give anyone some latitude on a budget, it would be these guys.
But you know, even I have to wonder about that budget. It’s a Western. They’re not fighting aliens. They’re not fighting any wars where large armies and set pieces will be called for. There are no car chases. Maybe they’re going to have som explosions, but of what? A silver mine? They’re not going to be blowing up a skyscraper. They’re not constructing another planet, or, say San Francisco circa 1890. They’re filming in New Mexico, where they’re going to get lots of tax breaks. Hammer doesn’t get a big salary at this point. Verbinski and Depp do, but they undoubtedly have traded some money up front for percentages of the profits. So what is costing so much?
Verbinski has described his take on the story as “‘Don Quixote’ as told by Sancho Panza,” a line which will never see the light of day in any marketing material (because, for starters, most marketing execs would read that and say “Who’s Don Kwiksoat?”). That leads you to believe that it’s going to be character-oriented, though still undoubtedly with action (no, Verbinski will not be bringing you “My Dinner With Tonto” anytime soon). But again, that action shouldn’t be really outrageously expensive action. Ever see any of the old “Lone Ranger” shows? All they did was ride across barren, western landscapes and then have a few shootouts or hand-to-hand combat type fights. At least “John Carter” and “Oz” can plead that they’re effects heavy, but that sounds unlikely here. So while I usually am on the artists’ side rather than the side of the giant, profit-grabbing corporation, I do think Disney may have a point.
And you know what? There are some genres that are better with less money, notably horror and westerns. Most of the great westerns in film history were B pictures. When you don’t have a lot of money, you have to be more creative. Throwing over $200 million at this story might not be doing it any favors.
Variety says that sources related to the production don’t think the project is dead. They believe that there will be retooling to get the film down to a level that everyone can manage. And surely Disney doesn’t want to fracture their relationship with Depp, who seems to have a lot invested in this project (personal investment, that is). So Armie Hammer might not want to book another project for October, and Depp shouldn’t get started on a “Night Stalker” film just yet. Chances are everyone will find a way to make this work eventually.