The Lone Ranger: Was it too long in development for its own good?
The Lone Ranger, the revival of the classic 1930s radio show starring Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as his faithful sidekick Tonto, is released on DVD on Monday (December 2).
The film (as I’m sure you know all too well) didn’t do terribly well at the box office, costing its maker Disney over $150 million in losses. It wasn’t reviewed terribly (not that this stops many films from succeeding), but audiences just seemed to stay away, despite the budget, the presence of Depp and Hammer and the usually reliable hand of Gore Verbinski.
The reason why we think it didn’t fly? Development fatigue. It just took too long for the film, which news reports began coming out about back in 2006, to come to the big screen, especially with source material that’s over 80 years old now…
The Lone Ranger isn’t the only film to suffer from development fatigue, lots of films see their hype dissipate and then, when they finally do come out, enthusiasm has just ebbed away. It happened to these films too…
Though the final version of Watchmen, which was directed by Man Of Steel/300’s Zach Snyder was actually a pretty decent film, it came out at least a decade too late.
The seminal graphic novel, which remains an absolute masterpiece and worthy of comparison against any classic novel, was first released in 1987 and almost immediately filmmakers were attempting to get the book to the big screen.
Many big-name directors, including Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky, were attached to the production at one point, but script after script kept being written and then subsequently binned.
Over the years, actors ranging from Daniel Craig and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sigourney Weaver and Rachel Weisz were linked to the film’s starring roles, but as the project stalled, they all drifted away to other films.
Eventually, when the film went into production in 2007, boasting a cast that was solid, but devoid of big names. When it finally arrived in 2009, a full 20 years after the graphic novel, it felt like the zeitgeist had moved on. Reaction from fans, who’d been reading about this adaptation for such a long time, was one of underwhelment, rather than anger. As we said above, it’s perfectly decent effort, just not one that matches either expectations or the source material.
Whether you can blame the lengthy development process for the failings of John Carter is debatable, but it definitely didn’t help matters.
The source material for the film, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 novel A Princess Of Mars, emerged a cool 95 years before the film and a planned adaptation had been in the works for nearly as long.
The film was first mooted as an animated feature in 1931, before it went through various studio hands, with the legendary and now sadly departed Ray Harryhausen expressing an interest in bringing it to life at one point. Things didn’t get serious however until the 1980s when Disney bought the rights to the book.
Even then, the film left Disney one more time and was being developed at Paramount before the Mouse finally got itself together and put the film into production in London in 2010.
When the film eventually did come out in 2012, it was an unmitigated disaster. Needing to make over $600 million break to even, it ended up taking under $300 million, costing Disney a fortune in the process.
Again, the finished film, which stars Friday Night Lights actor Taylor Kitsch, isn’t terrible; it’s fun and looks amazing. But there was no public connection to the source material and the character had no resonance. It shouldn’t really take almost a century to get a film made…
On The Road
Another seminal novel, another torturous and ultimately pretty unsuccessful development process.
Normally, authors are cagey about the idea of their work being adapted for the screen, but On The Road author and legendary beat poet Jack Kerouac was actually very in favour. So in favour in fact that he took the time in 1957 to send Marlon Brando a letter suggesting that he play Dean Moriarty while Kerouac himself would portray Sal Paradise. Brando never responded.
Eventually, the film rights were acquired in 1979 by director Francis Ford Coppola who tried for the next 25 years to get the right script, trying out his son Roman and novelist Russell Banks along the way, before finally settling on The Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles and Puerto Rican screenwriter Jose Rivera.
When the film emerged in 2012, it boasted a cast that included Tron: Legacy star Garrett Hedlund, Twilight Saga actress Kristen Stewart and Control’s Sam Riley, but only drew lukewarm reviews from critics and underperformed at the box office.
Again, it’s not a terrible adaptation, the performances (especially Hedlund’s) are good and it’s pretty faithful to the novel. It just captures none of the wonder and spark of the book, a book that was at the height of its popularity 30 years earlier…
The Lone Ranger is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday (December 2).