I hate to break it to you Hollywood, but the family-centric, money-making Western you love so dearly should have been measured for its coffin years ago.
Sadly nobody had the heart to tell you.
While Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit are contemporary classics, they are hardly family friendly.
Many thought The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp’s latest epic, would be one of the biggest hits of the year, and would open the floodgates for a new wave of 12A certificate Westerns.
Alas, it tanked at the American box office, following in the footsteps of previous attempts to revitalise the genre like Wild Wild West and Cowboys And Aliens.
I’m not too surprised The Lone Ranger ran out of steam at the box office like a half-fuelled locomotive. While their four previous collaborations made just under $3billion worldwide, I had a feeling Depp and director Gore Verbinksi’s run of good luck would run out at some point, and here’s why.
Some film-makers set alarm bells ringing for me, and following the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, Verbinksi became one of them.
With a good story like Mousehunt or The Ring (remake), Gore worked wonders. But as he and his favourite star Depp started generating billions at the box office, it seemed that a good story soon took a back seat to just mucking about.
I love improv scenes if they enhance a film’s spontaneity, but for me, Gore and Johnny have been creating cinematic jazz – overindulgent scenes that drag on like a bad drum solo.
For further proof, watch – or rather endure – Pirates 3, a film which had so little to say over so long a period, I felt I was being punished for some unknown misdeed.
And don’t get me started on their CGI Western Rango, which wasted the talents of countless animators to give a pointless anthropomorphic spin on Jack Nicholson’s Chinatown.
For my money, Verbinksi’s films have been surfing a wave of goodwill for too long now. While I loved the first Pirates Of The Caribbean (witty, fresh, daring, inventive), as touched upon, those sequels were an overblown mess of half-baked ideas.
When you’ve seen superheroes demolish whole city blocks in their epic face-off, a couple of guys shooting revolvers at one another is a bit of a let-down by comparison."
So, the director may be one reason The Lone Ranger failed. The other key reason may be the old-fashioned mainstream Western many of us grew up with has now mutated into something more hi-tech.
Yes, the trappings are still the same: usually a town besieged by enemy forces is the setting for a lone gun and his sidekick to save the day against impossible odds.
However, today’s target audience want their cowboys to come with special powers or rocket launchers. They prefer the enemy to display incredible feats, not just ride around on horses firing guns.
When you’ve seen superheroes demolish whole city blocks in their epic face-off, a couple of guys shooting revolvers at one another is a bit of a let-down by comparison.
That said, there’s a few reasons why I’m still going to pay my cash and see The Lone Ranger on the big screen, despite the critical and commercial scalping it has received in recent weeks.
The first is the fact that as someone who was a kid in the early 1970s, The Lone Ranger action figure remains one of my favourite Christmas presents of all time.
Before Star Wars, Transformers and He-Man caught the imaginations of millions of kids, cowboys were still all the rage and for me, king of them all was The Lone Ranger.
I also have a lot of time for Depp (aka Tonto); he has fine comic timing and is willing to take a chance, even when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.
Armie Hammer as the eponymous hero is also a fine screen presence. After all he convinced many that the brothers in The Social Network were played by two genuine twins, so portraying an iconic masked cowboy should be a piece of cake.
I also like Brits Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Luther’s Ruth Wilson (one of the best British actresses working today).
Sadly though, if even the mighty Depp can’t turn a once lucrative genre into a thrilling summer family adventure, perhaps it’s best to leave the genre well alone.
If this is the last big budget family Western we see for a few years, then best to see it on the big screen, where we can soak up those epic vistas, and be almost deafened by the OTT sound.
Okay, it might be more ‘Ho-hum Silver, away!’ than ‘Hi-ho’, but for all its possible faults, Verbinski and Depp’s latest gives viewers a glimpse of an endangered cinematic species.
Given its relatively poor financial return, I imagine it’s a long time before we see its like again.
Roger Crow has spent 40 years watching assorted Westerns, and still thinks he will never get a better Christmas present than his long lost 1970s Lone Ranger action figure.