Arrr, matey…hi-ho stinker, away!
The Lone Ranger
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson; directed by Gore Verbinski
Open on a young boy in cowboy attire eating from a bag of peanuts while wandering Cheyenne Frontier Days. Intrigued by a Wild West exhibit complete with a buffalo image on the entrance tent, he goes in and finds a large room with a creaky wooden floor and exhibits lining the walls. Amazingly, he is alone as he wanders around looking at each life-sized diorama.
He comes upon a display of an iconic western landscape painted on the background with replicas of a teepee and some large rocks in the foreground. And, to his astonishment, standing stoically just outside the teepee is a figure of a… pirate!
As he gazes quizzically while munching on his shelled peanuts, the pirate figure moves; its head turns to look at the boy. The boy stops chewing, gasps and looks around. He is still alone in the room that is dimly lit by the brightly illuminated exhibits. The boy continues to stare wondering what to do or say when the pirate figure speaks.
Pirate: Ahoy, matey! That thar be peanuts you be eatin’?
Boy: (stunned by the talking figure, he mindlessly responds with) Uh, yeah.
Pirate: ‘Tis popcorn this old salt would rather ye’d be pillagin’!
Directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Armie Hammer in the title role with Johnny Depp as Tonto, the movie has some semblance of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Johnny Depp’s costume in particular looks quite similar to Captain Jack Sparrow.
And with that, the pirate grabs some popcorn from a pouch strapped to his side and brings it up to the beak of a dead sparrow as if to feed the bird, which is resting on his head with its wings outstretched. The popcorn falls to the ground uneaten. The boy, speechless at this odd behavior, examines the pirate. He is dressed like Keith Richards with long braided hair, beads strung around his neck, a downward angled black mustache connecting to a black goatee, wearing a puffy white long-sleeved shirt and black vest, a red sash tied tightly around his forehead, and that dead sparrow splayed out on top of his head.
Boy: Hey, aren’t you in the wrong exhibit? You’re suppos’ta be an Indian, not a pirate.
Pirate: Avast, ye landlubber! Thar indeed be pirates in the ole west. Ye must be walking the plank and take a gander at this here film called The Lone Ranger. Thar ye find x-marks-the-spot for proof that buccaneers plundered the scourge of the prairies!
Boy: (looking skeptically annoyed) Nuh-uh. Besides, I never heard of the “Lone Ranger” — is he some-sort-a comic book character?
Pirate: Blimey! Ye never hear-tell of the Lone Ranger and his bucko named Tonto? Well, ya be missing out. Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen fer I’m ‘bout to spin a tale!
Boy: (looking anxiously toward the exit) But, I hear my mom calling…
Pirate: (ignoring the boy’s attempt to flee) Listen here, I ain’t aimin’ to hornswaggle. Ye know of pirates sailing the seven seas flying the ole jolly roger as they race after cargo ships whilst swingin’ from the poop deck and the crow’s nest to scuttle thar crews and hang ‘im from the yardarm?!
Boy: Um, well yeah, I guess, but…
Pirate: Well, batten down the hatches! These western buccaneers had locomotives what sailed the dusty landlubbin’ western shores schoonin’ just like ‘em ships complete with rip-roarin’ swashbucklin’ from stem-to-stern… uh, I mean engin’-to-caboose so as to pillage and plunder on thar high plains! Makes ye wanna heave ho to the land of The Lone Ranger, don’t it?
Boy: That’s a stretch…
Pirate: Yo ho ho! But thar be more! Ye know what those pirates are a-seekin’, doncha ye? It be doubloons and other trea-shar! Well, this here yarn is about a Lone Ranger and his Indian companion beachcombin’ for silvery pieces of eight stolen from native shores. Ya be needin’ more?
Boy: (with a blank stare) Um…
Pirate: Well, how ‘bout them pirates? They be a resourceful and appealing lot. This here Tonto, he looks and acts the spittin’ image of a pirate ye may have glimpsed through a spyglass whilst sittin’ on the deck of another cinematic vessel watching a similar yarn. And don’t ‘em pirates always come upon scurvy dogs seekin’ to plunder trea-shar and at whom they keep running shots across their bow and eventually keelhaul ‘em? Seems it were mighty true in the western seas. And ‘em pirates always have a trick or two up their sleeve… uh, up their forearm… that is to say, some mysterious past that only they are privy to and gives ‘em more complexity and savvy than the other seadog characters.
Boy: (nonchalantly taking another handful of peanuts) I’m gonna just move on to the next exhibit…
Pirate: Nar, nar… thar be more! Pirate yarns always have a cutlass-wielding lass who aids our pirate heroes in thar ‘ventures, just like the ole west, accordin’ to The Lone Ranger, only this here lassie’s packin’ a pistol in her pegleg. And thar always be a laddie pinnin’ for a fetchin’ lass, whether that be a pirate or a pony riding ranger.
Boy: (looking into his bag) I’m running out of peanuts.
Pirate: Arrr, but I soon be feeding the fishes with this here tale! Did I mention that thar be a cavalry that sails after the ranger and his matey just like ‘em bilge rat privateers hoisting anchor to capture us pirates? And what ‘bout ‘em odd desert animal creatures that behave like they be three sheets to the wind? Aye, but they seem to come straight out of Davy Jones’ Locker! And, ye be wonderin’ ‘bout yon rigging between pirates and the Indians of the ole west. Well, you can be sure that…
The boy and the pirate turn to look at some noise and movement toward the exhibit’s tent-like opening. The boy’s face brightens as he can see that it’s his parents who have come looking for him. As he scurries from the pirate to join them, the pirate calls after him.
Pirate: (extending his head out of the edge of the diorama) Come about, laddie, ye haven’t heard about how they blow the man down!
The boy does not stop and is warmly greeted by his folks, whereupon they all turn to look at the animated and entreating pirate. The father walks over and stands in front of the pirate, who sports an earnest and pleading expression. The boy’s father, disgusted, and after a pause speaks.
Father: Listen up, Jack… is that a sparrow on your head? Can I call you “sparrow?” (not waiting for an answer, he continues) You should be ashamed luring kids like my young son here to The Lone Ranger. After all, there is a scene of a guy cutting open a murdered Texas ranger and eating his heart! Not to mention the other brutal, graphic violence. Oh, that and the fact that the scenery is obviously in Utah, Arizona and Colorado, but it’s supposed to be about a Texas ranger! You scallywag!
Pirate: Shiver me timbers! Looks like I’ve been scuttled!
And with that the family leaves the exhibit tent and the Pirate walks off into the diorama’s (supposedly fake) background, only to be seen again in the next (sequel/remake/reboot/prequel/etc.).
Doug Young is the senior policy director in the Office of Policy and Research for Governor John Hickenlooper. He is also an award-winning film critic.