William Tell Overture
The Pitch: Cowboys and ex-Pirates.
The Review: Giaochino Rossini may just have been the most famous composer of his time in Italy. He’d composed over three dozen operas, including such enduring works as The Barber Of Seville, by the time he was 37. It was at this point he produced what may be his most recognised work of all, the opera William Tell, from which this overture (the March Of The Swiss Soldiers) is taken:
But your level of knowledge of classical music will dictate as to whether you recognise it more from the story of a man who shot an arrow from his son’s head, or from the story of a Texas ranger who teams up with an American Indian, riding the plains in the search for truth and justice. Having pirated the Caribbean to its every corner, the team of Johnny Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and composer Hans Zimmer (to name the most prominent collaborators) have turned their attentions to the almost mythical story first transmitted on radio in the Thirties and then the subject of an equally successful TV series in the Fifties. This adaptation has met with critical derision and audience apathy, but that may give a somewhat distorted view of what could be described as somewhere between an fascinating failure and a heavily qualified triumph.
It’s reported that Rossini met Beethoven in 1822. “Ah, Rossini,” said Ludwig, “So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.” It would be fair to say that Team Bruckheimer haven’t wandered too far from their standard template either, with anyone who’s seen any of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies recognising the mix of spectacular, CGI based action, slightly overwrought drama and a variety of eccentric performances. This version is also surprisingly faithful to the origin story as laid out by the original creators of the Lone Ranger: John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer who is deputised by his Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) in an effort to recapture outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and return him to face justice at the request of railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). When the Ranger gang is ambushed and John left for dead, he’s encouraged by oddball Indian Tonto (Depp) to put on a mask and to join him in his own hunt for Cavendish.
You might be familiar with its signature overture, but you may not have heard the entirety of Rossini’s WIlliam Tell given that it runs to over four hours if performed in full. The Lone Ranger runs to two and a half and feels overextended at that length, but actually not by much. Its two more obvious faults are never quite knowing how to make the framing device work (recalling The Princess Bride, but with an aging Tonto talking to a young masked Lone Ranger fan at a San Francisco funfair), and never quite getting the balance between the slightly more otherworldly, almost cartoonish Tonto (and when I say cartoonish, think Droopy with his succinct sentences and his unusual world view) and the genuine American Indians who form one of the many sub-plots. The performances are generally satisfactory, but if we’re drawing the Pirates comparisons then the closest anyone gets to the scenery chewing fun of a Geoffrey Rush is Fichtner, who lends The Lone Ranger a darker, more grounded edge, while Wilkinson does his usual thing about as well as ever. There’s an initial sense of unbalance with the nominal sidekick actually playing the lead, but if you can retune your expectations then Depp imbues Tonto with depth and shade and Hammer also finds a journey to take Reid through. A lively cameo from Helena Bonham Carter also helps to keep things light.
After writing William Tell, Rossini to all intents and purposes retired, and while he composed other works later in life, including his Stabat Mater in two chunks over a twelve year period, William Tell was his final opera. Johnny Depp has also been rumoured to be thinking of retiring, although at a much greater age than Rossini, and there’s a certain sense of finality to The Lone Ranger, the combination of the framing device and the critical mauling very much giving the impression that The Lone Ranger is that particular rarity in summer blockbusters, the stand-alone film that will defy the sequel trend. Maybe in future years the baggage of Bruckheimer will be cast off and The Lone Ranger will be seen in a different light; there are two or three different shifts of tone – as evidenced by any film whose references run the spectrum from Once Upon A Time In The West to Back To The Future, Part III and whose hugely entertaining, action packed finale draws on both Buster Keaton’s The General and Wallace And Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers – and those variations in tone from quite dark to light and fluffy may have alienated some, but there’s quite a bit to enjoy. It may not be as focused as the previous Verbinski / Depp Western Rango, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’ve heard and it settles nicely in the middle of the spectrum of this summer’s blockbusters.
Why see it at the cinema: For anything set on a train, where the cinema screen opens up the spectacle perfectly. As well as the spectacular train-based ending there’s also some fun train shenanigans at the beginning. It’s not huge on laughs but there is the odd chuckle to share with as big an audience as you can find.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for moderate violence and injury detail. Unusually for a 12A blockbuster these days, though, there’s no strong language; the strongest words on offer here are “damn”, “hell” and “harlot”. (Yes, harlot, apparently. Go figure.)
My cinema experience: Not much to report here; the Cineworld in Cambridge slung it on one of their larger screens, and a decent (maybe just over half-full) Sunday afternoon crowd were treated to a Bruckheimering of average standard for a couple of hours. No projection or audience misbehaviour issues to report.
The Score: 6/10