Book Review: The Lone Ranger: Behind the Mask - by Michael Singer

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Insight Editions publishes wonderfully detailed coffee table books, brimming with gorgeous high quality photos, frequently focused on the world of entertainment. When choosing which films to design elaborate, collectible volumes around, an element of luck is involved. Disney’s The Lone Ranger was a mega-budget, tent-pole production that sought to deliver a thrillingly updated version of the legendary cowboy hero to a new generation. Plagued by mercilessly negative reviews and downright toxic press, the Western adventure closed in most markets within five weeks of release. The question now might reasonably be, who exactly makes up the audience for Insight’s marvelously detailed, 168-page hardcover The Lone Ranger: Behind the Mask?

Fans of the movie (which is actually far better than its reputation suggests) will surely be delighted with Michael Singer’s superbly crafted account of the Jerry Bruckheimer production. Singer, as explained on the book’s final page, was absolutely present during the making of the film. He apparently had an “all access” backstage pass that allowed him to really get inside the process. Beyond fans of the film (and they do exist, despite all the negativity) there are, of course, those with an interest in the title character. After a brief foreword by Bruckheimer and introduction by director Gore Verbinski, Singer’s text delves into a brief history of the character John Reid, touching on various aspects of the hero’s past incarnations. It sets the stage for an examination of this latest reinvention, covering everything from the casting, production design, filming locations, special effects, and attempts to integrate authentic Native American culture into the depiction of the Comanche Nation.
 
Lone Ranger sand (380x214).jpgThat last point is honestly the biggest sticking point I had with the film. The Caucasian actor Johnny Depp was cast as the Lone Ranger’s famous sidekick, Tonto. It was a role that should’ve rightfully gone to an actual Native American actor, rather than resorting to the “redface” approach that has marred so many Hollywood Westerns of yesteryear. Though Tonto was commendably upgraded in the new film from a more or less subservient role to that of full-fledged partner, his mystical idiot persona rubbed observers the wrong way. That said, Singer dives headfirst into the issue. He skirts any potentially controversial commentary by offering plenty of evidence that Depp worked closely with Native American advisors. Depp’s unconfirmed claim to have some unknown amount of Native American ancestry is put forth as fact, as if to suggest that any amount of Native blood justifies what is blatant miscasting. But again, in the 11th chapter, “The Comanche Way,” we learn of the heightened care that went into honoring the tribal history.

Lone Ranger silver (380x254).jpgNo account of a Lone Ranger project would be complete without pages devoted to Silver. Chapter ten gets into the casting of Reid’s legendary horse. It’s another example of the care that Singer put into covering all the bases in detail, going far beyond any quick-bucks movie tie-in. Each of the primary supporting cast members get their due as well, with space devoted to the make-up transformations many of them underwent. Suffice it to say, this is a comprehensive examination of how Bruckheimer and Verbinski’s vision was brought to the big screen. It makes a convincing case that the resulting film deserves to be seen by a wider audience (which I suspect it just might find once home video makes it more readily available).

As a book of beautifully reproduced on-location photos, Behind the Mask is a terrific document for those who love the American Southwest. In the tradition of great coffee table books, there is plenty to hold readers’ interest simply by flipping through and soaking in the landscapes. Given the life-support that the Western genre has been subsisting on for the past several decades, moviegoers have seldom seen the marrying of modern filmmaking techniques with the awe-inspiring, practical locations that serve as their setting. Disney’s film is worth seeing for spectacle alone, and Insight Editions’ The Lone Ranger: Behind the Mask offers a tantalizing look at how it was achieved. Nearly getting the final word are stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, both of whom contribute afterwords.

For more information about Insight Editions, visit their official website.


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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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