'Lone Ranger' May Not Be Dead Yet

At the end of last week the biggest news might have been that Disney had canceled development of Gore Verbinski's Lone Ranger, which was set to star Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the title character. At issue was the budget. The film, based on a script full of visualizations of Native American mysticism and werewolves, and featuring a few big action sequences, was going to cost about $250 million to make.

What? $250m for a western! The Coens spent barely $40m on True Grit. Another $210m? Even with Johnny Depp, that's a lot of digital werewolves. Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer aren't ready to let the movie go just yet, however. Quite a few script changes and fee cuts are under way now. The werewolves have been given the boot (thankfully!) and it looks like some other big alterations are taking place in order to get the cost down to a far more reasonable $220m or less.

Yeah, that's right — Lone Ranger will still be at least a $200m movie. Here's what THR says is being re-worked:

Fees: Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer have reportedly both cut their fees, to the tune of a $10m savings. (Yes, that's an offhand cut of more money than you'll see in your life, to get Lone Ranger made. Cynical yet?)The Supernatural: The "werewolves and other supernatural creatures" from the last draft have been cut. That seems like an element very much for the better — do we need the Lone Ranger and Tonto firing silver bullets and arrowheads at werewolves? S***, no.Trains: The current draft still has three "massive action set pieces involving trains," including "one described as the biggest train sequence in film history." That I can accept; trains are a huge part of western lore, and of western movie history. I'd rather see the script be good, and make the whole "Don Quixote from Sancho Panza's point of view" approach really work, but a train setpiece or two doesn't sound way out of bounds. That is, until they start to push the movie into the $200m range. Just imagine what sort of wonderful success Disney might have if they could make something that people responded to in the way that audiences took to True Grit, but at $100m rather than twice that cost?

Now the question: will Gore Verbinski still direct? Some Disney execs reportedly frown (that's putting it mildly) on Verbinski's spend-happy habits as evidenced on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films. We've got no answer at this point about whether someone else might be brought in to direct. (Rob Marshall, perhaps?) But if Disney tentpole movies are really more about spectacle than story, will it even matter, so long as that spectacle is delivered in a way that makes money?

Another question: will this be settled this week, in time to trop everyone out on stage during Disney's D23 expo this weekend?