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This Property Should Be Condemned

July 3rd, 2013

Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger opens today at a theater too close to you. The reviews are as scorching as a summer’s day in Monument Valley. And I am going to take a cheap shot and smugly suggest that spending 250 215 250 million dollars* to fully realize the exotic world and complex backstory of a cowboy with a mask may have been a poor decision.

Why does this film even exist? Who, in 2013, was clamoring for the return of the Lone Ranger? Hey, I watched reruns of Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Ranger and Tonto as a kid. And I’m pretty sure that I enjoyed them.** But–and this is worth emphasizing–I am old.***

Some poor marketing executive has probably spent the past year trying to figure out how to make “Hi-yo, Silver!” a thing with Kids Today, and I place the blame for that on our general unwillingness to let old “Intellectual Properties” ride off into the sunset. I attribute this to a combination of nostalgia, the desperate search for exploitable pop-culture franchises, and the realization by the estates of long-dead creators that their cash cows are down to their last teats.

I say this as someone who enjoyed John Carter and adored Speed Racer, but maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to let some old IP die. Not everything stands the test of time, or deserves to.

Some characters are simply outdated. Some concepts have been supplanted by more sophisticated treatments. And some ideas probably weren’t so hot in the first place.

We’re not as in love with the mythology of the Old West as we were when the Ranger first rode the plains in a cloud of dust. And our racial sensitivities have evolved enough**** that we have to perform conceptual backflips to make the stereotype of a faithful Indian sidekick palatable.

I’m not saying that we have to consign Silver to the dog-food factory. These are cultural artifacts, worthy of our study and our love. But perhaps we don’t need to reboot them for modern audiences. Perhaps we shouldn’t spend a quarter-billion dollars trying to convince ourselves that we still deeply care about The Lone Ranger.

*Disney cut the initial budget to a slightly more manageable $215 million, but the runaway production eventually cost as much as the original estimate…and that’s after they dropped the werewolves. Yes, “werewolves.”

**There wasn’t much on TV back then, so regular watching of a show was not necessarily an endorsement of same.

***Okay, I’m nearly 49, so I’m not the Highlander. Still, I’m old enough to have seen The Brady Bunch in its network run. I get to play the “you young whippersnappers” card.

****Well, not nearly enough, but enough for this, at least.

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