Friday, May 09, 2008

"The Legend Of The Lone Ranger"

A couple years back, I posted about my wanting to re-watch THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, the 1981 film starring Klinton Spilsbury in the title role. After purchasing a couple of VHS copies, I tried and tried to watch the film again. The pan & scan-ness of the presentation and my knowing that the film was shot and intended for Panavision 2.35, kept me from digging in completely. Fast forward to early '08 when I came across a widescreen DVD transfer from the fine folks at Flesh Wound Video.

From a collector-to-collector DVD-R basis, FWV clearly leads the pack with their beautiful, painstakingly restored presentations and attractive packaging. In the case of LONE RANGER, the disc contains a correctly framed anamorphic widescreen print with two great bonus features: the film's original theatrical trailer and an extensive photo gallery. Very nice.

After finally taking the time to give it another shot (it's been at least twenty years since my last viewing), my opinion of this film hasn't changed all that much. I enjoyed it back then and, with some minor criticisms, I still do.

By far, this is not a perfect film, but by no means is it as bad as some have criticized. For the most part, it has everything going for it. Stunning cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, great locations, yet another memorable score by the always impressive John Barry and despite being dubbed by another actor, Klinton Spilsbury's turn as the masked avenger does work. The film also benefits greatly from a few stand-out performances, mainly Christopher Lloyd putting true evil into his Butch Cavendish characterization (an icy-ness absent from previous portrayals) and Michael Horse's interpretation of Tonto, in which Horse not only expounds the dignity and integrity of the role, but also supports Spilsbury's RANGER to the point that his performance does not falter.

THE LEGEND pertains to how John Reid became the masked man and the vengeful mission that drives his hero-like persona. After the origin and events leading up to his mission are presented (within the film's first half), the film begins to fall apart and feels quite rushed when it should not be. At the moment when Spilsbury first turns to the camera in full "LR get-up" to the familiar tune of the William Tell overture, the momentum seems lost. And, the events that transpire from that point, during Reid's quest for justice, never fully satisfy.

The inclusion of the overture unbalances the mood a bit. Sure it's identifiable to the character, but it would have been nice to get a new theme composed by Barry (not unlike the revisionistic interpretations of John Williams in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE or Jerry Goldsmith in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE). I get the "return to yesteryear" vibe that the film tries hard to perpetuate, but it clearly does not compliment the mounting, slow burn style the film has already established. Imagine if the central theme music of the 1960's BATMAN series had been incorporated into Danny Elfman's score for Tim Burton's BATMAN and you'll get the idea. I presume this has to do with Jack Wrather's hold on the character from the original television series to this feature film version, but cross-breeding an epic western film with the conventional trappings of a Saturday afternoon serial doesn't even out.

So, there's my main gripe. A great build-up with little pay-off. This should have been at least a two-hour film, rather than one that runs 98 minutes. The first half takes it's time and deserves a respectful, fleshed-out continuation of the storyline. Also, James Keach's dubbing of Spilsbury's vocals is glaringly obvious and while it is done well, it's still hard to get past this fact, making it difficult to embrace the character in a relatable fashion.

Drawbacks aside, overall, I found the film enjoyable and it brought back a lot of good memories. With so much potential, THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER is difficult to resist and worthy of a second look.

17 comments:

Mike-El said...

Thank you so much for your heads-up on Flesh Wound Videos. I've waited forever for "Legend" on DVD and was quite dismayed over the news that the recent Lionsgate release was a mono, full-frame-only treatment of an abysmal transfer. I just placed my FWV order yesterday.

My opinion of the film pretty much mirrors yours. I'll only add that when I first saw it on the big screen, the audience went absolutely berserk at the first "reveal" of the masked Ranger and the opening blasts of the "Overture."

That scene and the rescue of Tonto from the noose justify my 15 bucks. Well, that and the fact that I'm a dedicated Rangerphile. In November, we finally get a proper release of the first two season of the legendary TV series!

Nathan said...

Glad to help out! I hope that you're enjoying your purchase. I came across the Lionsgate DVD and it certainly is a sad affair. Typical of LGF to release older fare as bare bones with a previous pan & scan video master. If I wanted that, I would transfer my VHS to DVD-R. They've done the same with other ITC films. RAISE THE TITANIC being a perfect example. Sure it was a turkey that was completely disowned by Clive Cussler, but due to it's epic scale, the film deserves a proper widescreen transfer.

Anonymous said...

I just ordered it yesterday 2/6/10 and I cant wait for the widescreen version. Is it in 5.1 or plain stero like the original VHS tape?

sTEVE

Anonymous said...

As for Raise the Titanic I just downloaded and copied a widescreen stereo version from Amazon for $2.99.

Steve

SJN0072002 said...

Received Legend the day of the blizzard in NJ(the mail does go thru)
and it's a beuatiful print. The soundtrack seems to be in stereo(not in surround) and sounds great.
It will also be on Feb. 13 @ 12:30PM on FLIX.

Anonymous said...

I've always enjoyed this movie. It came out a year before I was born but that didn't keep me from watching it over and over as a kid. I got hooked on the Lone Ranger by my mom who watched the original re-runs with me as a kid. The cast of this movie didn't disappoint me at all.

Anonymous said...

So...whatever became of Klinton Spilsbury? You are so right....who gets a lead role in a 15mil budget (for 1981 $) and then disappears?

Kevin said...

After seeing a trailer for the new Lone Ranger movie coming out soon, I had a flashback to when I was a small child, loving an 80s version of the Lone Ranger. I didn't even remember what the title was at first, thinking that it probably had an off title, kind of like "Greystoke" did for Tarzan. I started by looking it up on Wikipedia, but I couldn't believe that Legend was the movie I remembered because I remember a great movie, and the listing there said it received awful reviews.

After much exploring (and finding it on Amazon), I found your blogs about it and I want to thank you, for you pretty much have mirrored my thoughts and feelings exactly. +2 points for the Internet!

Nathan Martin said...

Thanks, Kevin! Glad I could help!

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for this commentary. I'm somewhat fascinated by Klinton Spilsbury. I remember reading an interview with him (decades ago) where he spoke of meeting with Dino de Laurentiis for the part of "Flash Gordon". Dino asked Klinton to remove his shirt to show his muscles and Klinton refused.(The part went to Sam Jones) I'm fascinated by actors who had these single starring roles.(George Lazenby is another) Have you ever found a more recent photo of Mr. Spilsbury?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the movie had to have the "William Tell" overature or it just wouldnt have been a "return to those thrilling days of yesteryear". The Lone Ranger Rides Again!!

Steven Bailey said...

Anyone know where to obtain the DVD referenced in this post? It looks like FWV's site no longer exists and I can only find the DVD with the horrible transfer online...

Nathan Martin said...

Greetings Steven & thanks for dropping by. Sadly, Flesh Wound closed it's doors a couple years ago and I haven't come across any other domestic distributors. From what I can tell, the transfer from FWV was sourced from a R2/PAL DVD which can still be found on a few import websites... if you have all region compatibility.

Aside from that, I've seen a widescreen presentation on a few of Showtime's subsidiary channels (FLIX, in particular) over the course of the past year (although, surprisingly, no current airings). So, that could mean that it's available on streaming or on-demand services. I don't do either, so I'm not certain, but if it pops up on cable, that's usually an indication.

Steven Bailey said...

Thanks for the reply Nathan. I found a blu-ray release from Germany. According to the site it is in widescreen format with English audio. Have you heard of this release or know of it's quality?

dan Tyler said...

The movie potrays the indians as a strong and heart felt people with pride and honor.I really like the movie and the way Tonto was asa friend and worrior spirt . The lone ranger got knocked down and came back to make it right with the killing of hoa brother and the Rangers. I love this movie ! How can they say it was bad ??? It was great

dan Tyler said...

The movie made me want to be a cop ;)

Anonymous said...

So the question still remains - Where is Klinton Spilsbury. Has he been using a different name? Does anyone know where he is?