Although Disney seemed especially gung ho about ringing in the apocalypse by having Johnny Depp play an eccentric Native American, the studio made the surprise decision over the weekend to stop production on the Gore Verbinski-directed The Lone Ranger, giving rise to the possibility that it could end up being shopped elsewhere or even scrapped completely. The work stoppage, reminiscent of the recent chain of events that led to Universal ditching The Dark Tower, stems from similar concerns—specifically, spending over $200 million on a Western, even one based on an easily marketable nostalgia property and hailing from the cash-spewing team behind Pirates Of The Caribbean. But it also comes amid the hemorrhaging budgets for all of Disney’s live-action films, with figures currently coming in at around $200 million for Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful and $250 million for John Carter, which is particularly insane. No doubt watching this trailer and realizing that you spent a quarter billion dollars to have Tim Riggins dress like He-Man and fight cartoon blobs leads to a sobering moment of clarity.
Also telling is that this is happening in the wake of Cowboys And Aliens—another expensive tentpole Western that starred both Indiana Jones and James Bond, was directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, and added aliens, yet somehow failed to translate this formula into massive profits. According to Jeffrey Wells, the projects actually have a lot in common: The Lone Ranger is also reportedly “an effects-heavy CGI thing” with a sci-fi element, concerning Depp’s Tonto leading a group of spirits against a deadly “Native American wolfbeast,” and featuring plenty of computerized werewolf action amid its “doses of Native American spirituality”—you know, for the cultural sensitivity. Should they end up revisiting the project, it’s now possible the werewolf and all other sci-fi/genre mash-up angles could disappear. Alas, such are the sacrifices made when art meets business.