Hi-yo, Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again in this straight Western telling of the legendary hero
Decades before Johnny Depp would hit box offices in The Lone Ranger, the Western gunslinger had been a popular hero on television since the 1950s with the beloved Clayton Moore show. 1981 saw the release of a dramatic new telling of the Lone Ranger’s origin in The Legend of the Lone Ranger. The film was not successful at the box office for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Westerns had faded from popularity by the Eighties. Starring an unknown Klinton Spilsbury, the movie delivers a straightforward re-imagining of the character that rings true for the Western hero.
The film is a purely heroic Western tale, something rarely seen in these days of revisionist cinema. Ruthless bandit and gang leader Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd) wipes out a team of Texas Rangers in the Old West. The only survivor is John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury). A lawyer by trade, the young John Reid is driven by a thirst for honor and a chance to bring his brother’s murderer to justice. The Legend of the Lone Ranger doesn’t deviate from the familiar traits of the characters, including his Indian companion Tonto and white horse, Silver. Using silver bullets, Reid dons a mask and with the help of his childhood friend Tonto, becomes an enduring symbol of justice in the Old West. His story isn’t much different than other pulp heroes like Zorro or Batman, crime-fighters that hide behind a masked identity to fight injustice in their societies.
The narrative does lack bigger ambitions.
The narrative does lack bigger ambitions.
This is a film for fans of traditional Westerns that like the Lone Ranger. The Western action and stunts are impressive in their perceived danger. Jason Robards has a small supporting role as President Ulysses S. Grant. It is a conventional origin story that paints well inside the lines, including a fantastic score by composer John Barry. The narrative does lack bigger ambitions. This script could have been used for television. That doesn’t make it a bad movie but limits its potential audience. Its director would go on to work in television for many years.
Those into classic Westerns will lap up the thrilling adventure tale and origin story, while others may grow bored with the predictable plotting. There are some anachronisms that date the film. Waylon Jennings narrates over some of the action, much in the mold of his work on Dukes of Hazzard which was popular at the time. That either works for you as a nice piece of nostalgia or proves terribly distracting for younger audiences. It posed no problem for me but others less familiar with the Dukes may not like it.
The Legend of the Lone Ranger is solid, competent entertainment from the early 1980s made for fans of the Old West. Spilsbury looks the part of the Lone Ranger at a minimum, even if some find something lacking in his delivery. Look elsewhere if you prefer more revisionist Westerns. This Lone Ranger is decidedly purer in his motivations than most newer films.
The good news appears to be that Shout Factory/Timeless Media have dug up an actual widescreen print for The Legend of the Lone Ranger. A terrible pan-n-scan DVD was released a few years ago that looked terrible by all reports. Here we get a 1080P presentation framed at the movie’s intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film transfer still remains fairly soft with wavering detail but represents a dramatic improvement over prior budget DVD versions. The 97-minute main feature is encoded in AVC at moderate bitrates on a BD-25. Some minor banding creeps into the picture in a few shots but for the most part decently handles the thick grain.
The film elements themselves appear in clean, undamaged condition. The softness and lack of high-frequency content are attributable to a couple of things. Firstly, the soft-focus cinematography has that gauzy appearance so popular around this era. It’s practically filmed like an older romantic movie with blooming white levels and soft lighting. Secondly, the transfer doesn’t appear to be struck from the camera negative. This transfer is probably from an IP or secondary dupe done on a telecine. That leads to an overly grainy look and erratic contrast levels.
The video is mostly film-like in this serviceable but unspectacular presentation. Some ringing and inconsistent black levels are probably its biggest faults, though they are problems one can easily live with considering this movie. Fans should be glad they get the intended widescreen format in a transfer with moderate gains in clarity and definition. The film probably could look better but good luck waiting on another release from better elements. This is fine picture quality to enjoy the film. It’s simply not demo material or a brand-new film transfer.
The original soundtrack is presented in a quality 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Featuring a stirring score from composer John Barry and theme song by Merle Haggard, it sounds uniformly excellent given its unremixed status. Dialogue is cleanly delivered in the sound field and nicely balanced with a load of big audio effects, from gunshots to major explosions. The recording quality is crisp with clear fidelity. The production doesn’t have an overly sweeping sound design but the William Tell Overture sounds great when the Lone Ranger hits the screen.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font. They remain inside the scope framing at all times.
We get the theatrical trailer and reversible cover art in this package. The film was a box office dud so the lack of special features is understandable. I think most prior fans are happy this movie is hitting Blu-ray with a legitimate HD transfer.
Theatrical Trailer (02:27 in HD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.