THE LONE RANGER – Hans Zimmer
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
The character of The Lone Ranger first appeared on WYXZ radio in Detroit, Michigan in 1933, the brainchild of station owner George Trendle and writer Fran Striker. Over the course of the next 70 years the character appeared in almost 3,000 radio shows, countless books and comics, in a much-loved 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, and in several theatrical movies, the most of recent of which – The Legend of the Lone Ranger – was released in 1981. Following the adventures of a former Texas ranger, morally forthright and unfailingly just, battling bad guys in the Wild West with the aid of his trusty Indian guide Tonto and his horse Silver, The Lone Ranger was massively popular during the early part of the 20s century, but has become something of an old fashioned cliché in recent years, despite numerous attempts to resurrect the character for modern audiences. Sadly, Disney’s $250 million blockbuster seems to be following the trend on the back of appalling reviews and disappointing box office returns, possibly consigning the masked man to the annals of history forever.
The film is made by the majority of the creative team behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and stars Armie Hammer as John Reid, a morally upright lawyer who is on a train traveling to rural Texas circa 1869 to take up a job as the local district attorney. The railroad is coming through, and Reid is seen to be part of the onset of ‘civilization’ in this part of the Wild West. Also on the train is convicted murderer Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), on his way to be executed, and a mysterious and slightly peculiar Comanche Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp), whose presence on the train is unclear. Before it reaches its destination, however, Cavendish’s gang hijacks and derails the train and he escapes into the desert; John is deputized by his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), a local Texas ranger, and a posse sets off in pursuit. Suffice to say, the roundup does not go as planned, and John ends up mortally wounded. He is saved by Tonto, who convinces John to take on the identity of The Lone Ranger and bring Cavendish to justice. Before long, however, the unlikely pair find themselves embroiled in a much bigger plot, involving a secret silver mine, corrupt military officials, peg-legged prostitutes, and the wholesale extermination of the Comanche nation.
Personally, I thought The Lone Ranger was tremendously entertaining, and nowhere near the disaster that the pre-release reviews would have had us all believe. It’s perhaps a little too long, and some of the shifts in tone from serious and violent to broadly comedic are a little abrupt and could have been handled a little more smoothly, but Gore Verbinski’s direction is generally assured, the look of the film is wonderfully authentic, and the action set pieces are smartly handled and breathlessly exciting. With Armie Hammer’s lantern-jawed rigidity playing off Johnny Depp’s patented quirkiness, it has an overall feel of a slightly more serious Pirates of the Caribbean crossed with an Indiana Jones romp, which is no bad thing at all. Similarly, Hans Zimmer’s rollicking adventure music revels in all its Western cliché glory, filtering everyone from Ennio Morricone to Jerome Moross through his unique personal sound, and coming out the other side with a score which is the best thing he has written in years.
Zimmer is in the middle of one of his busiest periods in quite some time, with Man of Steel and the mini-series The Bible already done, and with the Formula One drama Rush and the racial drama 12 Years a Slave still on the docket for the fall. Despite this tightly-packed schedule, Zimmer clearly gave The Lone Ranger a great deal of personal attention and care; after dipping his toes into the water with the similarly-themed and similar-sounding Rango in 2011, Zimmer publicly expressed a desire to write an old-fashioned, full-on Western action score, and this is the result of that wish.
Zimmer pulls out all the old Wild West musical chestnuts here: a large orchestra, fiddles, guitars, harmonicas, a Jew’s harp, ragtime pianos, and much more besides, all of it taken together and given the Zimmer treatment to outstanding effect. Thankfully, Zimmer doesn’t bury his live instruments under mountains of electronic processing – there are some synthesized elements, but for the most part he lets the timbres of the music speak for themselves, and the resulting sound is bold, energetic and rich, alive with verve and good-humor. There are certainly echoes of the aforementioned score for Rango, as well as the good-time Irish pub music from Sherlock Holmes and the Jack Sparrow music from Pirates, but in many ways this is a natural evolution of that sound, and it sounds wonderful.
A lonely solo violin competes with harsh electronic pulses in the opening “Never Take Off the Mask”, which segues into an obvious combination of Jack Sparrow’s march and the Sherlock Discombobulate theme in “Absurdity”, a peculiarly-metered and jaunty jig with a curiously off-kilter woodwind element that clearly seeks to capture the bizarre demeanor put forth by Johnny Depp’s Tonto. However, as the cue progresses, it introduces the first of the score’s recurring thematic ideas, a bold march augmented by all manner of instrumental flights of fancy, ranging from electric cellos and honkytonk pianos to a calliope-style funfair pipe organ, eventually culminating in a full-throated brass-led power anthem that it enormously satisfying.
Later, both “You’ve Looked Better” and “You’re Just a Man in a Mask” revisit the stark and dramatic violin/electronic pulse combos from the opening piece, while adding a haunting Native American-style flute accent for a bit of mystery, while the unusual “Red’s Theater of the Absurd” revisits the perky jig music with a little more time-specific authenticity, an amusingly low-register hooting clarinet part, and an oompah beat. This music, which was written by the film’s original composer Jack White before he was replaced and is performed by the contemporary ‘American roots’ group Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, actually sounds like something Danny Elfman might have written for Tim Burton if the master of the macabre had ever made a film set in a wild west saloon/whorehouse, and is an interesting curio.
The opening part of “Silver” has a definite Ennio Morricone influence, especially in the way Zimmer offsets his stoic central theme with unusual high-register woodwind accents, but as was the case of its predecessor, the cue develops as it progresses, turning its slightly comedic tone into a lyrical, homespun, determined-sounding melody for solo violin that has a touch o’ the Irish about it, but still remains resolutely American, hopeful and noble. The Silver theme is recapitulated during the conclusion of “You’re Just a Man in a Mask” to excellent effect, cementing its position as the unwavering musical heart of the score.
Zimmer’s love letter to the music of his heroes is “Ride”, in which the German honors the expansive thematic presences of Ennio Morricone, Luis Enríquez Bacalov, Elmer Bernstein and Jerome Moross – for me, the four best evokers of classic western music, both spaghetti and non-pasta based – with strumming guitars and flashing trumpet calls carrying the heroes into the majestic vistas of Monument Valley and beyond. When the orchestra rises to soaring heights around the 2:50 mark, the spine-tingling crescendo of sound Zimmer unleashes is simply wonderful.
The action music, which takes up quite a lot of the score’s second half, takes its cue from the thematic ideas introduced in the second half of “Absurdity”, and is mostly built around the relentless pulse of a train in forward motion. In interviews, Zimmer said he did “unspeakable things with a sledge hammer and a tape recorder”, using an old train on the property of his neighbor, X-Files creator Chris Carter, to create a programmable drum kit that he used for the score’s bass line, and it is this sound that provides the rhythmic engine around which the rest of the action music is built.
Both “The Railroad Waits for No One” and “For God and Country” are superbly exciting, propulsive, percussive action music setpieces, seasoned with the western-style orchestrations from the rest of the score to ensure it’s sense of time and place. This is Zimmer firmly in his comfort zone, writing the kind of the music that endeared him to so many in the first place. “For God and Country” even brings in a chanting mixed-voice choir to add to the sense of epic drama and power.
However, probably the best track on the album is the “Finale” cue, containing as it does a wonderful Geoff Zanelli arrangement of Gioachino Rossini’s legendary “William Tell Overture”. Despite being originally written for a French-language opera in 1829, the piece is known the world over as the theme music for the Lone Ranger TV series, and it is to Zimmer’s enormous credit that he pays such lavish homage to his film’s heritage by using the theme here. A single huge performance of the theme would have been enough, but Zimmer and Zanelli actually go out of their way to incorporate their own thematic presence into the piece too; Rossini’s chugging, thrusting theme regularly segues into Zimmer’s own powerful action music, and back again, and at times Zanelli even uses Rossini’s famous snare drum tattoo as a counterpoint for Zimmer’s action material. The end result is simply glorious; a breathless, upbeat, 10-minute extravaganza that darts from Rossini to one or more of Zimmer’s themes with reckless abandon. The cue is filled with moments of orchestral bliss. There are several bold statements of the “Ride” theme, at the 4:45 mark and the 7:00 mark, a scintillating bed of ostentatious violin runs that begin around 5:20, a cadre of descending horn triplets around 6:20 that made me burst out laughing (in a good way!), and much more besides, before a whirlwind finale that takes Rossini’s enormous crescendo finale of spinning string figures to heights that only Zimmer could imagine.
The score concludes on a more intimate note with “Home”, a solemnly beautiful full-orchestra elegy expanded from a theme heard earlier during the second half of “Ride”. The theme has the same wistful, longing, nostalgic quality as Antonín Dvořák’s famous Largo from the New World Symphony, and is quite unexpectedly moving; romantic in its expression, but tinged with a sense sadness and loss. Zimmer goes in for this sort of broad-based emotional only rarely, but when he does, he absolutely shines.
This is the kind of Hans Zimmer music that I love, and which I wish he would write more often than he does. The Lone Ranger is filled with themes, most of which go through several stages of development as the score progresses. The orchestrations are rich, interesting, and vividly colorful, capturing the musical conventions of the location without sounding corny. The action music is loud, exciting and energetic, and has a lot of fun playing around with rhythmic and contrapuntal ideas that change and evolve as each cue moves along. This is probably the most purely enjoyable Zimmer score since Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in 2007, and goes a long way to remind us just why Zimmer is so well-regarded by the industry, by many of his peers, and by so many fans across the world.
Buy the Lone Ranger soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Never Take Off the Mask (1:08)
- Absurdity (4:58)
- Silver (4:01)
- Ride (4:18)
- You’ve Looked Better (3:10)
- Red’s Theater of the Absurd (written by Jack White, performed by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three) (3:03)
- The Railroad Waits For No One (3:09)
- You’re Just a Man in a Mask (4:14)
- For God and Country (4:54)
- Finale (“William Tell Overture” written by Gioachino Rossini, arranged by Geoff Zanelli) (9:52)
- Home (6:55)
Running Time: 49 minutes 43 seconds
Walt Disney Records/Intrada (2013)
Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Kevin Kaska and Carl Rydlund. Additional music by Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaro, Brian Satterwhite and Geoff Zanelli. Special musical performances by Tom Clarke and George Doering. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Peter Oso Snell. Album produced by Hans Zimmer.