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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
Time to cowboy up, pardner.
The highly touted $250 million Disney film “The Lone Ranger” is on its way to a theater near you.
Starring Armie Hammer as the masked hero and Johnny Depp as Tonto, the movie not only brings the legendary characters to a new audience, but the Land of Enchantment as well.
No fewer than 16 New Mexico locations – from Shiprock to Angel Fire to Valles Caldera – were used in the filming.
Rio Puerco, 36 miles west of the Duke City, was transformed into the two towns, Colby and Promontory Summit, which play central roles in the film.
With the exception of sojourns to Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly in the Navajo Nation, Rio Puerco provided the base of operations for the company for three months.
“It was essential to keep it based in reality,” said director Gore Verbinski of the visual approach to the film. “We didn’t want to make it so pretty that it felt theatrical in any way. The narrative is epic and operatic by design, but, if you adorn that overtly, I think you lose any sense of integrity. It had to feel honest … and a bit raw.”
A little too raw, at times. The winds were so strong at Rio Puerco that a crewmember dubbed it “The Devil’s Sandbox.” Gusts of wind blew from 25 to 70 mph, forcing the crew to wear scarves, bandanas and goggles over their faces for protection.
Hammer said there was crazy weather during the entire shoot.
“We had the movie shut down because of blizzards, lightning strikes, floods, and sandstorms,” he said. “To get this done has been a challenge, and I think that you’re going to get a sense of how epic it is and the scale of the undertaking it was for everybody involved.”
The real deal
The Rio Puerco was just one of many striking locales used. A few of the others included:
• Crews shot the Hell on Wheels and Reid Farm scenes in Lamy, which includes the saloon where Helena Bonham Carter’s character, Red, has a shootout with a customer.
• The moonscape-like rocks of Plaza Blanca in Abiquiú were selected for the “Valley of Tears” locations, which were filmed with actors Ruth Wilson, William Fichtner and the Cavendish Gang.
• The Valles Caldera National Preserve was used as the setting of the Comanche warriors’ village.
• The Gilman Tunnels in Jemez were used for more train scenes.
• And the Pajarito Mountains provided the dramatic site of the last stand of the Comanche warriors.
“When you see the picture, you’ll see the authenticity, and that’s what’s wonderful about this movie,” said producer Jerry Bruckheimer. “We’re in the real locations, not using a lot of CGI (computer-generated imagery). In a lot of films these days, the environments are artificially created. This is the real deal.”
A different Tonto
During interviews with the Journal and other media earlier this month in Santa Fe, Hammer provided a sneak peek at the plot, calling the relationship between him and Depp’s Tonto an evolution.
He said the relationship develops out of necessity, when the Lone Ranger is incapacitated and nursed back to health by Tonto.
“But then, it’s like an odd couple team. It’s like they couldn’t be more polar opposites. You have the Lone Ranger, who’s about justice and wants these guys brought to justice, specifically in a court of law. And then you have Tonto, who is like, ‘We kill them,’ ” he said. “They come from different pages, but they’re on the same mission. So they’re kind of stuck with each other.
“They’re kind of all they have. Tonto is a loner. He’s got no village. He’s got no family. He’s a complete outcast. The Lone Ranger just lost his brother and doesn’t know who’s on his side or who’s against him, so it’s complicated.”
Hammer said he enjoyed the varied locations New Mexico had to offer.
“At the end of the day, I just camped out at night, which was amazing. At first, it was just me and a couple of transportation dudes camping out,” he said. “Over time, more people started joining us. Some of the other actors started coming in and sleeping in their trailers. Gore (Verbinski) was camping in his trailer as well.”
In creating Tonto – which is a very different character than past incarnations – Depp said he made the character relevant by paying attention to the details.
“For me, however long cinema has been around, the Native American has been treated very poorly by Hollywood for the most part. And what I wanted to do was play this character, not as the sidekick to the Lone Ranger,” Depp said during the interviews. “I wanted to play him as a warrior and as a man with great integrity and dignity. It’s my small sliver of a contribution to try and right the wrongs that have been committed in the past.”
Hammer and Depp got the chance to meet several Navajo Nation leaders during the filming. And before cameras even rolled, the film’s Comanche adviser, Wahathuweeka-William Voelker, performed a traditional blessing ceremony on the grounds of Albuquerque Studios, which was the home base for the film.
Wayne Rauschenberger, chief operating officer at Albuquerque Studios, said “The Lone Ranger” is the first Western housed at the studios.
Having housed “The Avengers,” “Book of Eli” and “Terminator: Salvation,” the studio has proven it can handle the mega-budget film.
“With ‘The Lone Ranger,’ we’re able to show production companies that we can convert our area into anything.”
Rauschenberger said that having “The Lone Ranger” on the grounds was good for the studios.
“We did a good job at meeting the requirements, and Disney got feedback from Marvel about how we were capable to do a film like this,” he said. “We’ve now demonstrated from all ends of the spectrum that we have the staff and crews here to handle big budget films. ‘The Lone Ranger’ is just the latest example of that.”
Rauschenberger said he believes the movie will attract interest from other production studios in coming to New Mexico. “It’s a nice feather in our hat,” he said. “To be able to complete one of the most anticipated films of the summer is a great thing for us.”