The Lone Ranger, the classic ’50s TV series that starred a masked ex-Texas Ranger who fought the bad guys in the Wild West with the help of his Indian sidekick Tonto, galloped back onto screens this summer courtesy of Disney’s big-budget (a reported $215 million) feature film reboot. The movie, which opened across multiple major world markets on July 3, marks another high-profile collaboration between the studio and the team of über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, who hope The Lone Ranger will do for the enduring Western icons what their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise did for pirates. It also reunites the team with shape-shifting Pirates star Johnny Depp (who also bonded with the director on the 2011 Oscar® winner Rango), who trades in his buccaneer outfit for a crow hat and Indian regalia as Tonto, and features Armie Hammer (The Social Network, J. Edgar) as the titular hero alongside co-stars Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson.
Behind the scenes, the film also reunites Verbinski with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, ASC, who shot the director’s spooky thriller The Ring, and whose credits include the Bruckheimer/Disney feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice for director Jon Turteltaub, Mr. & Mrs. Smith for director Doug Liman, Rock of Ages and Hairspray for director Adam Shankman, and the acclaimed independent films The Rapture, Deep Cover, King of New York, Kalifornia and Dangerous Beauty, all of which display a wide visual range and gift for combining beautiful composition with gritty detail.
"The first thing Gore and I did was discuss the look of the film and how we were going to approach the Western genre from the angle of an action-adventure film, not a drama," says the DP. "How do you do it with a certain respect for and as an homage to all the famous Westerns by directors like John Ford and Sergio Leone? But at the same time, a lot of those old movies used day-for-night for nighttime exteriors and the daytime exteriors were always lit—looks that just don’t work for today’s audiences. So, it was less about that old look and more about the huge landscapes, the composition, the angle of the shot and blocking. Those were our influences."
Similarly, the DP and director wanted to avoid a saturated, heavily chromatic look with the color palette. "We didn’t want all the clichéd bright blue skies and orange landscapes—the postcard look," says Bazelli. Instead, the pair referenced old black-and-white movies where the tonality is scaled down to a simple palette of blacks, whites and grays. "That was our inspiration for the look," he adds, "and I started to experiment with how to make a colorful movie look less colorful and less saturated and more dramatic."
Armed with the then-new prototype ALEXA Studio, Bazelli headed out to the desert and over a three-day period shot extensive tests with the camera, along with side-by-side film tests of various exposure levels, processing and printing in various degrees of bleach bypass, and then showed the results to Verbinski. "We all agreed that we loved the look of the bleach bypass, which basically helped us desaturate the color and bring up the contrast," reports the DP. "Gore always likes strong highlights and the raw image of bright skies, but with details like fluffy clouds and so on."