It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for Disney’s Lone Ranger movie. More than a few jaws dropped when news leaked out about the film’s $250 million estimated cost – and word that it was originally going to feature werewolves. That’s assuming you weren’t still hung up on the prospect of Johnny Depp playing American Indian Tonto, that is.

Director Gore Verbinski is still working to salvage the situation by cutting down the bloated budget. However, there’s some question now as to whether or not Disney might consider him part of the problem.

Deadline caught up with Disney executive Rich Ross at D23 over the weekend, where he told the site that “no one wants to work more with [producer Jerry Bruckheimer] and Johnny [Depp] more than me,” with respect to Lone Ranger. Does his omission of Verbinski’s name mean anything?

That’s the question being asked right now – and, at first, this sounds like a bunch of fuss over nothing. Verbinski has a tried-and-true history with the Mouse House, having directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies; plus, it’s not as though he’d get a salary for Lone Ranger big enough to make money the reason for the delay in production (again, see the $200 million + budget).

However, when you look closer at the situation, the idea of Verbinski being booted off Lone Ranger does sound more likely. Disney reportedly wants the budget cut down to $215 million, which could in part be done by hiring a cheaper director than Verbinski. Plus, as Deadline also points out, it wouldn’t be the first time the company kicked an A-list director off an expensive western project in order to lower costs (see: Ron Howard and The Alamo, back in 2002).

Will Verbinski not re-team with Bruckheimer and Depp for 'Lone Ranger'?

One thing that ought to be clarified: If Verbinski were to leave Lone Ranger, it’s unlikely the film would completely drop the “unconventional interpretation” he’s been championing up to now – assuming that Disney doesn’t just scrap the project in its current state and start over. Either way, the lackluster performance of this summer’s Cowboys & Aliens has left many an industry figure wary of tackling any sort of western-flavored project, especially an old-fashioned one.

You could cite True Grit as a great example of a traditional western that struck a nice balance between gritty action and humorous elements, and still managed to become a hit at the box office. Plus, the former cost less than a fifth of the proposed Lone Ranger budget and was still plenty fun in its own right. So who’s to say there’s not an audience willing to pay top dollar to watch a decent Old West adventure on the big screen?

But I digress.

Verbinski and Depp have worked together four times in the past, so there’s also the concern that the latter will walk away from Lone Ranger if Verbinski is either kicked off or chooses to move on. In short: this whole situation is just (for lack of a better description) messed up.

There is no doubt that Disney will eventually make a Lone Ranger movie, since the title character is an American icon whose name is recognizable even to young people who have never been exposed to the masked hero in any form (radio drama, TV show, comic book, spinoff movie) before. However, the studio could ultimately decide to start over on the project and invest its $200 million in a more surefire Depp-starring hit like, say, Pirates of the Caribbean 5. We shall see.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted on the status of Lone Ranger.

Source: Deadline