Lone Ranger fans breathed a sigh of relief when director Gore Verbinski’s film adaptation – with Johnny Depp slated to star – collapsed this past summer. Those same people started scratching their heads when the reason for the cancellation was revealed: namely, because the western was budgeted at $250 million (or more) and was set to feature… werewolves.

Word got out a couple weeks back that the project is still alive and largely intact (shape-changing human/canines and all…). Today, we have further confirmation that Verbinski’s Lone Ranger is indeed moving forward again.

Deadline has been keeping tabs on Lone Ranger‘s status for months now and says that Verbinski, Depp, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer – a.k.a. the “brain trust” behind the first Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy – have met with Disney officials about the former project. It appears all but official now that the Ranger movie will begin production in early 2012, with a reduced $215 million budget in place.

UPDATE: Deadline is now reporting that Disney has its eye on a February 6th, 2012 production start date for Lone Ranger.

Depp remains onboard to portray the American Indian, Tonto – who will reportedly be the true protagonist of Lone Ranger – while Armie Hammer remains attached to play the famous masked cowboy. Ruth Wilson is likewise set as the film’s female lead, though we’ve not yet heard whether supporting players like Helena Bonham Carter are still involved or have passed on the project.

The Lone Ranger script – which was penned by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road), working from an earlier draft by PotC writing duo Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio – has been tinkered with a bit, so as to reduce its estimated budget. For the record, though, Lone Ranger is still expected to cost at least $50 million more than this summer’s sci-fi/western mashup, Cowboys & Aliens.

While people like Verbinski and Depp have agreed to take a pay cut in order to lower the costs of Lone Ranger, the film will still boast plenty of big action set pieces – at least one massive train chase sequence is probably in order – and some costly CGI, on a scale with the Pirates movies (hence the similarly-massive budget).

Lone Ranger will apparently focus largely on American Indian spirituality and mythicism – which is the reason behind the inclusion of “werewolves” and Depp’s Tonto being the real star. While that actually sounds potentially cool on its own, the thing infuriating Lone Ranger fans is that… well, that has very little to do with the classic Ranger mythology. So why not just drop the title, rename the characters, and make this project a more original western that happens to star one of the world’s most bankable actors (ie. Depp)?

The answer? Because Lone Ranger is an established brand name that makes this project look all the more lucrative on paper. Disney theoretically could’ve saved itself a lot of hassle by developing this as as a cheaper western – one that got rid of the blockbuster set pieces, still starred Depp, and offered a more authentic celebration of American Indian culture – but, oh well…

Lone Ranger will probably be officially rescheduled for a Summer 2013 theatrical release date. We’ll let you know when/if that happens.

Source: Deadline