Disney Premieres Dubbed 'Lone Ranger' in Italy Amid Alleged Piracy Fears

Lone Ranger Italian Poster - P - 2013

The original language version was said to be switched out at the last minute, an unusual move for a festival premiere.

TAORMINA, Sicily – The international launch of Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger at the Taormina Film Festival has been switched to the Italian-language version of the film due to what festival officials said were piracy concerns.

Officials said they were surprised to find the copy of the film Disney supplied was dubbed into Italian with no subtitles. They said they had been promised an original-language copy of the film, with Italian subtitles. Until Saturday afternoon, the festival had advertised the film would screen in the original language, requiring them to make hasty additions to posters (see photo).

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In Los Angeles, Disney denied there were ever plans to provide an original version copy of the film to the festival: "This was always planned as a dubbed screening given the release date around the world, and subtitles were never considered for the festival," a spokesman said.

But it is extremely unusual for a major film festival to screen a dubbed version of the film. Festival observers said it is the first time in recent memory a dubbed film will be shown at the 59-year-old Taormina festival.

Though it is not billed as such, the Taormina screening of The Lone Ranger is technically its world premiere since -- due to the nine-hour time difference between Sicily and California -- the film is screening in Italy several hours before its official world premiere at Disney’s California Adventure Park in Anaheim.

The film will be released in the U.S., Italy, and a handful of other territories July 3. 

The Lone Ranger is the closing film of the event, which has become a regular launching pad for summer tentpoles, including Pixar’s Brave last year, and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which opened this year’s edition of the festival a week ago with Snyder and most of the film's stars on hand for the event. The Superman reboot, like all the previous blockbuster releases in Taormina, premiered in English at the festival. 

Though illegal recording and sharing of film and TV shows is a huge problem throughout Europe, there have been no known piracy issues with big Taormina premieres in the past. Security was especially tight at the Man of Steel screening, the film’s continental Europe premiere, and it appeared tight again for the screening of The Lone Ranger.

With all of the stars in Los Angeles for the official world premiere there, there was no one from the cast on hand in Taormina for Saturday's screening. The film was introduced by Disney-Italia exec Daniel Frigo, who made no mention of the controversy around the dubbed version of the film.

Festival officials said they were forced to refund the ticket price to dozens of non-Italian-speaking tourists who bought their tickets expecting to see the original version of the film. But it is also likely that the dubbed version attracted more locals in a country where most foreign films are dubbed.

In the end, the festival’s signature Teatro Antico venue, which seats 4,500, was nearly full for the screening, the second near-capacity screening of the eight-day event, following the Man of Steel premiere. The two crowds were among the largest the festival has seen. Italian-speaking moviegoers in the Teatro Grande said they were not put off by the decision to screen the dubbed film.

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The screening was preceded by a tribute to 51-year-old Sopranos star James Gandolfini, who had been scheduled to appear at the festival but who died of a heart attack in Rome the night before traveling to Sicily.

Italian-American actress Marisa Tomei -- who drew applause when she noted she had distant relatives from nearby Messina -- and Italy's Gigi Proietti were both honored before the screening. Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino was expected to be on hand as well, but he canceled at the last minute.

Mario Sesti, Taormina’s second-year artistic director, declined to comment about the developments related to the dubbed version of The Lone Ranger when contacted. Sesti, one of the founders of the International Rome Film Festival, is working to revitalize the storied Taormina event little more than a year after it was nearly forced to shut down for budgetary reasons.

In addition to The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel, and Brave, other tentpole films to have launched in Taormina the last half-dozen years include Kung Fu Panda II, Toy Story 3D, and Transformers

Twitter: @EricJLyman