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Tombstone Blu-ray Review

Tombstone (1993) movie poster Tombstone

Theatrical Release: December 25, 1993 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: R

Directors: George P. Cosmatos; Kurt Russell (uncredited) / Writer: Kevin Jarre

Cast: Kurt Russell (Wyatt Earp), Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday), Sam Elliott (Virgil Earp), Bill Paxton (Morgan Earp), Powers Boothe (Curly Bill Brocius), Michael Biehn (Johnny Ringo), Charlton Heston (Henry Hooker), Jason Priestley (Deputy Billy Breckinridge), Jon Tenney (John Behan, Cochise County Sheriff), Stephen Lang (Ike Clanton), Thomas Haden Church (Billy Clanton), Dana Delany (Josephine Marcus), Paula Malcomson (Allie Earp), Lisa Collins (Louisa Earp), Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Mattie Blaylock Earp, aka Celia Maddon), Joanna Pacula (Kate) Michael Rooker (Sherman McMasters), Harry Carey Jr. (Tombstone Marshal Fred White) Billy Bob Thornton (Johnny Tyler), Tomas Arana (Frank Stillwell), Pat Brady (Milt Joyce), Paul Ben-Victor (Florentino), John Philbin (Tom McLaury), Robert Burke (Frank McLaury), Billy Zane (Mr. Fabian), Wyatt Earp (Billy Claiborne), John Corbett (Barnes), W.R. Bo Gray Bo Greigh (Wes Fuller), Forrie J. Smith (Pony Deal), Peter Sherayko (Texas Jack Vermillion), Buck Taylor (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson), Terry O'Quinn (Mayor John Clum)

Buy Tombstone from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Disc • 2-Disc Director's Cut Vista Series DVD • 1-Disc Theatrical Cut DVD


By Kelvin Cedeno

Sometimes the best films have the most troubled productions. It can be astounding to hear some of the behind-the-scenes struggles that ensued on such works, when the final product is so professional. A good example of this would be the 1993 western Tombstone. For years people saw and enjoyed the film, which gained cult status via television and home video, not knowing what it took to create it. Shortly after director George P. Cosmatos's death in 2005, actor Kurt Russell finally let out some important information regarding Tombstone, the biggest shock being that he was, in fact, the film's director.

The project had its genesis between Kevin Costner and writer Kevin Jarre. When they failed to agree on how to tell the true story of Wyatt Earp and those involved in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the two split. Costner went on to make his own feature film version of the story (1994's Wyatt Earp), while Jarre teamed up with Kurt Russell. This rivalry resulted in Costner dissuading studios from picking up Jarre and Russell's pitch.
The project finally ended up at Disney, a studio Russell had been trying to avoid over casting conflicts (they didn't like the idea of Willem Dafoe playing Doc Holliday). The company's requirements were met for the sake of moving forward, but there were more troubles to be had.

Jarre's screenplay was apparently too long, giving subplots and wide arcs to virtually every on-screen character. He and Russell had disagreements over shortening the script, and Jarre was later fired as director. Desperate to find someone to helm the picture, Russell was given the suggestion to hire George P. Cosmatos by friend Sylvester Stallone. Stallone had worked with Cosmatos on Rambo: First Blood Part II, a film that Stallone himself actually directed while allowing Cosmatos to act as the front man. Russell decided to do the same thing with Tombstone. After cutting away most of the subplots (including much of his own character's), Russell mapped out the production schedule and met with Cosmatos every evening to discuss the next day's scenes. Even after trimming so much of the screenplay, the film still clocked in at three hours, and it was later cut down to two without Russell's involvement. This is the version of Tombstone audiences came to know until 2002, when six additional minutes were added for the film's Vista Series DVD release.

Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) tries to shake off his infatuation with Josephine by devoting more time to his wife, Mattie (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), who senses something is amiss.

The film concerns itself with the arrival of the Earp brothers at Tombstone, Arizona in 1879. Wyatt (Kurt Russell), the middle sibling of the three, is a retired law officer whose reputation of cleaning out towns precedes him. He, his older brother Virgil (Sam Elliot), and younger brother Morgan (Bill Paxton) simply want to settle down with their wives and start families, but a group of outlaws known as the Cowboys make that rather difficult. When the gang, led by "Curly Bill" Brocious (Powers Boothe), is able to get away with harassing townspeople and causing general mayhem, the Earp brothers are forced to step up and take the law into their own hands. They're joined by Wyatt's cheeky gambling friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), who has a particular bone to pick with Cowboy gunslinger Johnny Ringo (The Terminator's Michael Biehn).

With all the drama that took place behind the scenes, one expects Tombstone to be a scattered mess. Surprisingly, it turns out to be a tight, engaging, and well-constructed film. This is due to two major factors: the screenplay and the actors. Kevin Jarre's initial script may have been too long, but that doesn't stop the surviving material from being effective. The dialogue is full of quotable one-liners and moments of unexpected eloquence. Even with so many character arcs cut, there are enough left in to make sure each of the core characters is individually defined. There is a clear heroes vs. villains theme going on, but the colors aren't so black and white. The heroes are shown as capable of making mistakes while the villains actually react to events as people and not as plot devices. It's just as well considering this film is based on true events. Without being overtly familiar with those, it doesn't seem right to comment on historical accuracy, but as pure drama, the screenplay works.

As for the performances, the actors bring about a good deal of charisma to their roles without coming across as phony. The two standouts just so happen to be the top-billed stars: Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. As Earp, Russell approaches the character as a living human being. When playing an historical figure, there's always the temptation to revel in the iconography and become a caricature. Instead, Russell ensures Earp thinks and acts like any other man, carefully avoiding making him out to be greater than he is. Kilmer's turn as Holliday has become an audience favorite for good reason; he steals every scene in which he appears. There's a very fine line that Kilmer walks as his character is the one easiest to turn into something broad. Thankfully, he never mishandles the balancing act, effortlessly making Holliday memorable and layered.

Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) and his gal ("Big Nose") Kate (Joanna Pacula) are amused by the growing frustration of Ike Clanton (Stephen Lang, far right) in his poker game with Morgan (Bill Paxton) and Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell).

It's pretty remarkable how well the story flows with nearly an hour left on the cutting room floor. There's no choppiness or abruptness going from scene to scene. The only evidence of excess editing happens to lie in the closest thing to a weakness the film has: there are too many characters who serve no purpose. The Earp brothers, Doc Holliday, Curly Bill, and Johnny Ringo are the primary focus of the tale, and rightfully so. Virtually every other character in the story is given a proper introduction,
but becomes less and less involved with the story until finally just disappearing without closure. These supporting characters obviously must have had individual arcs in the missing hour, even after Russell cut so much out of the screenplay to begin with. A fully extended version would make the talent used for these parts feel less wasted.

Other than that, there's little else about Tombstone to criticize. It's an involving tale told intelligently and convincingly. It avoids many Western clichιs, and when it doesn't, it treads the familiar ground so sincerely as to stay fresh. The movie doesn't feel as bloated as other entries in the genre, yet it also doesn't feel like the rushed, slap-dash affair one would suspect from hearing of the production woes. As it stands, Tombstone shows genuine heart and sophistication, becoming not only one of the stronger products of its genre, but also something accessible enough for all audiences to enjoy.

Buy Tombstone on Blu-ray from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD in Original 1-Disc Theatrical Cut
and 2-Disc Vista Series Director's Cut

VIDEO and AUDIO

Tombstone comes to Blu-ray in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There has been some controversy over the transfer of this disc in comparison to previous home video releases. The general consensus seems to be that the transfer is too dark. Having never seen the film before reviewing this disc, it's hard to determine how accurate the new look is. Daytime scenes seem fine, but the night shots do seem to lose some detail. While the sharpness generally is quite good, certain odd shots come across as uncharacteristically soft, almost as if they were spliced from a duplicate print. A healthy level of grain is present throughout, and outside of the curious night scenes, colors seem appropriately natural. Taken on its own with no other frame of reference, the transfer pleases, though it is not without some shortcomings.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track comes across more favorably. The dozens of gunshots spread through the track are involving in their surround usage and clarity. Other sound effects also demonstrate impressive fidelity, particularly the ones of horses galloping and a sequence involving thunder. Speech is clear outside of a few rare instances where the score somewhat drowns it out. Other than those portions, the music compliments the other elements while still retaining its richness. This is a very strong track.

Armorer Thell Reed reveals some of the intricate prop details the audience won't even notice in "Making an Authentic Western", part of the Blu-ray's stretched main featurette. Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell, and Bill Paxton film the picture's big action set piece: "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Tombstone was previously released as part of Disney's short-lived Vista Series DVD line back in 2002. All of this disc's standard-definition features come from that edition, starting with "The Making of Tombstone" (27:18). This three-part featurette is comprised completely of interviews from the time of production. The first segment, "An Ensemble Cast", allows each of the main actors to reflect on their characters and compare this film's interpretations to the real-life personas. The middle portion, "Making an Authentic Western", showcases the accuracy and attention to detail in costumes, props, and sets.
Finally, "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" takes a look at both the actual event and the staging of it for this production. Overall, the three segments provide some nice notes and behind-the-scenes footage, though the obvious EPK source prevents them from delving too deeply. In a bizarre mastering error, all three segments, originally produced in 4:3, have been stretched to 16:9.

"Director's Original Storyboards" (4:00) takes a look at Kurt Russell's George P. Cosmatos' storyboards for the O.K. Corral scene. These are set to the movie's score, but without dialogue or sound effects. It's interesting to compare the staging here to the final product, even if the full screen presentation doesn't allow for that directly.

The supplements wrap up with Tombstone's teaser trailer (1:26), theatrical trailer (2:34), and seven TV spots (0:30 each). The increasingly rare nature of trailers, let alone TV spots, makes these valuable inclusions.

The Director’s Original Storyboards show the initial sketches foreseeing the iconic sequence at the O.K. Corral. The bustling city of Tombstone, Arizona is displayed in an antiquated filter on the Blu-ray disc's main menu.

Several features from the Vista Series DVD fail to show up here. That edition featured a so-called director's cut that added 6 minutes to the running time and was accompanied by a Cosmatos audio commentary. There was also an interactive timeline revealing the characters' lives before the events of the film, an article from the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper that first reported the O.K. Corral incident, a "Faro at the Oriental" DVD-ROM card game, and two physical goodies: a booklet of production notes and a collectible map drawn out by Wyatt Earp himself.

It's hard to understand why the extended version and other supplements weren't carried over. This Blu-ray also seems like a major missed opportunity.
This would've been a fine time to assemble Russell's original three-hour version, create a new documentary detailing the troubled production, and include a commentary by Russell himself. It's possible that Disney has a double dip planned, but given their general aversion to catalogue titles (and given that this release is treated a bit better than the concurrent Armageddon), that seems like a pipe dream. One can only hope that someday Russell will have the chance to carry out his vision and provide the full, true story of just what went on behind-the-scenes.

The disc opens with trailers for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, When in Rome, and Blu-ray Disc. All of these can be found on the Sneak Peeks menu along with a trailer for Surrogates.

The main menu shows a montage of establishing shots redone with a flickering sepia filter that gives it an antiquated look. If one accesses it as a pop-up menu, the montage is replaced with a still image of the four leads as seen on the cover, also done in sepia tone here. The selections open from left to right, but the easy-to-miss arrow key in the "Trailers and TV Spots" box makes it seem as though there's only one TV spot included at first rather than seven. The loading icon features an ace of spades playing card spinning around.

The disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with Buena Vista's usual sidesnaps. An overused pamphlet for Blu-ray is included inside.

Wyatt Earp and his followers ride off into the sunset, fighting for justice wherever they go.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The story behind Tombstone is just as fascinating as the film itself, and it's a shame this release doesn't try to properly document what exactly happened. Perhaps one day fans will see the full three-hour cut, but for now, only the theatrical version can be enjoyed in high-definition. Why Disney at least didn't port over the six-minute-longer front man's director's cut along with its commentary and other supplements is anyone's guess. At least the disc provides satisfactory (though flawed) video and impressive audio. Those who own the Vista Series DVD will certainly want to hold onto it and perhaps rent this one to see if the new color timing is to their liking. For everyone else, whether fans of Westerns or not, this film earns a recommendation despite the disc's shortcomings.

More on the Blu-ray / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy 1-Disc DVD / Buy 2-Disc Vista Series DVD

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Reviewed April 26, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1993 Hollywood Pictures and 2010 Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.