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Former U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp's plan for peace, quiet and prosperity misfires when he, his brothers and the outrageous rogue Doc Holliday encounter that ruthless band of outlaws, the Cowboys.
For more about Tombstone and the Tombstone Blu-ray release, see Tombstone Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 20, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe
Narrator: Robert Mitchum
Director: George P. Cosmatos
» See full cast & crew
Tombstone Blu-ray Review
Here's hoping this release isn't the last charge of Wyatt Earp and his Immortals...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 20, 2010
Some fifteen years after its initial release, fascinating revelations began to emerge that actor Kurt Russell, not the late George P. Cosmatos, had directed Tombstone. These reports have recently gained even more traction as the film, slowly but steadily closing in on its twentieth anniversary, makes its much-anticipated Blu-ray debut. But the arresting story behind Tombstone's parentage, as well as subsequent accounts of its troubled production and release, shouldn't distract anyone from the tightly tuned, action-packed Western that first charged theaters in 1993. Blessed with a masterclass cast and several outstanding performances, a smartly penned script by Glory's Kevin Jarre, and a slew of pulse-pounding gunfights, Russell's film is, without a doubt, an electrifying introduction to one of the most iconic figures in American history. Though it doesn't dig as deeply as new classics like The Assassination of Jesse James or withstand close critical scrutiny as well as Oscar-winners like Unforgiven, it excels on its own terms. It also isn't beyond reproach. It's simply an entertaining, character-driven actioner both serious cinephiles and casual filmfans can enjoy.
After retiring his guns and turning in his badge, legendary Dodge City lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) decides to live out his days in Tombstone, Arizona. Moving to the silver-mine boomtown with his brothers, Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), Wyatt soon finds work as a dealer at a local saloon, begins providing for his wife, an opium-addicted shrew named Mattie Blaylock (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), and eventually accumulates a small but respectable fortune. He even has the opportunity to reunite with an old friend: educated criminal, notorious gambler, and lightning-fast quick-draw, Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer, delivering one of the genre's most indelible, scene-chewing performances). Soon enough though, life in Tombstone begins to unravel. The arrival of a free-spirited actress named Josephine (Dana Delany) spells trouble for Wyatt's marriage, a ruthless gang of outlaws and thieves called the Cowboys descend on Tombstone, and Virgil and Morgan, despite Wyatt's desperate pleas, agree to police the town. But when the Cowboys' ruthless leader, Curly Bill (Powers Boothe), and his unhinged right-hand man, Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), make their fight with the Earps personal, Wyatt has to choose between peaceful ambivalence and bloody duty, true love and the law, and life and loyalty.
Be careful: drift too far from Tombstone's performances and you'll start to see its seams. Counting gunshots during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral only leads to heartache, lingering on Wyatt and Josephine's innuendo-laced dialogue induces laughter, and focusing on the film's more eager character actors results in disappointment (don't get me started on Jason Priestley and Thomas Haden Church). Thankfully, such irritants are few and far between. Russell is nothing short of a commanding force of nature, Elliott is wonderfully noble and tragically torn, Delany is sharp and affecting, Boothe is wild and unpredictable, Biehn is deliciously insane, Paxton is naive and endearing, and the vast majority of Russell's smartly cast supporting players -- Michael Rooker, Stephen Lang, Charlton Heston, Jon Tenney, Paula Malcomson, Harry Carey Jr, Billy Bob Thorton, Terry O'Quinn, and countless other familiar faces -- contribute just as much to the dust-swept tapestry as their A-list brethren. And Kilmer? Kilmer capitalizes on every line, expression, and scene Holliday is given. His sly, silk-tongued drawl is hypnotic, his sardonic wit is as vicious as it is disarming; his tapered, self-amused smile is that of a master strategist, his apathetic gestures merely a ruse meant to hide the killer within. He not only creates one of the most unforgettable cinematic devils, he manages to make Holliday's friendship with Wyatt a moving and believable relationship. Together, he and Russell ignite the screen and obliterate anything and everything Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid would offer audiences a year later in Wyatt Earp.
But even Kilmer's performance would have faded into the night were it not for Jarre's screenplay. Having parted ways with Costner after the two couldn't agree on the tone and focus of a single Earp epic, Jarre trimmed any unnecessary excess from Wyatt's life, jettisoned any lengthy origin tales, and honed in on the Dodge City lawman's most riveting stand. More importantly, he granted the Earps formidable villains and dear allies, rejecting Costner's strict adherence to historical accuracy in favor of telling a more refined, more accessible story. With less baggage to carry, Tombstone is more nimble and agile than Wyatt Earp; with less subplots to lug about, it's more streamlined and digestible; with fewer characters to explore, it makes a clearer statement and shoulders a less cumbersome narrative. By the same token, Jarre's screenplay would amount to little were it not for Russell's talents behind the camera. His plotting and pacing are spot on, and his ability to elicit such utter magic from his co-stars is remarkable. The cast commits to every scene with the veracity of a blood-oath brotherhood; a quality that typically only exists in a film helmed by a steady hand and inspiring director. While Russell has remained fairly secretive about the extent of his role, I can only imagine what he brought to the table. Is Tombstone perfect? Not quite. But between its jaw-dropping performances, slick screenplay, and absorbing story, I have a feeling it will continue to welcome modern filmfans into its fold.
Tombstone Blu-ray, Video Quality
As a longtime fan of the film, this inconsistent, increasingly problematic 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer left me confused and disappointed. Overcast with a strange breed of shadow, the image is darker and more brooding than it's ever been before, often to the detriment of background and foreground details, nighttime sequences, and low-lit interiors (of which there are many). At first, I thought Cosmatos' stark, sun-bathed locales and the actors' wide-brimmed hats were working in tandem to play a trick on my eyes, but it didn't take long to realize that wasn't the case at all. Though contrast remains quite strong throughout, it continually overwhelms and hampers William A. Fraker's sunburnt Arizona palette. Skintones are frequently either debuffed or oversaturated, black levels are hampered by debilitating crush, and textures are often muddied by the murky results (not to mention the intermittent smearing that appears from time to time). Worse, while the Blu-ray edition handily bests its DVD counterparts in terms of color vibrancy and general clarity, the DVD features more revealing delineation. It's a shame too. For every poorly defined saloon and waxy face, an exceedingly crisp closeup or refined burst of grain hints at how amazing the presentation could have been had the film received a complete restoration. Unfortunately, these showcase scenes tend to contribute to the erratic tenor of the presentation. Other complaints? Edge enhancement produces slight (on some occasions, severe) ringing and aliasing, wavering and flickering make a few negligible appearances, and source noise surges in a handful of shots.
That's not to say Disney's transfer isn't without merit -- primaries are bold and stable, fine detail is quite impressive at times, some shots are downright gorgeous, artifacting and other anomalies are kept to a bare minimum, and the presentation still offers DVD owners a notable upgrade overall -- but it doesn't quite do the whole of the film justice. Hopefully, the studio will revisit Tombstone in the near future and give it the high-dollar overhaul it deserves. For now, fans will have to settle for a decent presentation and focus on enjoying one of their favorite films in high definition.
Tombstone Blu-ray, Audio Quality
From the moment a dusty gunslinger fires his pistol at the screen and Bruce Broughton's score announces the sudden arrival of Curly Bill's dastardly Cowboys, Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track makes its presence known. The thunder of charging horses, the roar of a shotgun, and the hearty kik-cak of a six-shooter follow close behind, carefully preparing the way for the gunfight behind the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp's rage-fueled vendetta, and Doc Holliday's climactic duel. Through it all, LFE output is brazen and aggressive -- lending every shootout and hoof-fall weight and heft -- and rear speaker activity is fierce and involving. Moreover, dialogue remains clear and intelligible, prioritization is nearly impeccable (more on that in a bit), and directionality is thoroughly convincing. Listen to the heart-wrenched gravel in Russell's voice when he cries "hell's comin' with me!" The wet crack of a cowboy's broken nose and the syrupy splash of his blood. The triumphant horns and mounting drums that seem to propel Earp and his immortals into history. Dynamics, channel pans, separation... it's all exactly as it should be, and injects some much-needed value into the release. If anything, several lines are lost beneath the chaotic storm, and still others suffer from somewhat shrill ADR work. Even so, each instance is attributable to the original audio elements and rarely detracts from the quality of the track. All in all, those who've been eagerly anticipating Tombstone's Blu-ray debut will be most pleased.
Tombstone Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In 2002, Disney granted Tombstone a 2-disc Vista Series release that included a solid selection of special features. The Blu-ray edition retains some of this previous release's content... minus a George P. Cosmatos commentary, an interactive timeline, and a historical account of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Why some content is missing, particularly Cosmatos' commentary, is a mystery, but its absence certainly takes a toll. All that remains is a decent 3-part "Making of Tombstone" documentary (SD, 27 minutes), a glimpse at the director's "Original Storyboards" (SD, 4 minutes), two trailers (SD, 4 minutes), and seven TV spots (SD, 3 minutes).
Tombstone Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Tombstone may not be a perfect film -- several stilted mishaps hinder its stride -- but its intense action, character-driven story, stunning second and third acts, and unforgettable performances solidify this fan-favorite Western's standing as an early '90s classic. Sadly, Disney's Blu-ray edition stumbles out of the gate with an underwhelming video transfer and a lackluster supplemental package (one that's missing a number of special features). While a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio track salvages the release, it fails to take the sting out of the disc's lesser qualities. Ah well. I doubt this will be the last we see of Tombstone. Hopefully, the studio will grant the film the full restoration it deserves the next time around.
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