“Every town has a story… Tombstone has a legend.”
When will Kevin Costner ever learn? He just doesn’t strike that hero pose. He isn’t even that good an actor unless he’s playing a G-Man type as he did in The Untouchables and JFK. In just a little while Russell Crowe is fixing to school him on the proper stature of Robin Hood. In 1993 and 1994 another Russell, this time Kurt Russell, schooled him on the iconic lawman Wyatt Earp. Tombstone was released Christmas day in 1993. Exactly 6 months later on June 24th, 1994, Kevin Costner released his epic film called Wyatt Earp. Both films must have overlapped in the production stages, and it’s likely each was aware of the other. Tombstone was actually directed by Kurt Russell and not the credited Cosmatose, and Russell decided to focus his film on a particular series of events and keep a tight action packed reign on the plot. Costner, of course, overplayed his hand and turned in an over 3 hour mess of a movie that failed in every way to capture the spirit of Wyatt Earp. And lest fans of Costner’s disaster just label me biased, let’s let the box office tape tell the tale. Tombstone raked in $57 Million while Wyatt Earp couldn’t take in half that amount. Today Tombstone is somewhat of a cult classic. Wyatt Earp is hardly ever mentioned and has been all but forgotten.
“1879. The Civil War is over, and the resulting economic explosion spurs the great migration west. Farmers, ranchers, prospectors, killers, and thieves seek their fortunes. Cattle drovers turn cow towns into armed camps, with murder rates higher than those of modern-day New York or Los Angeles. Out of this chaos comes legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, retiring his badge and gun to start a peaceful life with his family. Earp’s friend John ‘Doc’ Holiday, a southern gentleman turned gunman and gambler, also travels west, hoping the dry climate will relieve his tuberculosis. Silver is discovered in Arizona. Tombstone becomes queen of the boom towns, where the latest Paris fashions are sold from the backs of wagons. Attracted to this atmosphere of greed, over 100 exiled Texas outlaws band together to form the ruthless gang recognized by the red sashes they wear. They emerge as the earliest example of organized crime in America. They call themselves the cowboys.”
Wyatt Earp (Russell) has put his Dodge City law days behind him; at least that’s what he intends. He teams up with his brothers Virgil (Elliott) and Morgan (Paxton) and his new bride, and they head for Arizona to become businessmen. Everyone from the Tombstone Mayor (Quinn) to a few US Marshalls try and talk him into picking up his badge once again. Earp wants no part of it and intends to make money and live in peace. But Tombstone is a restless town that has been constantly bullied by the renegade Cowboys Gang. When the sheriff is gunned down, Wyatt still refuses to take up his badge. But Virgil can’t take it anymore. He and Morgan take over the town’s law. Finally, the three Earp brothers and Doc Holiday decide to disarm several of the gang members including the Claytons. It leads to the famous shootout at the OK Corral. But that’s not the end of the story. The gang is now at war with the Earps. Meanwhile, Wyatt has fallen in love with a married actress named Josie (Delany). His own wife has become an opium addict and spends all of her time taking to her bed. But there’s no time for romance. With Morgan eventually dead and Doc Holiday dying of his TB, it appears that Wyatt is destined to go head to head with the gang leader Johnny Ringo (Biehn). But Holiday isn’t quite dead yet, and there appears to be one more ride in Wyatt Earp and his Immortals.
This is a carefully-shot authentic-looking western. Those details become even more evident in high definition. You really get a beautiful sense of atmosphere with this movie, but that’s not what really makes the film. You really couldn’t have done a better job of casting this movie. The fellas here just bring every single character to life like few movies of its kind have. Kurt Russell would never have been my choice for such a role. I just could never have seen it in him. That’s why I write reviews and not cast movies, because he really was Wyatt Earp from beginning to end. He wasn’t the colorful Earp that most films presented. This was a real down-to-earth Earp that you could actually believe in. Sam Elliott’s a natural in any western he’s ever been in, from his voice to how he stands and even wears a hat. You can’t get more authentic or authoritarian than Sam Elliott. Bill Paxton is a bit reserved and doesn’t shine quite as well as the others, but seriously, how could he. Finally, you have Val Kilmer. He has a reputation for being a pain in the rear to work with, so we really never saw as much of Kilmer in the movies as we should have. It’s a shame. I still think he was the best of the movie Batman actors. He has subtlety that has always been underrated. If you don’t quite know what I mean, this is the perfect film to observe it. The four shared marvelous chemistry.
Tombstone is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. The video here is very inconsistent. There are moments where the image delivers awesome sharpness and drop- dead color. At about 14 minutes into the film there is a brilliant image of a wide-vista sunset. Underneath the colorful and magnificent sunset are the silhouettes of some horses and a wagon moving along. It only lasts a few seconds, but I never noticed it before this high definition release. The real problem here is with brightness. I suspect someone went crazy with the computer correction software. The film is too dark. It wasn’t the way it originally looked. I’ve seen this one several times, and it has never appeared so dark. That might not be so much of a problem if not for the lack of shadow detail within that darkness. It applies mostly to interior shots. Many of the exteriors actually look quite good. The gunfight at the OK Corral looks particularly good. There is also strong evidence of too much DNR work as well. When the film looks good, it looks very good. Unfortunately, that’s not all the time.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a good job, particularly during shootouts. It’s not overly aggressive, but you do get a sense of being there at times. There’s even some nice sub work. When those horses ride, your sub puts you right under their hooves. Dialog is always perfectly placed and clear. The score has some rousing moments of crystal clear dynamic sound.
The Making Of Tombstone: (27:19) The feature is in three parts that cover: An Ensemble Cast, Authentic Western, and The Gunfight At The OK Corral. The problem is that the feature is presented in a widescreen format by stretching the original full frame image. It’s a horrible mistake; at least I hope it was a mistake.
Director’s Original Storyboards
Tombstone doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. Of course, it is treated far more kindly than Costner’s film, but that’s just a natural thing. The movie brings together a dynamic cast. The shooting pays attention to the details, and it appears to be one of the more authentic modern westerns. I don’t like it quite as well as Unforgiven, but it still ranks high in my recollection. And that was reinforced with this high definition release. It’s absolutely worth the upgrade. I hear tell of a 20th anniversary release down the road. I hope it brings back the extended version we saw a while back on DVD. Of course, anything to grab a few extra bucks from the fans. “The main thing is the cowboys are good for business.”