Blu-ray Review: Tombstone

Disney / Buena Vista | 130 mins.| 1993 | Rated R

Though Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film Unforgiven was lauded with Oscars—and rightfully so—the 1993 film, Tombstone also stands as one of the finest westerns of the decade. Yes, we’ve seen it all before in John Ford´s My Darling Clementine, in 1946, with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, but I’m not sure it’s ever been so realistically, violently and exciting as in Tombstone. Besides, when a film boasts an ensemble casts that includes the likes of Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Bill Paxton, and Charlton Heston—the film boasts a cast with 85 speaking roles—there has to be something worthwhile.

TombstoneTombstone was directed by George P. Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood: Part II), though Kurt Russell would later claim Cosmatos ghost-directed the movie for Russell. Every night, Russell would give Cosmatos a shot list for the next day, and developed a “secret sign language” on set to exert influence. Whatever the case, the director(s) and screenwriter Kevin Jarre (The Mummy) did a solid job of fictionalizing the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Russell stars as Wyatt Earp. He and his brothers, Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) ride into Tombstone looking for the pot of gold retirement that Wyatt led them to believe was there. They arrive, only to find the gambling man himself, Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer). In this slow burning shoot ‘em up, look look for an appearance by Charlton Heston as Henry Hooker, a wealthy rancher and friend of Wyatt’s and Billy Bob Thornton as a crooked faro dealer. Stephen Lang and Thomas Haden Church play the Clantons and Robert John Burke and John Philbin are the McLaurys. All of the actors play up the romantic stereotype, which serves to reinforce the legend—the “real” West that Americans have grown up with. Add the gritty realism of what life actually was like in 1881 Arizona, when a gang known as the Cowboys ran the town, and you get a real feel for the period.

With such a large cast of characters, there are several developing subplots for each. However, Jarre dis a great job of keeping the primary focus on Earp and the conflict with the cowboys. Nevertheless, the Best performance here is Kilmer’s as Doc Holiday. While providing one of the more memorable portrayals of an iconic figure, Kilmer also provides subtle moments of comic relief. Not only has Kilmer’s performance gone on to be one of most commonly quoted of the western genre, but also to be regarded as one of, if not the most compelling elements of the film.

For all of its wonderful qualities, Tombstone does have some notable imperfections. I’ve never been able to figure out the necessity of Billy Zane’s character, Mr. Fabian, and some of Kurt Russell’s dialogue is nothing short of absurd. Here’s a good one: “You skin that smoke wagon and we’ll see what happens.”

On the whole though, Tombstone is an entertaining, if not incredibly original, film. Full of solid action scenes, it manages to keep your attention for the entire 130 minute running time, while providing some solid performances.

Tombstone comes to Blu-ray with a decent but imperfect AVC/MPEG-4 transfer. Quite a few scenes seem murky, though I found nothing wrong with the level of color saturation or accuracy of flesh tones. I did notice some instances of ghosting. There´s a thin layer of film grain that accompanies many of the low-lit scenes. Overall, though, It is an improvement over its DVD counterpart, just not top quality. Tombstone is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

The soundtrack is an improvement over the video. It´s a dynamic track that zips and zings bullets with the noisy accuracy of a top gun. Bass is pleasingly resonant, while the timbre is rich and full. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, which is recorded at a higher level than usual. But even when you turn down the volume it still sounds full and flattens out a bit only when you approach whisper-mode. Sound is pushed far from the speaker sources, so it really fills the room. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.

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 leaves a big hole. 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).

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