I was in the Army at the time that Tombstone came out, and what little I remember was that this film and Wyatt Earp came out within months of each other, and I was wondering what Hollywood's fascination was with Wyatt Earp all of a sudden. As it turns out, the fan following behind Tombstone is well-founded for a couple of reasons.
First, the film was being shunned in some industry circles. Kevin Costner, who starred in and was the key figure behind Wyatt Earp, was attempting to get the film's distribution limited. Then you had the issue of the story. Written by Kevin Jarre (The Mummy), there were complaints about the length and breadth of the script, and much of it had to be trimmed. And as it turned out, the Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (Kurt Russell, Miracle) was doing a lot of shaping and molding of the story, while George Cosmatos (First Blood Part II) handled the direction. So how did all of this turn out?
Not all that bad, to be honest. Earp brings his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott, The Golden Compass) and Morgan (Bill Paxton, Apollo) to Tombstone, Arizona, where he wants the brothers to quietly live out their days and make some money with the town's silver mines. This is particularly pleasing for Wyatt, who had been a marshal for several years in Dodge City and wants to have a more peaceful life.
Things do not pan out that way though, especially when you have bloodthirsty cowboys like Curly Bill Brocious (Powers Boothe, Sin City) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn, Planet Terror) running around town, causing a ruckus. Wyatt is keenly aware of the trouble this may bring and tries to avoid it, though Virgil disagrees. Virgil thinks the town could use a steady hand of law, and becomes a lawman in Tombstone, against Wyatt's wishes.
This isn't made any easier when Ike Clanton, (Stephen Lang, Public Enemies) one of Bill's men, gets involved in a heated dispute with Virgil in Tombstone. This is the tipping point and leads to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt's stance of avoiding confrontation is finally breached, as he, his brothers, and his longtime friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) take part in the legendary battle.
From a performance perspective, many have raved about Kilmer's performance in the film, and it's not without reason, because he chews on the scenery similar to what Christoph Waltz does in Inglourious Basterds. With Kate (Joanna Pacula) at his side to serve as a capable foil, he steals much of the time he's in the film. But for me, I've come to quietly admire Russell's acting in Tombstone. His character had been through hell and back before coming to Tombstone. And now, things have changed for Wyatt. He wants to be a little more conservative, controlled. This isn't any more symbolic than in his relationships with the women in the film. Mattie (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Fletch) seems like the calm and quiet one while Josephine (Dana Delany, Desperate Housewives) is the more instinctive type. As Wyatt's drawn to that, the urge to resolve battles with guns seems to become more desirable for him, at any personal cost.
That's what makes Tombstone one to revisit for me every so often. Wyatt's conflict (not to mention the reaction of the townspeople AFTER seeing some of this behavior from him) remains some of the more impactful material in the film. There's a whole host of stars in the film I haven't even discussed whose roles and/or faces would be recognizable, but focusing on Wyatt while simultaneously marveling at the pneumonia-riddled Doc makes for compelling viewing. It sure as hell makes it better than Wyatt Earp.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Tombstone arrives in 2.35:1 widescreen and uses an AVC-encoded presentation. It has its moments of awe and wonder, but it has as many (if not more) bouts of image softness and a general lack of detail that can leave you feeling underwhelmed. Blacks crush at times and the fresh tones don't appear to be faithfully reproduced, and background detail is muddy for a film that would be prideful of its landscapes. It's certainly better looking than the old Vista Series release, but I was expecting handmade chocolate mousse, and got pudding from a box.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is excellent. For a nearly 20-year old film, it possesses the dynamic range and control of a more recent title, with directional effects smartly placed in front and rear channels, and action panning from right to left (or front to back, such is the case of the gunfights) is handled effectively. A horse-drawn wagon in full gallop, or the timbre of a shotgun gives the subwoofer a chance to show off and pick up the low-end. The dialogue tends to be inconsistent at times, but the overall volume of the soundtrack is strong and well worth the price of double-dipping.
Some, but not all of the extras from the Vista disc are included on this disc. While Cosmatos' commentary is gone, a three-part look at the making of the film is retained. "An Ensemble Cast" (12:37) features thoughts from many of the actors on the historical characters they play, and on the era in general. Kilmer and Russell spend a minute or two discussing the relationship between Doc and Wyatt. I was expecting this piece to be about how the cast was landed for the film, but oh well. "Making an Authentic Western" (7:03) examines the production and wardrobe design for the film, and includes a young Catherine Hardwicke, before she directed Twilight, as the production designer for Tombstone. Neat. "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (7:38) looks at the gun battle from both historical and cinematical perspectives, with more interviews from more cast members who are part of the fight on film. Some accompanying storyboards of the film are next (4:00), followed by two trailers and seven TV spots to round things out.
Tombstone is a safely solid Western that does see an improvement in both picture and sound when it comes to Blu-ray. What it does lack are two things in no order; the strange lack of including extras from its standard definition older brother and the lack of a truly breathtaking transfer. A note to those involved with this release: the film turns 20 in a couple years. The ball's in your court. Worth buying for the double-dip, but bet hedging may be considered.