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Wyatt Earp
Two-Disc Special Edition

Wyatt Earp
Warner DVD
1992 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 191 212 min. / Street Date May 18, 2004 / 26.99
Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, David Andrews, Linden Ashby, Jeff Fahey, Joanna Going, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Catherine O'Hara, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham
Cinematography Owen Roizman
Production Designer Ida Random
Art Direction Gary Wissner
Film Editor Carol Littleton
Original Music James Newton Howard
Written by Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Kevin Costner, Dan Gordon, Michael Grillo, Lawrence Kasdan, Charles Okun, Jon Slan, Jim Wilson
Directed by
Lawrence Kasdan

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

For some reason, Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado doesn't carry much of a reputation, although I find it a pleasing two hours of fun. It's unpretentious and, darn it, it likes being a western. After dramatic efforts sublime Accidental Tourist and painful Grand Canyon, Kasdan's Wyatt Earp is neither a mistake nor a triumph but par for the course. An attempt to finally wrap up the myth of the frontier lawman into a bonfide American epic takes itself all too seriously.

Warners' two-disc set already has some fans grumbling as it's the standard cut and not the extended 212 minute item. The extra footage may be here as deleted scenes but, as with Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves the converted don't want to go back to the short version.


Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner) doesn't get to go to war with his brothers, but when the rest of his family relocates to California, he begins a career in the Wild West. After a tragic first marriage, he has a rough time as a drunk and a thief, but in Dodge City becomes a ruthless marshall. Gathering his brothers around him, he moves on to Tombstone Arizona in hopes of making his fortune, but run square into the political power machine of the local ranchers.

Handsomely shot and nicely paced, Wyatt Earp seems shorter than its three hour length. The matinee hero's story is told from his teenaged years without coming off like Young Mr. Earp. The script does a good job of establishing how the tough lawman was formed and sketches a nice portrait of the growing country. Wyatt misses out on the war, becomes an adventurer for the railroad, settles down as an unpromising attorney, loses his wife, and then hits bottom as a drunken criminal. All of this keeps us fully attentive, as we're looking for the magic pill that will turn Wyatt around and make him into the folk hero we all grew up with.

The theme is family, as stated far too emphatically by pappy Gene Hackman and repeated ad infinitum throughout the show, which becomes a soured version of How Green Was My Colt .45 as the sons wander off into the world. Wyatt's dependence on family ties disguises an inability to find a stable place in a community, as his hardball law enforcement tactics alienate friends and foes alike. The Earps become a united family front in an effort to turn law enforcement into a profitable arrangement. While treating the Earps as noble heroes, Wyatt Earp shows us the ignoble truth . In return for a stable law and order environment, the Earps get a piece of the vice action in town (own brother pimps out his own wife) which includes gambling. No wonder the local ranchers with their own crooked plans decided Wyatt and Co. were in the way. Banning guns from town was just a way of saying, "This is my gang's turf and you have to go naked." I don't think the Crips would let the Bloods do that to them either.

Costner plays it low-key and sweet in the first half, winning our complete sympathy for the hard-luck husband and future marshall. But director Kasdan only knows one way of playing the genre, and he continually underscores Wyatt with emphatic hero-making shots - mostly dramatic truck-ins that shout "Noble!" and rob us of the opportunity to make up our own minds. As Wyatt's character arc moves him farther away from sincerity toward more ruthless forms of crimefighting, the stock ennobling camera moves become meaningless.

Also more than annoying are Kasdan's visual quotes from classic westerns, which come so fast and furious in the first half that I found myself writing the next scene before it happened. Repetitions of John Ford moments are so thick it isn't even funny - when Wyatt loses the girl we just know he's going to stomp away from her funeral as in The Searchers. When he gets drunk, we know he's going to burn his house down as in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There perhaps never was a reason for an homage besides laziness, and Kasdan has really gone the limit here. Wyatt gets his first marshall's job by imitating Henry Fonda's moves in My Darling Clementine. "Kate Fisher" from several other versions of the tale is now "Kate Elder," making us ask if John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson Jr. are supposed to be the sons of Dennis Quaid and Isabella Rossellini as well as The Sons of Katie Elder.

Wyatt Earp is one American hero created and kept alive by the movies. His film retellings generally start with John Ford's fantasy version of noble Earps versus scummy Clantons in My Darling Clementine, adding layers of political and psychological complexity for later revisions. The Cosmatos version Tombstone just the year before wasn't bad for a straight telling; Savant's favorite is still John Sturges' melancholy Hour of the Gun from 1967. It inverted expectations by starting with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and showing Wyatt's deterioration as an effective lawman from that point on.

Wyatt Earp places its O.K. Corral about 3/4 of the way through, properly playing some key murders afterwards, as had also been done in Tombstone. But the epic winds down in interest and only Carol Littleton's excellent pacing holds it all together. Wyatt ends up being glimpsed years later running off to the gold country with his lady fair, in a coda not unlike Heaven's Gate. It comes complete with a thudding "believe the tall tales" ending line.

Where Lawrence Kasdan excels is in his casting and dramatic direction. Unlike the slightly campy Tombstone, all the players here are more than western cut-out toys, with the chemistry among the Earp brothers and their wives especially winning. The wives are lightly sketched but have marked personalities and even gang up against Wyatt to protest his steering the "gang" towards destruction (his strongest talent). Very nicely folded into the ensemble are David Andrews, Linden Ashby, Michael Madsen and James Caviezel; the wives are Joanna Going, Catherine O'Hara, JoBeth Williams and Mare Winningham. Joanna Going is Josie Marcus, the actress who steals Wyatt away from his common-law wife Winningham. Tom Sizemore and Bill Pullman are Wyatt's allies the Mastersons; Adam Baldwin, Jeff Fahey and an unusually effective Mark Harmon are baddies of various stripes. Even when his broad strokes falter, Kasdan's individual dramatic scenes always work.

Dennis Quaid is remarkable here; he's a wonderful Doc Holliday and the role is one of his best characterizations. With his growling Southern accent he comes off as an original conception to add color to Costner's somewhat bland lead. Isabella Rosselini is almost entirely absent from this standard cut - she introduces herself and then becomes scarce. Gene Hackman gets a high billing for about six minutes' worth of effort, but he definitely launches the film on the right note, establishing a firm background for the Earp family that helps us care for them later on. We can picture dad out in California getting all the bad news from Tombstone.

Wyatt Earp earns its position as entertainment but fails at Kasdan's mission to make a western epic to stand with the classics. After all the finely-honed dramatics - a tough chore nobody bothers with in westerns anymore - he trowels on too heavy a dose of "meaningful" overkill. The self-consciously classic camera moves and droning "serious" music can't disguise the fact that he hasn't provided a reason why another version of the Earp story is needed. Maybe respect for Wyatt Earp will grow in hindsight; it certainly has qualities lacking in other attempts to revive the western genre.

Warner's two-disc set of Wyatt Earp divides the ultra-long lawman saga across two discs, a move that keeps the bit rate high and Kadsan's beautiful outdoor photography looking good. It's nice to see real open country peeking through the gaps in the town buildings; this is no backlot picture. The track also highlights a good sound job that actually lets us hear all of the dialogue, something no longer deemed essential in many ear-splitting mixes.

The extras start with an "all new" documentary that's structured like an ordinary EPK fluff piece, although I did like the bit from Dennis Quaid about losing 40 pounds to look appropriately tubercular for the role of Doc Holliday. There's an original TV promo show that tries to relate Earp to older epics that's even less substantial. But there is a lengthy string of cut scenes, perhaps what made up the extended 212 minute version, that are for the most part welcome and entertaining, especially the extra material with Earp's first wife.

The telling extra is the original trailer, a self-important and terminally solemn item that promises no fun whatsoever. That and the prohibitive running time kept Savant from seeing this one new in the theaters, where I'm sure it played well, especially the optimistic first half. So soon after Dances with Anything in Buckskin, I just wasn't up to it.

Menus, art and packaging are attractive. The side break between the discs is a bit abrupt, but Warners has always been like that. Why couldn't they manage some kind of substitute for a stately intermission in this epic-length movie?

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Wyatt Earp rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: two docus, deleted scenes, trailer
Packaging: Double plastic and paper case in card sleeve
Reviewed: May 17, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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