STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
• The Making of
• An Ensemble Cast
• Making an Authentic Western
• Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
• Trailers, TV Spots
I’m still your huckleberry.
“Pardon me, but I totally forgot I was even in this movie.”
Cast: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang
Director: George P. Cosmatos (Leviathan)
Based on arguably the most famous gunfight in American history, Tombstone (loosely) follows the true story of Wyatt Earp’s run-ins with the Cowboys, a ruthless gang of criminals led by outlaw Curly Bill Brocius. Earp (Russell) reluctantly agrees to clean up Tombstone after the Cowboys terrorize the city; luckily, he’s got Doc Holliday and the rest of the Earp clan for backup. Val Kilmer’s scene-stealing Doc Holliday sets iron sights on rival gunslinger Johnny Ringo (Biehn) while Earp buffaloes Stephen Lang, seduces fancy ladies, and basically proves that he’s invincible.
The fourth Earp brother, Scraps Earp, eagerly awaits his namesake
Tombstone isn’t going for accuracy, subtlety, or grit. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a western. Wyatt Earp may have indeed buffaloed* several criminals, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral might have played out something like what happens in the movie, but Tombstone‘s a 90’s action film above all else. And it’s one of the best ’90s action films out there, thanks mostly to an incredibly entertaining cast. This may be damning with faint praise, since the ’90s weren’t a golden age for any genre, but Tombstone is still worth watching again, especially on Blu-Ray.
Kurt Russell’s genteel, smart, and occasionally furious Wyatt Earp might be the most watchable version of the character ever. The movie loves to jolt us with Earp’s unexpected outbursts of violence, and Russell’s rageface – see the last screencap for an example of this – is both hilarious and effective. He’d be the movie’s best asset if it weren’t for Val Kilmer, who plays Holliday as a witty, sopping-wet deadeye who perpetually oozes both charm and lung fluids. Whenever Kilmer’s on screen, the Tombstone universe stops and immediately begins to revolve around him. It’s as if the rest of the cast is just as mesmerized as we are.
Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott, and Michael Rooker round out the rest of Earp’s crew. They’re not quite as memorable as Earp or Holliday, but they give Russell and Kilmer lots of room to have fun with their characters. If you haven’t seen Tombstone in years or are watching it for the first time, you’ll notice that it’s an amazingly broad actor time capsule. Billy Zane, Terry O’Quinn, Charlton Heston and even frigging Jason Priestly make appearances. I’m still scratching my head over what Jason Priestly was even doing in this movie, but there you go.
Earp’s boys are easy to root for, but Tombstone‘s villains aren’t slouches, either. Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn play good-sociopath/bad-sociopath as they menace the town, and do a good enough job mirroring Russell and Kilmer. Thomas Haden Church pops up as a doomed Clanton thug alongside Stephen Lang’s underrated turn as Ike Clanton, who might even be Tombstone‘s most memorable villain. Unlike Boothe and Biehn, Lang’s character is an unpredictable coward, which means he’d be more likely to shoot you in the back than challenge you to a duel. His filthy miner’s beard almost deserves a separate credit.
It’s also a gorgeous movie, especially in 1080p. There’s a clarity and clean-ness to Tombstone‘s visual tone that makes it feel modern. This works best when characters are framed amidst Saguaro Cacti and blooming Spanish Brooms, but it has the downside of making the film a tad sterile. At any rate, everything looks good, and on Blu-Ray, you could convince someone that Tombstone just came out of theaters.
While the characters and performances are reason enough to give Tombstone a watch, the story does have a few problems. It hardly deviates from the reluctant-hero-saves-the-day template, which is doubly frustrating since the real Wyatt Earp wasn’t a reluctant hero at all. We watch as Earp slowly realizes that he needs to save the town by stepping up to the Cowboys, which builds to the iconic mid-film gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Once Wyatt Earp dons his official badge and hunts down [spoiler] Boothe’s Curly Bill, the movie loses focus. Biehn’s Ringo character isn’t nearly as powerful as either Earp or Holliday, so the third act showdown doesn’t have the impact and tension of the O.K. Corral fight. Wyatt Earp’s daredevil takedown of archnemesis Curly Bill, which has Russel basically activating some old-west cheat code and walking through a shootout while yelling “NO! NO! NO!” verges on silly. With all the liberties the film took with history, like the entirely fabricated assault on the Mexican wedding party, it’s too bad that Tombstone couldn’t find a way to sustain the peak it found at the O.K. battle.
Earp’s love interest sideplot is flimsy and obligatory. It’s hard to care about Dane Delaney’s Josephine character; she doesn’t drive the story and exists solely as a plot prize for Earp. Jason Priestly has a featured role as a member of the Cowboys’ entourage. I touched on this earlier, but his character has no clear purpose in the film.
Even with its problems, Tombstone is still a lot of fun to watch. It’s one of those movies that’s hard to tear away from when you stumble upon it while channel surfing, because it’s littered with memorable scenes and fun performances throughout. It may be a bubblegum western, but it’s a damn good one.
The transfer is terrific. Tombstone probably looks better now than when you saw it in theaters. The DTS audio track doesn’t disappoint, either.
It’s also full of various extras, including three making-of docs and a brief look at the actual Tombstone O.K. Corral battle. Fun fact: the characters in the film spend upwards of 120 shells in the O.K. Corral gunfight, but the actual fighters only used 30. The real battle lasted barely 30 seconds.
If there’s anything off about the package, it’s that Cosmatos’ commentary track included on the last DVD release doesn’t show up on the Blu-Ray. You’ll have to hunt down the DVD if you want to check it out. Other than that, it’s a fine package for a really entertaining film.
8.5 out of 10
*To thwack an opponent on the head with the butt of one’s revolver