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Featured Blu-ray Review: Tombstone

April 25th, 2010

Tombstone - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The second catalogue title hitting Blu-ray that I'm reviewing today, Tombstone came out in 1993 and was based on a script that was originally made for Kevin Costner. After "creative differences," Costner ended his association with this film and went on to make Wyatt Earp. In the early 1990s, Kevin Costner was a much bigger box office draw than any of the stars of this movie, Wyatt Earp had a larger budget, and this movie was plagued with problems during production. Because of this, almost everyone thought Tombstone would be crushed at the box office, but that's not how it turned out. This movie earned more than twice as much at the box office despite costing less than half as much to make. Was this a fair result, or was someone robbed?

After a brief history lesson thanks to the narrator, we are shown the three Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan, reuniting in the town of Tombstone, Arizona. At the time, Tombstone was a boomtown with a thriving silver mine attracting prospectors, gamblers, and outlaws alike. Speaking of gamblers, an old friend of Wyatt, Doc Holiday, arrives in town hoping the warm, dry air would help him with his Tuberculosis. By this time, Wyatt Earp had a reputation as a legendary lawman, which put him at odds with some of the more lawless elements. When he arrived, he insisted he was retired. Unfortunately for him, history had other plans. A gang called the Cowboys, led by Curly Bill Brocious, are terrorizing the town, which is an easy target due to its wealth and isolation. Animosity is evident from the start, especially between Doc Holiday and a gunslinger from the Cowboys, Johnny Ringo. At first Wyatt just wants to remain on the sidelines, even when his brothers decide they need to become lawmen to help clean up this town.

Where this conflict goes from there is well known. After all, there are probably very few people reading this that won't recognize the name "O.K. Corral".

At the time this movie was released, Westerns were undergoing a resurgence of sorts with Unforgiven coming out the year before, while Dances With Wolves was still fresh in the minds of most moviegoers. Tombstone is not in the same league of either of those and it is not as deep as it perhaps could be. Some of the dialogue is over-the-top. Also, it is of dubious historical accuracy. Then again, it would be impossible to make a movie from that time and place that is 100% accurate, because it is nearly impossibly to separate fact from myth. (They could have at least gotten the number of bullets per gun correct.) On the other hand, the script might not be perfectly accurate, but it's accurate enough for this type of film and is certainly entertaining. The film is blessed with a number of excellent performances. Kurt Russell is amazing as Wyatt Earp, while powerhouse performances are given by Sam Eliot, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, and Michael Biehn. You can go further down the cast list praising every actor. As good as most of the cast are, this movie belongs to Val Kilmer. His Doc Holiday is nearly perfect.

It may not be Oscar-worthy like Unforgiven, but it sure is entertaining and it is still great nearly 20 years after it came out.

Looking in on the extras, we find a three-part "making of" featurette that runs a combined 27 minutes. The first part talks about the cast, which is big topic, because as it is pointed out there are more than 80 speaking parts in this movie. The second part talks about making the world as accurate as one can. The final part is all about the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. There is also a four-minute look at the original storyboards for the gunfight. That's not a lot of extras, nor are any of the extras presented in High Definition.

As for the technical specs, the video can be a little sporadic. Frequently, it has a crisp picture and detail that is great. Other times it's a little soft or too dark to see details. For a film that's nearly 20 years old and only cost $25 million to make, it's a good-looking transfer. The sound is also strong, with clear dialogue, directionality, and solid use surround speakers. That said, at $21, it's a little pricey for a catalog title.

The Verdict

Tombstone might be a guilty pleasure to some, but it sure is entertaining and Val Kilmer's performance alone gives this film enough replay value that it's worth picking up. The Blu-ray is typical shovel-ware, with nothing new in terms of extras. The technical specs are good, but not great. The price is on the high side, but for fans of the genre, it's worth it.

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