Tombstone [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (6th June 2010).
The Film

Over the course of Hollywood history there are been many publicized troubled productions, problems ranging from casting to directors, studio interference, giant egos getting in the way or creative difference that send ripples through production so strong the momentum is never recovered from. Some films that went through dire times managed to make through the other end and becoming classics, the likes of "Apocalypse Now" (1979) and "Blade Runner" (1982) immediately come to mind. While others (in fact a majority) end up falling incredibly short of expectations and/or languishing on the video store shelves gathering dust. Films like "Brazil" (1985, which would eventually see a director's cut on home video, redeeming the film's director and stands as a true sci-fi classic... ok so maybe not such a great example), "Alien³" (1992, again would eventually see a sort-of director's cut on DVD many years later... a slightly better example), "Cutthroat Island" (1995, which ended up bankrupting a studio... the best example) and "Town & Country" (2001, which fell to over-inflated egos) all come to mind. These troubled productions either end up classics or forgotten wastes of money, "Tombstone" which had its fair share of production problems ended up gaining an impressive box office and beating it's rival film "Wyatt Earp" (1994). The film is not really a "classic" in the truest sense of the word, however "Tombstone" delivers a engrossing and action-packed look at one of American history's most famous gun battles and the people behind it. Taking story focus on Earp's time in Tombstone, Arizona and the events leading up to the famous gunfight, the film struggled to find its voice and was on the verge of being shut down while in production.

Taking place after lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) has cleaned up the troubled Dodge City, he decides to lay down his badge and move to the town of Tombstone with his two brothers, Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) along with long time friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) in order to finally settle down and make his fortune. However the peace is short lived as Earp comes into direct conflict with a ruthless band of cowboys and leads up to the one of the bloodiest feuds of the American West's history, the gunfight at the OK Corral.

The trouble with the production started early, the film's screenwriter Kevin Jarre was originally directing the film, however he wasn't entirely suited to manage the multitude of stars and complicated sequences, fearing that the studio would shut the production down, the film's star Kurt Russell took it on himself to power through the production schedule and direct the film until an appropriate substitute. Having gone too far into the production and spend far too much money the studio quickly look for someone to step in, enter George P. Cosmatos, who came on board as the officially credited director, however Hollywood lore and many reports suggest that Russell ended up directing the majority of the film with Cosmatos basically supervising the productions to ensure it finishes on budget and on time. I can't say I blame Cosmatos for taking a back seat, after all a vast majority of the film was already in the can and he was brought in, I supposed as an insurance policy by the studio and to have some sort of name as director to avoid the embarrassment of media reports that the screenwriter and original director, the cast and the studio all couldn't play well together.

If it wasn't for Russell's vision and strength to keep moving in the face of almost certain shutdown, "Tombstone" would not exist, the resulting picture is a rousing film, with some exaggerated action and the occasional over-the-top performance, staples of the Western genre, along with the trumped up score that inspires you. As Hollywood Westerns go, "Tombstone" works relatively well, with a script that takes the most exciting aspects of the Earp's lives and condenses it into a tight film that doesn't really let up, after a nice build introducing the characters and allowing any unfamiliar audiences to get some back story. While "Wyatt Earp" took a more broad stroke offering up a look at the legend (and in many ways a far superior film to "Tombstone" in this reviewer's opinion), "Tombstone" is a narrow-vision film that packs more bang for your buck with the charismatic casting choices and gun play action that by today's action standards still looks impressive if a little been-there-done-that.

Impressively the film manages to collect an plethora of A-list actors and a host of character players that'll have you saying "holy crap its... (insert actor's name here)" over and over again, I certainly did as I forgot the film features not only the headlining stars Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer but also Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Jason Priestley, Thomas Haden Church, Dana Delany, Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, John Corbett and Terry O'Quinn. How about that for a cast? Probably one of the most impressive assemblage of actors for a film made in that decade (a list that also includes "Goodfellas" (1990), "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992), "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and "The Usual Suspects" (1995)) granted a lot of them weren't known back then, but impressive nonetheless. Noteworthy in itself is that everyone here delivers a solid performance without any weak links, no prima donnas on this set. This is arguably Kurt Russell's finest performance and stands out among other classics like "The Thing" (1982, my favorite of Russell's films). He's certainly flexing his leading man chops, and while he managed to parlay that into a semi-successful run of films in the mid to late 90's with films like "Stargate" (1994), "Executive Decision" (1996), "Escape from L.A." (1996) and "Soldier" (1998) none would garner critical praise like his turn as Earp in this film, it's a shame we haven't seen anything as good as this from Russell, while some liked "Death Proof" (2007) and his performance was fun, I was mostly bored by the film, perhaps he's past his prime.

Much like Russell, Val Kilmer is also past his prime, being relegated to a spattering of straight-to-video films among a few high-profile productions over the last decade, he has become somewhat forgettable of late. He did great work in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005) but hasn't done anything of late worth mentioning. "Tombstone" was also his finest piece of work, portraying a dying and frail Doc Holliday, Kilmer delivers the goods and creates a believable character out of the Western Legend and splashes it with some of his naturalistic wit.

There are some cheesy action moments and the occasional cliched "western movie" shots, like a montage of a posse getting things done, plenty of macho horse ridding footage as Earp and his gang clean up. There's also some weak dialogue spread among the film that makes some characters seem more like caricatures but overall "Tombstone" is a decent film with some solid performances, an intriguing story and worth watching.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. "Tombstone" has never really looked amazing on home video, the Laserdisc had it's share of problems as did the DVD incarnations of the film, often featuring a noisy transfer, edge-enhancement and looking a little soft at times. I was hoping that now we're in the HD dimension that finally the film would be given an all new restoration. While the Blu-ray offers up an improvement over the previously release DVD (the Vista Series release not the original bare-bones edition) there are still problems that hold it back. Inconsistent would be the most appropriate word to describe this image. Sharpness doesn't seem like a priority, with some shots looking sharp and beautiful especially wide vistas and grand sets, some close-ups and background detail and other times all those things suffer from softness, some hard halos and looking dark in spots where detail is lost in murkiness. The only aspects that don't suffer are the strong colors and general cleanliness of the print (there are a few specks and spots but mostly the image is clean) and there are shots that look so impressive with nice depth and detail that it makes for a noticeable upgrade to the DVD. Overall it still falls short and disappointing knowing that a much better job could have been done had the studio taken the time to properly treat this film.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. For the purposes of the review I chose to view the film with its DTS audio track. Much like the transfer the audio was rather inconsistent, not so much as the image but inconsistent nonetheless. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambient sounds are well mixed and appear natural and the score makes ample use of the surround speakers. However I felt that depth was a little limited at times and sometime the overall sound was a little on the tinny side. There were some robust and aggressive moments, primarily with the action scenes, and it was mostly immersive but there were moments that were certainly lacking in punch.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has released this film on Blu-ray with two featurettes, the film's teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, TV spots and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the 3-part "The Making of Tombstone" featurette that can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and runs for a combined 27 minutes 18 seconds:

- "An Ensemble Cast" takes a closer look at the cast and what they brought to the production. The cast comment on the characters, what drew them to the film, and a look at the real legend among other things.
- "Making an Authentic Western" takes a look at the production, and the detail that went into the making of the film from the authentic wool costumes and props among other things.
- "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" is the final clip of this 3-part making-of takes a look at the filming of the famous gunfight sequence and compares it to the actual event.

"Director's Original Storyboards" featurette runs for 4 minutes and takes a look at the storyboarding for the O.K. Corral gunfight sequence set to music, but could have used an audio commentary to take us through the intentions of the scene.

The disc also features the film's original teaser trailer which runs for 1 minute 26 seconds as well as the film's original theatrical trailer that runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.

A total of seven TV spots that collectively runs for 3 minutes 30 seconds.

Finally the disc's extras are rounded off with a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "When in Rome" which runs for 1 minute 22 seconds.
- "Surrogates" which runs for 1 minute 22 seconds.
- "Disney Blu-ray" spot which runs for 1 minute 2 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: D+ Audio: B- Extras: B Overall: C+

 


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