"1879. The Civil War is over, and the resulting economic explosion spurs the great migration West. Farmers, ranchers, prospectors, killers and thieves seek their fortunes. Cattle drovers turn cow towns into armed camps, with murder rates higher than those of modern day New York or Los Angeles. Out of this chaos comes legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), retiring his badge and gun to start a peaceful life with his family. Earp's friend John, "Doc" Holliday (Val Kilmer), a Southern gentleman turned gunman and gambler also travels West, hoping the dry climate will relieve his tuberculosis. Silver is discovered in Arizona. Tombstone becomes queen of the boom towns, where the latest Paris fashions are sold from the backs of wagons. Attracted to this atmosphere of greed over one hundred exiled Texas outlaws band together to form the ruthless gang recognized by the red sashes they wear. They emerge as the earliest example of organized crime in America. They call themselves... the Cowboys."
With those words, perhaps one of the most entertaining of westerns begins, a tale of morality, justice, and revenge, with the slightest hint of romance thrown into the mix. A tale that has grown in popularity over the years, already considered a classic by many. But the leads aren't named Eastwood or Wayne, and the director wasn't Leone or Ford.
This is 'Tombstone,' a classic western, with a slightly modern feel, if ever there was one. This is a story that needs no synopsis, no recap. It's reluctant law standing up to (and eventually against) outlaws that have formed a formidable gang, outnumbering any group, or even town standing in their way.
The characters here are all terribly flawed human beings, driven by greed more than anything. Earp and his two brothers (Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton) are in search of silver lining for their pockets. "Doc" is lining his with gambling earnings. The Cowboys have some financial motives at hand, though chaos seems to be their driving force... until spite and revenge become their only drive.
I'll say this: I'm not a big Kurt Russell guy, as his voice and body language have never done much for me, but Snake doesn't become an irritation here in the legendary lead role. In fact, Russell does a great job selling Earp's inner conflict: The will to stay the hell out of conflict and avoid future involvement as a lawman. But no man could have outperformed a certain co-star of the film, the 1990's chameleon, Val Kilmer. Sure, award ceremonies all ignored him (all besides the oh-so-credible MTV Movie Awards, giving him his only nomination), but Kilmer's drunken, smarmy, duplicitous turn as second banana steals the show with every single line, and that's no exaggeration whatsoever. Kilmer's performance is just unbelievable. It's also unbelievable to look at him at him in his prime, and look at him now (It's even a shock to compare him now to how he looked just five years ago in 'Spartan!'). He'd have killed his poor horse had 'Tombstone' been filmed this year!
This film succeeds on countless levels. One, the dialogue. Find a western film more quotable than this. It's damn near impossible. Of course, there's the famous "I'm your huckleberry" line that gets uttered a few times that is just a laugh riot, but it's not alone. Discussion of turning heads into canoes, double vision requiring double pistols to hit a mark, and plenty of pissed off threatening statements can't help but draw one into the characters and their world. Sure, some slang feels a tad out of place, a bit too modern feeling, but suspension of reality isn't always a bad thing, as characters are more fleshed out through their words than their actions.
The villains are a crucial element to any tale of good versus evil, as they make the conflict that the film has to rely on, and the motley crew in 'Tombstone' is more than capable of the task. Start with the underrated Powers Boothe ('Sin City') as Curly Bill, the leader of the chaos, a calm, collected, intimidating killer, made all the more intimidating due to the fact that Boothe is the absolute master of the blank, soulless stare. Michael Biehn stands alongside him as Johnny Ringo, a psychotic second-in-command if ever there were one. And while there are numerous other villains, mostly character actors (including Michael Rooker), the other scene stealer has to be a young Thomas Haden Church ('Sideways') as the big talking Billy Clanton, one of the men destined to get his ass handed to him at a certain showdown in some Corral or another.
'Tombstone' is a film made exponentially better by the sum of its parts. Great performances, led by Kilmer and Boothe (sorry Russell...well, alright, not sorry), enjoyable characters, great dialogue, creepy, ominous, yet developed villains, and a pace that beguiles a film of its length make this one an instant classic in the genre. Is it perfect? Hardly. But it's perfectly enjoyable, entertaining, and captivating. "Justice is Coming!" Justice to the story of Wyatt Earp.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Tombstone' arrives on Blu-ray via Touchstone/Disney, housed on a Region Free (A/B/C) BD50 disc in a standard keepcase. There are a few horribly annoying trailers and menu screens (the audio is what makes them aggravating), but everything is skippable through the top menu button. A hidden feature on this release is that it will remember where you left off last time you played, and ask if you want to continue. Another hidden feature is the damn lingering timeline that stays on screen for ten seconds after you resume play after pausing.
To quote Wyatt Earp: "No. No. No. No.
Sure, said quote is out of context, but it's fitting, since the transfer for 'Tombstone' is all out of whack. The AVC MPEG-4 (1080p, 2.40:1) encode is an example of both the best and worst things that can happen to a fan favorite. When it wants to, 'Tombstone' can look like almost like a five-star transfer. There are moments with such amazing clarity and detail, with superb pop, that the shortcomings found in other scenes become that much more frustrating. Basically, when it's good, it's great, but when it's not, it's just awful.
I'm no fan of ringing, not of telephones, and certainly not of edges, but it's all over the place. It's so prominent that it deserves the first or second supporting actor slot in the credits. But it brought its own gang of cowboys with it, since one dirty nasty scoundrel can be overcome. So the nefarious aliasing, and its brutal cousin shimmering showed up first. Then, intrigued by the get together, the no-good fuzzy and soft shot gang decided to jump into the chaos. Then, captain crush and his poor delineation crew decided to make any non-exterior, non-daytime shot their victims. Brightness altering and inconsistent grain and noise levels, bastards that they are, decided to loot when they could. And then there's the worst fiend of them all, the Damned Nasty Rogue, who faces the death sentence in twelve states, making random shots look straight out of Madam Tussaud's museum.
There's no complaining about the audio on 'Tombstone,' though, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is pretty damn solid. Considering the film is approaching its 20th anniversary, well, that only makes it all the more impressive.
Dialogue doesn't move through speakers, and has the occasional muffled or hollow feeling to it, but every spoken word is clear and crisp. Every single awesome word. Rear channels get some nice (though soft) random atmosphere, and get some solid, engaging bits of movement, as horses permeate the room, as they pass by from each angle, threatening to run you down. There is a nice little bass heft that doesn't steal any attention from the rest of the film, just laying the groundwork, while volume can find itself spiking up and down to match the intensity of scenes.
Sure, it's slightly limited in sound design due to age, but a little bit goes a long way here, and this mix certainly has it where it counts.
Fans of 'Tombstone' may be disappointed with its fairly weak supplement package.
When a review doesn't even have room to mention the supporting roles by Jason Priestley, Dana Delany, and Charlton Heston, there may be something going on. Something very, very good. This western packs so much punch, particularly from a certain former-Batman, that it's impossible to ignore. Love it, but don't hate it, as us fans may take it personally.
This Blu-ray release has middling video, very good audio, but a weak assortment of extras that's sure to disappoint what with there being no new content, and the loss of a few essential items, including the extended cut of the film. 'Tombstone' has been on sale a few times, coupled with 'Armageddon' (Hey, have to find a way to sell that "film" somehow!), so keep an eye out for a great deal on this release. It's well worth it, for fans, and newcomers alike.