Tombstone (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Considered to be by many, one of the better Western movies made, Tombstone left an immediate lasting impression on me. I’ve not really ever been a fan of this genre, and it’s something that Hollywood has all but stopped making ever since John Wayne died some twenty five years ago. One needs to but look in the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 movies to see a few of those are indeed Western’s. Movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Stagecoach, Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch, The Searchers and High Noon are but some of the titles that have made this such a popular setting for some of our favorite movies. So in 1993, we returned to the OK Corral for the umpteenth time to tell yet another story of Wyatt Earp. This time played by Kurt Russell. As fate would have it, just a short time after this was released, Kevin Costner was working on another epic by the name of Wyatt Earp, itself the same story. While Wyatt Earp was more historically accurate, I found Tombstone to be a lot more entertaining (though I consider neither to be a “bad” movie). With the sheer star-power of the movie alone, it stands to reason why this movie was so popular. Led by Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, the movie featured more starring roles by popular “A” list actors. Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston (a must for any western movie), Jason Priestly and Dana Delany grace the screen as well and all do a top-notch job.

But I digress, enough about the history of the movie, let’s see what it’s all about. Essentially, the story hasn’t changed, just the actors. Focusing later on in his life, long after he has made a name for himself; Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) has decided to head to the mining town of Tombstone and meet up with his brothers. Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) are eagerly awaiting his arrival as they plan to make their fortune in the “Queen of the mining towns”. Naturally Wyatt is the undeclared leader of the bunch, and is almost constantly solicited for local law-enforcement jobs. But a local presence is more than a nuisance to the town and the Earp’s in general. A group of outlaws and bandits called “The Cowboys” all but run the town and the Earp’s tend to look the other way, having served their time as the long arm of the law. Led by “Curly Bill” Brocious (Powers Boothe) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), the Cowboys have their run of the town by gambling, drinking and getting away with whatever they want. Eventually this starts to nag at the brothers and before we know it, they’re all deputized and wanting to kick some ass!

I feel that I have left out the most important man in the story, though. Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is simply the scene stealer. Holliday, a dentist from the East Coast, has come out to the West to help his advanced condition of Tuberculosis. Holliday and Wyatt are lifelong friends, one doing essentially anything for the other. So it’s with these four that justice has to be served. In a somewhat all out war against the Cowboys, the movie takes off from here and never looks back. In somewhat of an annoying sub plot, Wyatt’s wife, Mattie (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) seems to have a drug problem which leads Wyatt’s eyes to wander to local actress, Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) and the affair that they have. Of course, I don’t want to give away the ending, but Tombstone is just a good, old-fashioned movie that has entertainment as the main focus. It makes it fun to watch, even if the mustaches are about the fakest thing you could imagine. Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer are wonderful (as is the rest of the cast) in a modern retelling of a timeless Western classic. I can’t recommend this release enough.

Video: How does it look?

“Tombstone” was one of the very first titles on DVD way back in 1998. It contained a non-anamorphic transfer and left a lot to be desired. And, at the time, the movie was only five years old. My how time flies. Upon its subsequent “Vista Series” release, the transfer was marred by a little too much sharpening, giving way to edge enhancement and leaving a bad taste in fans mouths. Well eight more years have passed and can we say “third time’s the charm?” This Blu-ray release has a 2.39:1 AVC HD transfer that looks like they finally got it right. The entire color palette is earthy and natural and as with most Westerns, browns prevail throughout. I made a note to really look at the edges and see if I could spot any deliberate enhancement. I really couldn’t. The transfer is smooth and sleek without any artifacting or dirt on the print in the least. Technology has improved since 1998 (and 2002) and with the sheer storage space on a Blu-ray disc, I think they finally got the transfer for “Tombstone” right. A nice effort.

Audio: How does it sound?

As is the case for most every new Blu-ray release, this has been given a new DTS HD Master Audio mix. I remember being less than satisfied with the previous DVD several years ago, but this new uncompressed mix really seems to deliver on all levels. Being a Western, there are gunshots galore and a perfect example of surround sound comes when Curly Bill (Powers Boothe) is high on Opium and is literally howling at the moon. He’s shooting in the air and the bullets whiz by from the front stage to the rear. Amazing (too bad he kills the sheriff in this scene)! Dialogue is strong and solid as well and one of the joys of the film is that we hang on every word uttered by Doc Holliday. The score is strong as well, certainly a true “Western” soundtrack if there ever was one. All in all, this is a much better mix than the previous DTS mix on the standard DVD and it’ll make watching this modern classic that much better.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I’ve seen “Tombstone” in pretty much every format available from VHS to LaserDisc to DVD and now Blu-ray and the supplements are never the same. I remember the deleted scenes on the LaserDisc. Those are gone. What we do get is what we’ve seen in the “Vista Series” release: “The Making of Tombstone” which contains three sub-featurettes – “An Ensemble Cast”, “Making an Authentic Western” and “The Gunfight at the Ok Corral”. Though these “Making of…” featurettes often seem kind of standard and monotonous, this one is actually pretty well done and deserves a look. We also get some storyboards as well as some TV spots and a couple of theatrical trailers. Gone is the audio commentary and the deleted scenes. If supplements matter to you, then hold onto your “Vista Series” DVD, but if audio and video quality matter then this one is worth picking up.

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