Blu-ray Review: Tombstone (1993)

Now Available to Own

Although George P. Cosmatos received the credit, there seems to be some major discrepancies over just who the hell directed Tombstone anyway. And while we may never know which huckleberry is responsible for which sequences – whether it's Cosmatos, screenwriter and allegedly fired first director Kevin Jarre or actor Kurt Russell – the one thing we do know is that if Tombstone is the result of a behind-the-scenes mess, then we need more behind-the-scenes messes in Hollywood because it's one terrifically entertaining blast of a movie.

Perhaps steeped a bit more in legend than fact, the film nonetheless chronicles the attempt of U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) to retire, settling down with brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) along with their wives in the growing mining town where the three hope to claim their fortunes.

Soon they reunite with Wyatt's good friend, the slippery Southern cardsharp Doc Holliday (scene stealer Val Kilmer) and the men realize that in a town overrun with a murderous gang dubbed The Cowboys who are recognizable thanks to the red sashes they wear in the Arizona heat, thoughts of settling down will have to wait until scores are settled and order is not simply restored but established.

Essentially, the Earps have no choice but to become sheriffs of the community after the elderly man who held the post previously is gunned down for no reason other than standing in the wrong place at the most unfortunate time.

In any story featuring Earp, obviously the gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a pivotal moment and it's no exception in this 1993 hit that out-performed Kevin Costner and Lawrence Kasdan's worthwhile but slower paced work Wyatt Earp in the annual battle for the box office.

But Tombstone continues on long past the Corral showdown to feature several more gun battles as the third act descends into one shootout after another complete with Great Train Robbery homage montage via plenty of "hero" shots of our leads left standing firing their weapons directly at the camera.

Yet despite the screenplay stumble and an altogether underwritten and out-of-place love story featuring a thankless role for the beautiful Dana Delany as the actress who would steal the married Wyatt's heart, Tombstone excels just the same way that classic westerns did with their instantly identifiable good guys verses bad guys paradigm, a bevy of talented actors, and the film's Most Valuable Huckleberry Val Kilmer as the irreplaceable Doc Holliday.

While the western genre is notorious for giving us the odd-man-out sidekick who is “handicapped” by a certain trait from drunkenness, old age, inexperience or physical disability and making these individuals the wittiest lines to make up for whatever it is they lack and counter the morally sound but slightly bland hero's less eccentric nature, it's truly rare for a role to be written as well and with so many gorgeously human contradictions as Kilmer's Holliday.

Unfailingly loyal yet hindered by alcohol, tuberculosis, gambling and binges on all three, as played by Kilmer, the alternately sickly and sexy Holliday runs the gamut of attributes throughout the film, consistently delivering the movie's most memorable dialogue in a drunken drawl from the deep south.

Nicely balancing out Russell's more obvious hero part by deftly and quietly stealing the entire movie away from him even faster than he can draw two guns from his hip holsters and cock the hammer back on each, Tombstone gives Kilmer his strongest role in years and likewise as the film's “huckleberry,” he elevates the work when it begins to grow repetitive in the final thirty minutes.

Beautifully transferred to Blu-ray seventeen years since it made its theatrical bow, the movie's warm desert tones and excellent usage of magic hour sunsets and naturally sunlit shots make it particularly vivid in high definition, initially delivering the goods on a sonic level as horses thunder through your living room until you at last see the sights of the old west gorgeously rendered in this new edition.

The recent release boasts directorial storyboards (or we could say storyboards from one of the three possible directors) along with extra featurettes. Thus, Tombstone -- which helped bring the genre back in the '90s in a more popular, fun way than evidenced in Clint Eastwood's methodical, contemplative Best Picture winner Unforgiven -- makes for a worthwhile upgrade for your entertainment collection that sharpens the picture and sound so that you're better able to appreciate all of the huckleberries involved.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.