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TOMBSTONE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Robert Burke, Dana Delany, Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, Joanna Pacula, Bill Paxton, Jason Priestley, Michael Rooker, Jon Tenny, Billy Zane, Charlton Heston
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Hollywood
Features: See Review
Length: 130 Minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2010

YOU TELL THEM I’M COMING, AND HELL’S COMING WITH ME!”

Film ***1/2

If you were to ask anyone what they’re favorite western movie is, Tombstone would be a guaranteed response. Hell, I know quite a few people who list it as their favorite movie of all time. But as far as westerns go, it’s easy to see why it has garnered so much love over the years.

Westerns have been rare at the multiplexes for the past 20 years. Thanks in large part to the Oscar success achieved by Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven in 1992, some spark had indeed resurfaced. So the decision to release the most star-studded western ever conceived in the following year was definitely a smart play on behalf of the folks at Disney.

If anything, Tombstone certainly carries the look and feel of a classic western from the 40s and 50s. The only major difference is that the gunplay between the good guys and bad guys is way more intense, and the bloodshed is in huge quantities. It’s as if the visions of both John Ford and Sam Peckinpah had been blended together.

To this day, it amazes me that the movie was directed by George P. Casmatos, whose previous work included Rambo: First Blood Part II and (drum roll, please…) Cobra. If you’ve seen those two movies, and I certainly hope you have, then I’m sure you’ll agree that they don’t necessarily illustrate a director who can successfully execute a western in the classic Hollywood tradition. Or maybe I was missing some western-type themes as I watched Sylvester Stallone battle an evil biker that engaged in menacing, choreographed hammer clanging when they weren’t terrorizing people.

The year is 1879. Following his cleaning up of lawlessness in Kansas, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) arrives in Tombstone, Arizona to enjoy a more peaceful life. Meeting up with his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), Wyatt wants nothing more than to put his gun slinging days behind him and start a prosperous business for himself.

But trouble has already come to Tombstone in the form of the notorious and ever-growing gang of murderers and thieves. They are known simply as The Cowboys, identified by the red sashes they wear. It’s two leaders, Curly Bill (Powers Boothe) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), plan to establish a great deal of fear among the people and take control of the town, which has plenty of money flowing through it thanks to a recent economic boom.

At first, Wyatt doesn’t want to get mixed up in anything that would cause him to return to his former profession. He acknowledges that violence is spreading in Tombstone, but refuses to do anything about it. But after being persuaded by his two brothers, who feel that law and order need to be restored, Wyatt fights back against the vicious cowboy gang via the legendary gunfight at the O.K. corral.

This ignites a deadly war of bullets between the good and the bad. When the fight hits a little too close to home, Wyatt officially comes out of retirement and declares that every man wearing a red sash is dead on arrival. Sure enough, Wyatt and his posse unleash all kinds of hell.

I haven’t even mentioned the film’s single best ingredient, which is Val Kilmer’s riveting performance as Wyatt’s longtime friend and crime-fighting cohort, Doc Holiday. The wit and personality that Kilmer brings to this performance is nothing short of remarkable. If it weren’t for Kilmer’s mind-blowing recreation of Jim Morrison, this would easily rank as his best performance to date.

The rest of the cast shines as well. Russell brings a terrific mixture of intensity and humanity to the role of Wyatt Earp, and the supporting performances from Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton are equally strong. As the main villains, Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn both hit the right note in the menacing department, and the movie features some neat early work from the likes of Thomas Haden Church and Billy Bob Thornton.

And now for the part of the review that is bound to ignite controversy. As terrific as this movie is, I happen to be one of few people in the universe who actually prefer Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp as the overall better film (both were filmed at the same time). Call me crazy, but I found that film to be much more epic in its filmmaking and storytelling, and I found Kevin Costner to be slightly better in the role.

But Tombstone nevertheless remains a solid western in the classic tradition. Westerns are in super short supply, and we’ll be lucky if we are ever again treated to one as star-studded as this. The movie, like Wyatt Earp and his brothers, gets the job done!

Video ***1/2

Seeing this on Blu-ray was enough of a treat, but it was simply great to finally see it in an anamorphic presentation. The last time I had seen the movie, it was in a not-so-impressive, non-anamorphic presentation, which were unfortunately frequent at the time. I never caught the two disc re-issue, which did include an anamorphic picture, but I’m willing to bet that this has to be the finest quality this movie has ever been presented in. The slick-looking production really does shine in the 1080p, as the Arizona setting really glows (especially in daytime shots and sunsets). Interiors and darker scenes fare terrifically as well. Some grain still registers in the frame, but it’s not the least bit distracting. Colors are nothing short of a knockout in terms of quality.

Audio ****

Think of this Blu-ray disc as a set of bullets, and your sound system as a six shooter. That should give you an indication of the awesome sound treatment provided by the DTS HD mix. Never before has the movie sounded so epic! The magnificent music score, which carries a classic western sound to it, practically sweeps you into the movie. And when the guns are drawn, get ready for some ear shattering results…and I mean that in a good way! Dialogue delivery is perfect as can be!

Features **

Included is a three-part featurette titled “The Making of Tombstone”, a set of the Director’s Original Storyboards and Trailers and TV Spots for the film.

Summary:

There’s no doubt in my mind that many have been waiting for this movie to hit Blu-ray. Friends, it was definitely worth the wait, and the terrific picture and sound presentation make now a more better time than ever to return to Tombstone.

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