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Blu-ray Review: Tombstone

There are many legends involving Tombstone. What's unfortunate is the behind-the-scene tales of its creation are more interesting than the rehashing of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral it presents. What started as a project between writer Kevin Jarre and actor Kevin Costner ended up with Kurt Russell starring as Wyatt Earp and, according to him, directing through George P. Cosmatos after Jarre was fired. The movie is rather average with the good elements canceling out the bad.

After retiring as lawmen, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Morgan (Bill Paxton) and Virgil (Sam Elliot) along with their wives make their way to Tombstone in the Arizona Territory to seek their fortune. The town's marshal, Fred White (Harry Carey, Jr.), is ineffective against the outlaw gang known as the Cowboys who run rampant. Although pleaded with by town leaders, the Earps refrain from getting involved and stick to Wyatt's plan of making money. That is until their hand is forced when Curly Bill (Powers Boothe) kills the marshal. Virgil takes White's job and Morgan joins him.

This leads to the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which occurred on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 26, 1881. The three Earps, joined by Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), a gambler handy with weapons and stricken with tuberculosis, attempt to enforce the town's recent no-gun ban against a group of Cowboys. Virgil and Morgan are both injured and Billy Clanton (Thomas Haden Church), Frank McLaury (Robert John Burke) and his brother Tom (John Philbin) are killed. The Cowboys exact revenge, which Wyatt returns in kind.

But it's not all fisticuffs and gunfights. For the ladies, a romance takes place. Wyatt's wife Mattie (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) is addicted to opium-based laudanum, and rather than get her any help for her condition he falls under the spell of the free-spirited Josephine (Dana Delaney).

Tombstone falters on a number of fronts. Many of the actors don't seem authentic to the time, particularly star Kurt Russell, in contrast to Sam Elliot and even Val Kilmer, whose unusual and memorable performance seems like it's from a different movie. Not much acting is required of the cast beyond reciting lines and hitting marks. The romance between Wyatt and Josephine reveals little chemistry. The most-feared villain is Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), but the viewer only knows that because we are told. Other than a scene where he twirls his guns, his character is a bore. The film is long at over two hours and should have been trimmed. The scene at the theater adds nothing to the story and should have been cut. Too many of the gun battles are filled with more bullets flying than the characters can believably escape. A big dramatic scene with Wyatt covered in his brother's blood takes place during the rainstorm but it's obvious the effect is happening in a tiny area.

There are good moments, though, that make the film endurable (at least once). The Earps are given depth to their characters, making them real human beings and not just flawless good guys. The production design is great. The sets and costumes all look authentic and well detailed. The outdoor cinematography is colorful. And there is frequent action to help propel the film along.

The video is presented with an MPEG-4 AVC encode transfer and with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The aforementioned outdoor cinematography is the best presentation of color from the orange sunsets to fields of green filled with red flowers. Indoors the look is completely different. The palette uses more dark colors and it seems natural yet low light. The depth of field is shallow, causing many items in the background to be soft and out of focus, which also diminishes the three-dimensionality of shots. Some close-ups look as if shadows are cast, caused by either transfer to Blu-ray or a filter used during production. The flesh tones are inconsistent as are the facial details. There is also fluctuation in the presentation of blacks, ranging from good separation to crush. Videophiles will likely be disappointed.

The audio better handles the HD format but has issues as well. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, there's great use of the surrounds and subwoofer during the gunfights. There is good directionality in the soundfield as bullets zing past as well as when trains cross the frame. The dialogue occasionally sounds flat, likely recorded in post, but mixes in well with the effects and Bruce Broughton's score. Even when Doc's frailty reduces his voice closer to a whisper, he can still be heard clearly.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS