The number of times the gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been depicted in various forms of media is certainly not a small one. The fight may be the best known showdown in the Old West, and, like so much of history, has entirely different meanings depending on who you are and how you see the world. Hitting store shelves on Blu-ray this week is one of the more recent filmic depictions of the battle, the 1993 film, Tombstone.
Directed by George P. Cosmatos (after screenwriter Kevin Jarre was removed from the director's chair), Tombstone features a large ensemble cast led by Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. The other two Earp brothers, Virgil and Morgan, are played by Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton respectively, while the Cowboys (the bad guys) are led by Powers Boothe's Curly Bill Brocious and Michael Biehn's Johnny Ringo. The impressive cast doesn't end there as Dana Delany, Thomas Haden Church, Charlton Heston, Jason Priestly, Jon Tenney, Stephen Lang, Billy Bob Thornton, Harry Carey Jr., Billy Zane, John Corbett, and Terry O'Quinn amongst others make appearances.
As the everyone involved with the film are very helpful to tell the viewer in the included behind-the-scenes featurette, one of the more impressive things about Tombstone is that while other tales of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral have the famed battle as the climax of the third act, it appears far earlier than that in this movie. It is, unquestionably, an important part, but the movie itself is much more about offering (what it considers) a realistic look at the Old West and the way life was then than it is the tale of the gunfight.
The film – which is the story of the Earps' time in Tombstone, Arizona and their battle with the evil gang known as the Cowboys – is unquestionably action oriented, but Cosmatos (or Russell, depending on which history of the making of the film you believe) manages to show great character depth and concoct a story that would work almost as well with all the action off-screen instead of on.
The Wyatt Earp we are presented with in the film isn't the out-and-out good guy that has been put onscreen in earlier endeavors. Instead, what we are given is a man who is conflicted, who is married to one woman but in love with another, who doesn't want evil to befall Tombstone but feels he's done his service, a man not above forcing one man out of a gambling business so that he can force his own way in. It is a great depiction of a well-known historical figure, and Russell carries it off perfectly.
At least as good in the film is Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Kilmer plays the tuberculosis stricken southern gentleman as a man on the edge, one who lives every day as though he has nothing to lose. While he certainly has a tendency towards the nefarious, his friendship with Earp is, perhaps, the strongest pull he exhibits in the film. Throughout the film, Holliday may look like a man on death's door, a notion only enhanced through is slow movement and speech, but his appearance belies his incredible talent with firearms. Kilmer's Holliday is a dangerous man, and great to watch on screen.
In fact, with so many great actors portraying so many interesting historical figures, the biggest disappointment in Tombstone is that it only runs for two hours and ten minutes. We are only given the roughest sketches of several characters, but that's not because they weren't thought through, it is because there was just too much to put all of it onscreen without a really long runtime, which actually may have led to an even better film.
The truly unfortunate part of how good the movie is, how much fun it is, and how realistically it seems to depict the Old West is that this particular release is certainly lackluster. The 5.1 channel DTS HD-MA soundtrack, while it makes good use of the surrounds does tend to make dialogue too low in volume relative to the effects and music (or, perhaps it is the effects and music that are too loud in relation to the sound) – listen to dialogue at a good level and the gunshots tend to sound like cannons. It is at least a clean audio track, and one can't say the same for the video. While most of the film looks good, there are several scenes in which a single shot in the scene has an inordinate amount of noise. There are several dark scenes which leave it hard to distinguish between the actors and the background, and other shots appear to have dirt or other imperfections in them. There tends to be a good level of detail in better lit scenes, but one won't be stunned by anything they see.
The supplementals that accompany the film are sparse. In addition to trailers and TV spots, there is a making-of featurette and a look at the director's original storyboards. The lack of bonus features is distressing; more bonus features than those included here have been part of previous DVD releases. Additionally, what is called the "Director's Original Storyboards" only includes the gunfight at the O.K. Corral Sequence, and the making-of featurette glosses over the history of the film's production. Throughout the entire three-part making-of piece, no mention whatsoever is made of the trouble on set and the firing of the original director. Certainly the studio wouldn't want its dirty laundry aired loudly, but to make no mention of it does call into question everything else stated in the extra.
Tombstone is a really good movie, despite any problems that may occurred on set it is a story created with love and care and features several great actors at the top of their game. It is a film which, unquestionably, deserves a better high definition treatment than it is given here.