Tombstone Review

Tombstone comes dangerously close to losing every ounce of credibility it’s built. In the midst of a shoot-out, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) chooses to stand up, march forward, and shoot everybody in sight, all while screaming “No!” to everyone he shoots. Never mind that Earp is completely surrounded, his allies are cowering in fear, and seconds ago all of the villains of the Cowboys gang were barely missing their targets.

He spins around with precision accuracy, nailing anyone who dares fire a bullet that whizzes by him. It’s not like Earp is running either. He’s sludging through a few feet of water, barely even stationary.

It’s completely out of place, this after the film recreates the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral in dramatic, frenzied fashion. A few montages provide a glimpse of Earp past his initial unwillingness to exit retirement, aggressively phasing out anyone associated with the sadistic gang.

For it’s flurry of action-oriented spurts, Tombstone is a character-driven film, providing a fictional account of Earp tired of his life as a lawman, trying to settle down in a small, growing town of Tombstone. He’s seeking a fresh start, settling in with his brothers, his opium-addicted wife, and a new business plan. He wants things clean, even with a sometimes shady Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) close behind.

Tombstone doesn’t end where it’s expected. Yes, the Cowboy gang is dismantled, but the film continues. It works on its relationships, builds them as far as they will go. It concludes the character arcs where they need to be for the necessity of this story. Surely the temptation must have been to finish on a lavish shoot-out, certainly the standard and the expectation, but this somber ending is far better suited to the material.

Besides, one more cry of “No!” from Kurt Russell and no one would have remembered this movie for much other than camp.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

The kicker of this Blu-ray debut from Disney is that the close-ups are simply mesmerizing. Actually, beyond their consistency, they shift into a realm of absolute perfection. The level of texture on display is truly spectacular, and director George P. Cosmatos (or Kurt Russell himself in some circles) keeps that camera zoomed on his actors the majority of the time. In that sense, it’s a bit bland to look at, but in terms of hi-def eye candy, it’s a showcase.

Much of the film takes place in dimly lit interiors, keeping true to the lighting of the day. The result? It hampers nothing. There are some grain spikes in low light sequences, a severe one at 32:58, while the majority hold firm. Grain is hardly a factor here, leading to a few thoughts that something is amiss. Regardless, whatever the case may be, it doesn’t hinder the high-fidelity detail. Every ripple, scar, line, pore, and bead of sweat shows through flawlessly, and the same goes for the texture of the clothing, Earp’s hat at 8:46 particularly impressive.

Early sequences are a bit bothersome, the dust and sand kicked up wreaking a bit of havoc on the encode. Chroma noise plays a role, although confined to a few shots as opposed to every scene involving a cluster of horses agitating the dirt. Of bigger concern is edge enhancement. Even in those premium close-ups, there is a slight sense a light layer of sharpening has been applied, and that is certainly revealed in those outdoor shots.

At times, the haloing is severe. Earp is surrounded by a halo at 23:58, the back of his jacket and hat generating a significant glow. Distance shots of Tombstone as the Earp brothers first arrive generate some noticeable shimmering along the roofs, and mid to long range views of the hats reveal some aliasing. In darker scenes, the severe nature of the black crush hides all of this, while keeping the lit areas generally clear… in close. Moving back, a digital look takes over, the sole scene with Billy Bob Thorton at 20:15 being a notable one for this issue. Oddly, outdoor scenes showcasing the valleys outside of the town look fine, 1:07:55 providing a view of the plains beautifully with only marginal shimmering in motion.

Colors are definitely pushing deep into warm territory, keeping flesh tones a bit unnatural even in the sun soaked open West. It’s an effect that seems helped along by the poorly calibrated blacks for some reason. On the positive side, the source is pristine, hardly a scratch, speck, or piece of dirt to take note of.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

Like the video, Tombstone’s DTS-HD track never gets kick-started. There is an aversion to activating the surrounds here, gunfire generally pushed into the stereo channels where it will stay. The only shoot-out of note is the infamous “No!” battle about 1:36:00 in, some nicely directional pings hitting branches and such.

Bass is another issue, wildly inconsistent on top of its other problems. The opening romp on the wedding has horses hitting the ground with a heavy thump, and shotguns blasting into the subwoofer with an over-eagerness that only serves to showcase a lack of clarity. The low-end is too muddy and murky to be of much use, and later doesn’t pack the same punch it did in the early going.

Dialogue lacks tightness, although it’s balanced well. Certain conversations come off flat, lacking the fidelity of what is a relatively modern sound mix. Thankfully, the score opens up quite a bit, reaching some nice peaks with firmness, and bleeding into the surrounds better than the gunfire most of the time.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Extras are sparse, a three-part making-of that runs 27-minutes long is a bit dated, but still contains worthwhile info. Storyboards of the O.K. Coral sequence are included, followed by trailers. Oddly, a George P. Cosmatos commentary from the 2-disc DVD is missing.

Extras ★★☆☆☆