THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayThis is how westerns were meant to be.
"Tombstone" is now available on Blu-ray.
I can't say that with my red-blooded American patriotism that I've been a fan of westerns. Perhaps it's because I saw these when I was younger. Most I've seen were on television with commercial interruptions. I did try to watch them, but I was soon bored by long stretches of dialogue and minimal action. Some had super bright key lighting that was popular in the '60s. That always made me think I was watching a '60 TV show instead of a feature. Some real old westerns had rear screen being projected behind actors as they were on horseback or riding in a stagecoach. Still others starred Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, who seemed like they were doing the westerns strictly for fun.
There have been a few that I really enjoyed. "Silverado" (1985) is a loving ode to the western genre that's fun with plenty of action. "Unforgiven" (1992) is Clint Eastwood's finest western and it still gives me chills for its intricate blend violence and redemption. "How The West Was Won" (1962) is a great film once it's seen in its Cinerama glory.
When "Tombstone" came out in 1993, from what I remember, it didn't make any waves at first. Released in the middle of Hollywood's new obsession with the saddle & sage, it just seemed like just another modern take on the western. With some of the previews featuring techno music, I thought it was just another "Young Guns."
Then the film stayed in theaters for quite awhile. People started saying what a good movie it was. Most of the theaters in my area had shown it on their smaller screens from the beginning, so I had no interest in seeing it that way. Silly me. I ended up seeing it on a Blockbuster video rental. I came out of it admiring it for its charm, its wit, its colorful characters, its excellent dialogue, its wink to the westerns of yore and its guns-a-blazin' charge into the 1990s cinema.
The film is supremely cast from the top on down. I've always liked Kirk Russell's acting, though I was never sure about him being an action star. I know, he's proven he can blast people away fellow prisoners in Manhattan and fight monsters in Chinatown. But he always seemed like such a nice guy. In "Tombstone," he is a nice guy as Wyatt Earp, yet mess with him and his family, you're history. In this role, I finally believed he could kick some butt.
Val Kilmer has frustrated me over the years. Here's a genuinely talented actor who seemed go from excellent roles to mediocre ones. Here, he's brilliant as Doc Holliday. Funny, charming and quick with a pistol or two, Kilmer's back in form. Powers Boothe & Michael Biehn, making up just a part of the superb cast of the Cowboys, are in top form. As mean as Boothe is, ya all can't help like his charm. And Biehn brings a calm, yet frightening sense of an outlaw to his role.
The film is visceral in both how it handles the subtle aspects of Jarre's script, to the brutal killings. Normally for me, if it's not handled well, romance in the middle of an action movie can stop it stone cold. That's not the case here between Wyatt and Josephine (Dana Delany). There is genuine love in their scenes. I found myself wanting them together, and I don't like romance in movies.
The relationship between the Earps is handled with ease. We like these brothers as if they're our own. Bill Paxton is always reliable as the friendly Morgan, while Sam Elliot brings a sense of foundation to the clan. We even find ourselves liking the bad guys! How often does that happen? (It's a kick to see Stephen Lang as Ike Clanton). The score is also magnificent by Bruce Broughton. It's hard charging, then subtle when it needs to be. No sappy modern love songs in the end credits, either. Everything is true to the film.
The gunfights and horse chases are done superbly. I think the gunfight at the OK Corral is well shot, directed and edited. One of my favorite scenes is watching Wyatt rough up Ike Clanton. As Clanton runs away, Earp yells, "You tell 'em I'M coming and hell's coming with me, you hear? Hell's coming with me!"
The film struggles a bit toward the end as Wyatt takes his revenge. At this point in the film, many of the great characters are already gone, so we want a payoff. But this isn't a fault as Jarre apparently simply followed the timeline of actual events. It does payoff in the end, though it seems the final narration is rushed (though read wonderfully by the late Robert Matchup). That said, it's really hard to complain about this film. It's great entertainment, period.
Now I'm hearing word that the film wasn't directed by George P. Comatose, but by Kurt Russell. I'd never heard of this until I read about it on Bill Hunt's excellent site, www.thedigitalbits.com. What a shock! Russell could've directed more films and I think he would've done an excellent job.
The Blu-ray picture, unfortunately, doesn't do William A. Fraker's beautiful cinematography the justice it deserves. The quality is very uneven. Some daytime shots come up looking underexposed and dull looking. Other shots come up looking stunning with proper lighting, color, contrast and sharpness. I believe in my heart of hearts, Fraker intended for the film to look rich and bold. The man knows how to shoot! He shot "Tombstone" with Panavision anamorphic lenses, which not only used the full frame of the 35mm negative, but they could also produce gorgeous sharp images. Disney has to consult Mr. Fraker in a restoration of his work on this film on a future Blu-ray. His work deserves it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also uneven. Maybe it's my sound processor, or my ears, but there was a relative jump in the volume during playback. This occurred for me about 45-minutes into the film. The sound still isn't as dynamic as it probably should be. It was mixed (at least it's credited as such) in Dolby Spectral Recording. This was an excellent analog soundtrack option offered by Dolby. The result could offer a rich and warm sounding, yet loud when it had to be, soundtrack. I bet you there is a better sounding mix available. It's not that the Blu-ray sounds bad, because it doesn't. It's just not as powerful as probably can be.
Although the Blu-ray is a mixed bag on the quality, and I'm gunning for more extras as probably a lot of fans might be, it's good to see the boys of "Tombstone" in hi-def.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Disney. All rights reserved.