"Tombstone", while not a flawless film, is still a great film. It is a film obviously done by a director who has a true love for the genre. Director George P. Cosmatos handles an absolutely all-star cast for this presentation and handles them perfectly, guiding them to performances that, while not over-the-top, are close enough to be fierce and still not "too much".
Starring Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday and Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, the film opens with Wyatt, along with Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) arriving in Tombstone, Arizona in 1879. While Wyatt says that he's "retired" and just wants to settle down into a small business, it becomes apparent that the three won't find the peace and quiet that they're looking for. They run into a band of cowboys, lead by Curly Bill Brosis (played by Powers Boothe), Johnny Ringo (played by Michael Biehn) and Ike Clanton (played by Stephen Lang), who are intent on running the area themselves.
I'll be honest, I'm not entirely familiar with the historical details and how they are portrayed here, but I personally found that the spirit of the film and the performances carried me interest over any concerns with the telling of the tale. Kurt Russell gives one of his finest performances as Earp; he's powerful, but still rather understated. It's an intense role and Russell really makes the most of it. Kilmer should have likely recieved more awards notice for his supporting role as the ill Doc Holiday; it's a subtle, but still strong performance that really has some of the best lines in the movie. The film boasts several solid supporting performances as well, from the likes of Bill Paxton, Sam Elliot and Michael Biehn. A few supporting characters are not particularly well-defined and there are a couple of performances that aren't very interesting (Dana Delaney as Wyatt's new girlfriend), but "Tombstone" is certainly a good, old-fashioned Western that entertains more often than not.
Note: I'm not quite familiar enough with the picture to point out the differences, but there seems to be a few different versions of the picture. The Internet Movie Database states that the running time of the film was 130 minutes in theaters (and on the original DVD release), but the film's laserdisc was 145 minutes. A Region 2 DVD is 124 minutes, as well. This new "director's cut" DVD is 134 minutes.
VIDEO: "Tombstone" is presented by Buena Vista in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is THX-Certified, but I still only thought the presentation to be good, not great. The film does have particularly stunning cinematography, courtesy of William Frakes. The film's images are generally well-presented, as sharpness and detail are good, but inconsistent; the bright, daylight scenes are quite solid, while some of the darker/dimly-lit interiors can look a tad murky.
Unfortunately, problems don't end at a few touches of softness. Edge enhancement is occasionally somewhat excessive, which became a bit distracting during several stretches of the picture. The other problems with the picture quality were definitely minor in comparison, as the print seemed clean (with the exception of a few specks) and pixelation was nowhere to be found.
Colors were thankfully fault-free, as they appeared well-saturated and bold, with no smearing or other problems. Flesh tones were natural, as well. While not an exceptional transfer, I still found this an enjoyable (if rather flawed) viewing experience. I haven't seen the original release for comparison.
SOUND: The original edition of "Tombstone" presented the picture in only 2.0 audio, which was certainly a dissapointment, given the fact that there's quite a bit of action that could have benefited from a full 5.1 presentation. Fans do get that here, as Buena Vista presents the film in not only Dolby Digital 5.1, but DTS 5.1, as well. Thankfully, the sound quality is consistently more pleasing than the picture quality.
While there are some short stretches where the audio appropriately stays in the front speakers, the rear speakers really are employed for a strong amount of action during the film, both subtle and not-so-subtle. While the action sequences agressively present the gunfire from around the room, there are other moments of ambience in the surrounds that adds nicely to the feeling of dimension and space. There's also a few moments where it sounds as if the horses are riding through the listening space.
Audio quality was quite good, as well. Many scenes provided strong bass, and the terrific score came through richly and crisply. Sound effects and dialogue also were presented well, sounding clear and natural. The DTS track provided a bit more detail and slightly stronger bass, but the differences were certainly minor - both the Dolby and DTS presentations are very enjoyable.
MENUS: Strong animated menus introduce both discs, with terrific "Western-themed" backgrounds and animation. Special mention has to be made regarding the disc's packaging, as well. The fold-out case is decorated with absolutely gorgeous film-themed artwork and the discs themselves have beautiful artwork. There's also an insert that describes the set's features, as well as one that's a map of Tombstone.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director George Cosmatos. The commentary track is mildly enjoyable, mainly thanks to the obvious enthusiasm that the director has for the project and for the genre in general. He does offer a good deal of information about the production of the picture, as well as what it was like to work with such a massive cast. There's a few spots of silence or very general discussion that get a bit slow, but overall, this is a solid track.
The Making Of "Tombstone": This is a documentary that's split into 3 sections: "An Ensemble Cast", "Making An Authentic Western" and "The Gunfight at the OK Corral". The three make up a total of about 27 minutes worth of material. All three cover their subjects in general, but still enjoyable fashion. I found "Making An Authentic Western" to be the most interesting of the three, as it talks about the research that production designer Catherine Hardwicke ("Vanilla Sky") did to create the look of the film.
Tombstone Timeline: A timeline of information about the real events of "Tombstone".
Trailers and TV Spots: The film's trailer and teaser are offered, as well as 7 TV spots.
Also: The storyboards for the "O.K. Corral Sequence", as well as "The Tombstone Epitaph", the town's newspaper which reported on the day's events. A DVD-ROM game is also included.
Final Thoughts: "Tombstone" is a terrifically entertaining picture, with great action, great performances and great scenery. Buena Vista has certainly created a fine re-release of the film as well. While the otherwise good picture quality does suffer from a few problems, the supplements and audio are solid and even the packaging is terrific. Highly recommended.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 87/B = (348/400 possible points)
Audio: 92/A = (364/400 possible points)
Extras: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
Menus: 95/A = (180/200 possible points)
Value: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B