Review for Tombstone
The first time I saw Tombstone, I never thought that it would become one of my favourite films. Certainly I was sceptical about a Western made in the early nineties, two decades after the genre faded from significance in Hollywood, and the idea of this resurrection paled next to classics like the Spaghetti Westerns and old John Wayne movies. But now, Tombstone is just as classic a Western; an operatic and grand retelling of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the confrontation between the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone, Arizona, with more than just a hint of authenticity to the adaptation that earlier films lacked. I bought the film on VHS, which satisfied no-one, then on DVD, which had a whole host of problems, then the director’s cut DVD which again was lacking. Now I’ve bought the Blu-ray. Could they have finally got Tombstone right on home video?
The Earp brothers, having retired from the law-keeping business bring their collective spouses with them to the booming mining town of Tombstone in an effort to make their fortune. Soon after arriving, Wyatt evicts the obnoxious Billy Bob Thornton from a saloon and he and his brothers, Morgan and Virgil take a stake in the gambling activities therein. However, all is not peaceful in the town, as the law is impotent there and a criminal organisation, the Cowboys run riot in the town. Wyatt is reluctant to become involved in the town’s problems, but his elder brother, Virgil cannot stand by and let the violence continue.
After the town Marshall is killed by the leader of the Cowboys, Curly Bill, Virgil takes the position and deputises Morgan, outlawing all firearms in the town. When the Cowboys object to this, a showdown ensues and Wyatt reluctantly joins his brothers and his friend, Doc Holliday in the now legendary gunfight at the O.K Corral. Seeking revenge, the Cowboys exact a terrible vengeance on the Earps. Wyatt bows to the inevitable and picks up his guns to end the scourge of the Cowboys once and for all.
They haven’t got Tombstone right just yet if the transfer is anything to go by. Certainly the 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p presentation blows all those DVD releases out of the water, letterbox and standards converted both. The image is clear and sharp, and consistent. Detail levels are good, and the print is clean and stable. But the red part of the palette is pushed just a tad, the film suffers from significant black crush, and the minimal grain suggests the application of DNR. There is also the odd, worrying moment of softness. It looks as if it’s mastered from the same source as the DVDs, which is a shame as Tombstone is a film that really does demand a 4k restoration.
I can’t complain much about the audio though. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track is thunderous and immersive; you’d never expect that much LFE for horses’ hooves. The action comes across well, and the film’s music really drives the story with impact. The one minor complaint that I might have is that the dialogue is a tad low in the mix, but you don’t have to ride the remote control to avoid deafening the neighbours. Your other audio options are DTS 5.1 German, DD 5.1 Polish, and DD 2.0 Stereo Hungarian, with subtitles in these languages and several others.
The only excuse I have is that at the time, it was cheaper, but I got the Steelbook release of Tombstone, the easily scratched and liable to be dented Steelbook. You get just the one disc in the case, and a card ‘thingy’ wrapped around it with the blurb.
The disc autoplays trailers for The Last Song, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and a generic Blu-ray advert, and then it boots to an animated menu.
In the extras you’ll find these trailers again, along with a trailer for When in Rome. The disc holds its position in player memory after being ejected, and pausing or navigating during playback will bring up a progress bar that can’t be dismissed.
The extras are repeated from the director’s cut DVD release and are presented in SD format.
The Making of Tombstone is the three part featurette, which here runs to 27:19.
You get the Director’s Original Storyboards which runs to 4:00.
Finally there are Trailers and TV Spots.
I’ve always marked Tombstone down, because the discs just haven’t been good enough. The first DVD release was a letterboxed and overly compressed nightmare, while the director’s cut release actually had an NTSC-PAL standards conversion. Finally with the Blu-ray release, I can enjoy a film that is good enough to watch. It’s not a great HD presentation mind, with issues of its own that will annoy the devout videophiles among you, but you can forget all that and just enjoy the film, and not have to worry about being thrown out of the experience by some authoring/mastering cock-up of epic proportions. This time the only real complaint is that the film isn’t the superior director’s cut version, which fills in some narrative gaps and adds more necessary character moments.
But I do love Tombstone. It’s a great Western, with an excellent story and great characters. Val Kilmer is the definitive Doc Holliday for me, and his unlikely friendship with Wyatt Earp is developed brilliantly in the script. This is also a film where the villains add so much colour and style to the story, and it’s all topped off with some of the finest dialogue ever committed to celluloid. Every word that Holliday utters is a peach. Tombstone is now 25 years old. When I was a kid, I’d watch John Wayne Westerns that were 15 years old and considered them classics. It’s time to get off the fence and declare that Tombstone is a classic Western! It should be in the collection of every fan of that particular genre.
I tend to write this a lot these days. The film gets a Blu-ray that is certainly good enough to watch, a veritable leap ahead of the old DVD releases, but the film does deserve better than this, certainly in terms of the quality of the transfer, and certainly in terms of the extra features. After this much time, surely the definitive story of the making of Tombstone can be told. Once again, I’ll be waiting for a better release of Tombstone, but I wouldn’t want to be deprived of this Blu-ray disc while I wait.