George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone has developed a cult following since its release in 1993, largely thanks to the unforgettable performance by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. The representation of the character is seen by many as the quintessential version of the sick dentist, and with good reason -- he is nothing short of perfect. Thirteen years after its release on DVD, the film has arrived on Blu-ray, so now you can enjoy Kilmer’s performance even more, seeing every little drop of sweat on his brow. Back in the early half of the 1990s, led in large part by the critical and popular success of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, the Western genre began a mini-revival after disappearing for decades. In 1993, beating out Lawrence Kasdan’s version of the same story by sixth months, was George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone, the renowned story of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Having been covered multiple times in multiple adaptations over the previous decades, Tombstone could easily have been an example of Hollywood jumping on a craze and trying to make as much money as possible before it fizzled out, but with some incredible performances and a commitment to the larger-than-life characters, the film turned out to be a monumental success.
After years of fighting on the side of the law and maintaining order in Kansas, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and his two brothers (Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton) head to the town of Tombstone, Arizona to retire and make their fortune. Joining them is Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), and for awhile things work out -- order is restored at a local bar that, in return, gives them a 25% cut, they win land that allows them access to the town’s precious silver reserves, and they are able to enjoy their lives free from responsibility. When the town is overrun by a gang known as the cowboys led by the vicious Curly Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and people begin to die, however, the group is forced to put their badges back on and return to fighting for what’s right.
One can’t even begin to talk about this film without first praising the performance by Kilmer as the tuberculosis-stricken boozer/gambler/lawman. Never in the history of film is a man painted white as a ghost and constantly dripping cold sweat ever been more intimidating. With a pitch-perfect southern drawl, Kilmer’s Holliday is quick wit who never slows down, even when he’s coughing up blood, and a loyal friend to Earp, fighting to the end and never letting his disease slow him down. Though the real gunslinger only lived to the age of 36, Kilmer plays him as an immortal, and the audience believes that nothing as meager as a case of consumption can take him down.
Often overlooked in the shadow of Kilmer’s performance is Russell’s. From the very start of the film, he brings a weathered emotion that immediately lets you know that he is simply tired of his old life and wants to settle down. This, of course, changes later in the film when he is compelled to action, at which time Russell truly puts it into fifth gear. In the last hour of the film, where he begins his quest to clean up the town, the actor displays an intense, raw passion and simply becomes an unstoppable force.
Rather than telling fictionalized versions of true stories, the most important scenes of the film, such as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the faceoff between Earp and Curly Bill, are taken from real accounts, as unbelievable as they may be. It would have been so easy to amplify everything to make the events seem more epic, but by containing it, the film appears to respect its audience with proper history and proves that the true story is fantastic enough.
The film certainly has its problems, particularly the jammed-in relationship between Wyatt and Josephine (Dana Delany), but overall this is simply a Western tale told right. Never compromising history for entertainment and containing what is probably the best performance of Kilmer’s career, the film will always have a great following and will serve as a reminder that the Western genre didn’t die with John Ford and Sergio Leone. We are still very much in the beginning stages of older films being transferred to Blu-ray, but if you are going to update the disc, wouldn’t it be beneficial to actually put something on it? While I have no complaints about the quality of the picture -- which was excellent -- the extras presented are nearly non-existent.
A single-disc packaging with no digital copy available, the release contains a three-part documentary on the making of the film, two trailers, and nine television spots and storyboards for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. While the documentary does give a nice look behind the scenes, including interviews with all of the film’s major players, there is absolutely nothing truly interesting. I can’t speak on the video and audio quality of the DVD released back in 1997, but if it looks good this might not be worth the upgrade.
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