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review added: 1/4/02
updated: 1/5/02




Tombstone

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Tombstone: Director's Cut - Vista Series

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

THX-certified
Tombstone: Director's Cut
Vista Series - 1993 (2002) - Hollywood (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B+/B-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
134 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:08:54, in chapter 16), dual disc custom slipcase with gatefold packaging, audio commentary with director George P. Cosmatos, illustrated booklet, Tombstone map insert, sneak peek trailer for Pearl Harbor, THX-Optimizer test signals, animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), French & Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, single-sided, single-layered, The Making of Tombstone documentary (composed of 3 featurettes: An Ensemble Cast, Making an Authentic Western and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), interactive timeline of historical events, storyboards for O.K. Corral sequence, The Tombstone Epitaph (4 pages of the actual newspaper chronicling the real gunfight), theatrical trailer, teaser trailer, 7 TV spots, Easter egg (gallery of poster art and set designs), DVD-ROM material (including Faro at the Oriental game and weblinks), animated film-themed menu screens with sound & music



Tombstone

Tombstone
1993 (1997) - Hollywood (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/C+/D-

Specs and Features

130 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, teaser trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English, French & Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired) & Spanish, Closed Captioned



"You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?"

When you think of the great "guy" flicks of recent years, several titles come quickly to mind. There's Michael Mann's Heat and John Frankenheimer's Ronin. There's Luc Besson's Léon: The Professional and Ridley Scott's Gladiator. But one of my absolute favorites is a campy, Hollywood star-powered, Spaghetti Western wanna-be... George P. Cosmatos' Tombstone.

The story, which you may be surprised to learn is a very accurate depiction of the real historical events, follows ex-lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), as they attempt to start a new life and make their fortunes in the booming but lawless mining town of Tombstone, Arizona. Not long after the Brothers Earp and their wives arrive and settle in, their reputation catches up with them. Local law enforcement wants Wyatt to carry a badge and help bring order to Tombstone. And the local outlaws, the Cowboys (led by Curly Bill Brocious, gun-slinging ace Johnny Ringo and the Brothers Clanton), want to make sure he doesn't. Wyatt and his brothers do their best not to get involved, but conscience and events get the better of them, and it's not long before they're on a collision course with the Cowboys for control of Tombstone. Fortunately, that infamous gentleman killer Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer) is on their side. As Wyatt himself says, "The bad guys are less apt to get nervy with Doc on the street howitzer." Throw in Dana Delany, as a free-spirited actress who vies for Wyatt's affections, and a whole host of great cameo appearances (from Billy Bob Thornton to Charlton Heston), and you've got a barn burner from beginning to end.

For my money, Tombstone absolutely rocks. Kurt Russell was simply born to play Wyatt Earp, as he infuses the role with the perfect mixture of testosterone gusto and subtle humanity. Val Kilmer's devilishly poetic Doc Holiday is the perfect friend and foil to Russell's straight man. And the various Cowboys are played with delicious and natural menace by the likes of Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang and others. In fact, there's not a badly cast part in this film. Everyone delivers the goods. And the dialogue! Tombstone boasts some of the best period dialogue you've ever heard in a Western. Great scenes, big and small, abound here. I could spend the entire review listing the film's many "enchanted moments". But among these, Billy Bob Thornton's confrontation with Wyatt (as Wyatt "acquires" a quarter interest in the game at the Oriental) is a true gem. God, this is good stuff!

You should also know that this DVD features a new director's cut of the film, which reinstates approximately four minutes of previously deleted footage. There's an additional scene between Wyatt and Mattie (dealing with her opium addiction), an interchange between Doc and Kate (in which he leaves her to back Wyatt's effort to rout the Cowboys), a moment of Doc drunk in his hotel room and a scene in which McMasters meets with the Cowboys and is betrayed. The inclusion of each adds additional weight to later moments in the film. Plus, it's just cool to have four more minutes of this fun film.

Tombstone was one of Buena Vista's very first live-action DVD releases when the studio decided to climb aboard the format bandwagon in late 1997. As such, the disc was fine at the time, but pales by today's quality standards. The video on the disc is non-anamorphic, and exhibits all kinds of NTSC artifacts that you'd expect to see on a re-purposed laserdisc transfer. There was an abundance of edge-enhancement and compression artifacting, and the print exhibited considerable grain, dirt and scratches. The colors were good, if a little muted, but black levels were weak and left something to be desired. In terms of extras, the disc included only the film's theatrical trailer and teaser trailer.

As much as I love Tombstone, I was very much looking forward to the day when Buena Vista would revisit it on DVD with the kind of quality treatment it deserved. Thankfully, their new Vista Series Director's Cut is almost exactly what the doctor ordered. I'll get to the 'almost' part in a moment. But let's start with the video. The new anamorphic widescreen video is a vast improvement over the old disc, mastered from a digital, high-definition transfer. It's not perfect and it isn't reference quality, but if you've had to suffer with the old disc, you'll be thrilled with this. There's a hair too much edge enhancement and the print is occasionally a little soft. But it's far smoother and more natural looking, with a greater sense of depth and much deeper blacks. The colors are lush and accurate without bleed, and this print is definitely cleaner. You'll barely notice film grain and there's hardly a spec of dust or dirt to be seen. I'll wager a digital dirt removal pass was done in addition to using a newer print.

While the audio on the original DVD was about as good as you could expect of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, this new disc blows it away with not just newly re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but DTS 5.1 sound as well. Both tracks provide a nicely wide soundstage, with good dialogue imaging, solid low frequency support and adequate ambiance from the surround speakers. This film, surprisingly, isn't highly active surround-wise, even given this new mix. You'd expect the bullets to zip around your head during the O.K. Corral gunfight, but they're mostly up front. But listen to the panning during the title shot, as the Cowboys race right by you from the distance into the left rear corner of your home theater - very nice. And Bruce Broughton's thunderous score is well blended into the mix. The DTS track, as one would expect, provides a slightly greater measure of sonic clarity, along with smoother, more natural panning. It's not tremendously better, but I preferred it. Still, the Dolby Digital track delivers the goods plenty well. You're not missing much if you can't use the DTS.

The new DVD, being a two-disc set, also delivers some nice extras. To start with, you get a full-length audio commentary track by director George P. Cosmatos. The guy isn't overly charismatic, talking as he does in his appropriately gruff, heavily Italian-accented, baritone voice. But he delivers some good anecdotes about the production, his cast and the tremendous effort that was made to stay true to historical detail during the making of this film. Disc Two provides a trio of short behind-the-scenes featurettes, which total about 27 minutes in length (when you select the "play all" option). These are a bit fluffy, but manage to be surprisingly substantiative. They're filled with interviews excerpts with almost all the major cast members (even Charlton Heston, who has only a small role here), and provide a look at the real historical events the film is based upon. There's an interactive timeline of the real events, in which (when you select each date) an appropriately cheesy "old timer" voice reads the onscreen text to you. This would have been cool, except that it's isn't nearly detailed enough. And I couldn't find anything in here indicating when the actual O.K. Corral gunfight took place. That's okay, however, because one of the best extras on the second disc is a high-resolution scan of all four pages of the actual issue of The Tombstone Epitaph in which the report of the gunfight appeared. You navigate around the paper (using your remote) looking at sections of each page at a time. The scan is good enough that you can actually read the real eyewitness accounts of the gunfight. There's even testimony by the real Sheriff Behan, along with a map of the starting positions of the gunfighters when the shooting began. It's very, very cool and a nice touch.

Also on Disc Two is a video of the director's own storyboards for the gunfight scene (set to music from the film), the film's teaser and theatrical trailers complete with music by Peter Gabriel (sadly, neither is anamorphic), some seven TV spots for the film and a DVD-ROM interactive card game called Faro at the Oriental. Finally, there's an easy to find Easter egg on the second disc that allows you to access a still gallery of poster art and production design sketches. All in all, it's a decent little package of extras.

Now then... there are just a few things I don't like about this two-disc set. First of all, given that the Vista Series has taken its place as Buena Vista's elite line of DVD product, having previews for other films on DVD play automatically when you start the disc is insulting. Even if it's only Pearl Harbor, and you can skip the trailer by pressing the "menu" button on your remote, this kind of shameless marketing should NEVER appear on a Vista Series disc. Period. My second complaint is minor, but I would really have loved to see a second audio commentary, featuring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer and other cast members. Russell recently recorded one for Big Trouble in Little China, so unless scheduling or money was an issue, there's little reason one couldn't have been included. And my last complaint may be valid or not - I'm not sure. I haven't seen the laserdisc version of this film, but from what I understand, it included an extra series of outtakes from the film (with introduction by Cosmatos). If you view the trailers, there are a couple of scenes that appear to have been shot, but were not added back into this cut. These include a scene with the Cowboys gathered around a campfire and an extended version of the "fortuitous meeting" between Wyatt and Josephine (in which they actually get physical instead of just talking). Now... I don't know if these were among the outtakes on the laserdisc, but there are no outtakes at all on this DVD (unless they're hidden as a second Easter egg, and I just can't find it). If they do exist and they aren't here, that's disappointing.

All that aside, the Tombstone: Director's Cut - Vista Series is, at long last, a DVD re-release I can appreciate. No... I'll go a step further than that. I love this disc, imperfect though it is. It's easily among the favorite titles in my collection. Tombstone is a great Western and a modern classic. And now I can finally watch it in the kind of quality it deserves. If you like the film even half as much as I do, my advice is to get the new disc as soon as it becomes available. Then take that earlier DVD and run over it with your car. Now there's an enchanted moment.

1/5/02 Update: I've since heard from a number of readers who have the original Tombstone laserdisc I mentioned above. Apparently, that outtakes included on it are basically the scenes were restored into the film for this new director's cut, with one exception. There is apparently an additional scene on the laser in which Billy Breckinridge (played by Jason Priestley) kills one of the Cowboys to avenge Fabian and delivers the body to Wyatt. This hasn't been restored to the new cut and it isn't available on the DVD as an outtake or deleted scene. On the laserdisc, Cosmatos also mentions the additional footage seen in the trailers (though the full scenes aren't included there) and indicates that his original cut of the film was nearly three hours long. I'm disappointed that more of this deleted footage wasn't included separately on the DVD.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Tombstone: Director's Cut - Vista Series
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