Tombstone Blu-ray Review
There's been some occasionally disparaging reports regarding how Tombstone comes across in this BD makeover and, despite some quite high praise being lavished upon it as well, I have to agree that the image on this Disney/Buena Vista disc is slightly disappointing. I don't think that this is the best the film could have looked, that's for sure.
Encoded via AVC, the film's 2.35:1 image is steady, clean and almost entirely free from damage. Grain is definitely still there, though it tends to fluctuate. Compared to more recent films on the format, Tombstone naturally looks quite soft and a touch ruddy in the facial tones (which is still much better than the DVD's mixture of hues), but detail and colour presentation are both actually quite impressive. The film has a deliberately dusty/sepia “lived-in” glow to it - interiors are festooned with warm wood and the ever-present haze of smoke, the outdoors are dirty and heat-hazed - that is evocative and pervasive. This has always been part of its period charm. But the image can look quite dour and wayward in terms of contrast, as well.
To this end, the film does look a lot darker than I've seen it previously. Blacks are very deep and quite dominant at times. Those long black coats look like they have been smothered in tar. A degree of crushing may well be the case for some of the more intensely shadowed interior elements. Then again, even the scene set in the bright outdoors when Wyatt and Josephine have finished their galloping and are musing together amid the sun-dappled trees has the actress's black dress positively appearing to devour all the surrounding light that it can reach. The contrast works brilliantly during the stormy night sequence, however, when the devilish darkness is split asunder by lightning and the world suddenly turns to bright quicksilver and Sam Elliott's Virgil is thrown into sharp relief, like a negative.
Finite detail isn't in abundance, but there are many close-ups that look very, very good indeed, and it is certainly true that they contain more texture and information than ever before. But this can be inconsistent, as well. Sometimes a sun-baked face is full of crags and pores and fine whisker-separation (I can't believe I'm saying some of these things, to be honest!), yet at other times, the visage can be smooth and rather soft. Landscape shots don't have a great deal of vibrancy or vividness, but they do, however, appear with a greater sense of depth - the wooded river-sides during the later skirmish, for example. Some cloud patterns creeping in over the roof-tops seems more interesting now, as if this is the first time that I've ever noticed them, and the three-dimensionality of the town, itself, as evidenced by the frequent views up or down it, can be pleasingly profound, though not always adhered to. Colours are stronger and more robust than before, but this isn't a picture that will throb with vitality. The melted orange sunsets look just fine and suffer nothing in the way of banding. The red of Curly's shirt is a nice bright highpoint and the denim blues can look quite bold too. Blood can be sickly and dark, as it dribbles out of Doc's mouth, or nice and splashy and vivid scarlet, as when a Cowboy chews on a rifle-butt! Appropriately, and faithfully, the film looks hot.
Sadly, one thing that kept on catching my eye was the edge enhancement that tends to spring up during the brighter, daytime shots around figures and buildings out in the street. Often-times it is not there, but when it is, it can be pretty glaring. Such artificial sharpening doesn't always bother me that much, but Tombstone seemed to be suffering from some silver-neon glinting eyes that didn't look right and too many obvious halos. Some of the edge enhancement is down to the initial photography, that is for certain, but there are still plenty of incidents where I believe this image has been tinkered with. The darker/softer angle can, in large part, also be attributed to the film stock and the photography and the use of different camera for the interiors which have always lent the film a sort of flattened TV quality, so Tombstone may not be quite as digitally manipulated as you might at first think. Noise reduction did not pose a problem, you'll be pleased to know.There is some curious smearing taking place in some shots, as well. I'm sure it happens in several shots, but the one that sticks in my mind is during Wyatt's last-minute attempts to thwart his siblings from heading-on down to the OK Corral. If you look at Russell's hat and head, over on the left of the image, you can see some vague, washed-out blurring. For a second I thought it was a 19th Century-style lens flare effect!
Don't get me wrong, Tombstone has a much improved image on Blu-ray, and one that can be very rewarding, but the film betrays something of an inconsistent transfer that reveals a less than exacting restoration. The darker palette I can easily live with, but the fact that I was noticing halos became an irritation for me, and I'm not normally so aggrieved by it. Tombstone gets a strong 7 out of 10 from me.
Please note that some people have complained that the UK disc has a “stuttering” or frame-juddering effect during certain scenes. Well, my UK copy did not exhibit this at any time on my US PS3, so this could mean that it affects only certain machines, or that there has been a rogue batch of discs released.
Tombstone gets the lossless treatment and packs a potentially walloping DTS-MA HD 5.1 track. But does it have you ducking behind the fence-post, or does it fire off a few blanks?
Well, rest assured, folks, the audio pulls no punches and refuses to send any harmless warning shots over your head. It means business ... and you'd better believe that it is bringing Hell with it for the ride!
Straight away we've got terrifically deep and pounding horse-hooves coming straight at us, great directionality as some riders move past us and rear support as we hear them galloping away over on the left. Then we have some crisp and resonant spur-jangling and the solid click-clacking of bullets being loaded, chambers spinning and hammers being cocked - and this is all before the guns even start blazing with a ferocious and well-steered cacophony. Naturally, Bruce Broughton's score is insistent, deep and full-bodied throughout. A couple of moments later and we have a locomotive steaming across the frontal stage with enough rumbling to loosen the floorboards. And this is exactly how the rest of the film pans-out, too. Aye, devotees of the audio blitzkrieg will reside in hullabaloo-heaven with this presentation.
Gunshots are strong and thick and carry some nice percussive aftershock that ripples out at you across the room. Honestly, just revel in the power of these vintage barrages. The shock-wave of each blast, particularly from the shotguns, is pure audio gold. All the shoot-outs sound awesome, but the start of the battle at the river is probably the best for all-round ricochet-activity pinging around the room and bouncing off behind you, with the branches, tree-trunks and thickets twanging and cracking in detail too. You can almost smell the firepower!The thundering of horses is astoundingly vivid every time. There are many occasions after that introductory sequence when riders and the impacts they are making sweep towards you, engulf you and then roar off into the distance behind you, utterly placing you smack bang in the thick of the action. I almost felt like poor Maximus' son in Gladiator as the Praetorian Guards run him down! Dynamic, bold and ever-active, this track brings home the bacon almost continually. Ambience in the busy street, or in the saloons, the theatre and the opium den is fine and full of subtle detail, but this isn't a track that you'll love for its restraint. No sir.
Dialogue is never problematic, even with all that whiskerage hanging down over the actors' lips. Even the barnacled voice of that sage-brush-tongued veteran, Sam Elliott, comes over perfectly well. The music-hall numbers of Fabian's Theatre and the carousing and heckling and drunken gunshots from the stalls are well mixed and immersive. And the big Gothic storm that wreaks havoc over Tombstone during the infamous night of Cowboy vengeance is another big standout. Thunder roars out across the top of the soundfield and rumbles all around the set-up. Lightning spikes with total conviction and can emanate from anywhere around the environment - shuddering the soundscape every time with very convincing crackle and pop. This is a great audio sequence in a film that supplies lots of them for the lossless track to make the most of, over and over again.
Fantastic stuff that totally delivers on what you expect from a vigorous wraparound audio track ... so a well-earned 9 out of 10! Tombstone has definitely never sounded better.
Booooo!!!! Some pesky varmint has made off with some of the special features that adorned the SD edition and left this release, well, somewhat under-dressed and half-baked in the Arizona sun, when what we really could have done with was some new material. Mind you, it is fair to say that Cosmatos' commentary wasn't the best around, but it was still nice to have. Perhaps a new one with Kurt Russell would have been much more appropriate, eh?
The three-part making of is actually pretty decent, although there was obviously once much more to this on-set chronicle of what the cast brought to the film, how the production was constructed, dressed and armed, and how the fabled gunfight really went down compared to how they re-enacted it. Hearing from all the major players, especially Russell, Kilmer, Boothe and Biehn, but with some able support and down-to-earth honesty from Lang (who admits to being agog at watching the other actors around him)and Cosmatos, this may be brief (barely 27 mins with a Play All option) but seems to pack a fair amount of interesting and surprisingly frank opinion and insight into the story and the history that surrounds it, as well as the usual studio-agreed sound-bites of back-slapping and joint praise.
Following this, we get a four-minute montage of Cosmatos' storyboards for the gunfight at the OK Corral set to Bruce Broughton's score. And then this slightly truncated package is rounded-off with an assortment of theatrical and TV trailers that conspire to show snippets of scenes that aren't in this cut of the film. But, sadly, there are no deleted scenes offered and, of course, no option of the extended cut.
Whoever directed Tombstone, it remains a coveted slice of pure entertainment from start to finish. Almost effortlessly gliding above and beyond the dour, elegiac and slow-paced variation from Costner, this interpretation was aiming to please the crowd and, in no small measure, hits the target dead-on every time. Fast-paced, exhilarating and action-packed, this was an old school Western that didn't fob us off with revisionist muck-raking. It wanted to give you gunfights, horse-chases and frock-coated swagger. It wanted to make moustaches as intimidating as any six-shooter. It wanted to make you care about people who were, unequivocally, bigger and harder than you. And it wanted to spike the fun you had with its lavish spectacle and set-piece mayhem with an understanding of the darkness that even folkloric heroes must have had in order to make themselves legendary in the first place.
It is a shame that this is just the theatrical version as the additional four minutes or so of the Director's Cut actually addresses some of the narrative shortcomings and closes off a couple of the sub-plots. But be that as it may, Tombstone , even as slightly abbreviated as this, is a powerhouse of a film. The ensemble cast generate spontaneity and energy and the story is a good strong one that implies much psychological murk as well as the more fabulous and bombastic action. As far as modern Westerns go, this is up there with the best. A niggle-some transfer should you not sway you from packing this release into your saddlebags with haste. Tombstone still looks terrific and, mark my words, sounds simply awesome. We lose some valuable extras, but this is the version to walk tall with.
So, come on ... be its Huckleberry!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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