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Of all the possible genres a movie can adopt the one that has the strongest roots in American culture is the western. Over time numerous other counties have entered into the fry creating their own take of this venerable type of story, typically providing a unique spin basted on their own national perspective. During the last couple of years I’ve gotten a chance to review westerns from Japan, Indonesia, Italy and Poland. While they were interesting if for no other reason than seeing how our culture translates to other, it was good to come home to a good old fashion western made in the United States; ‘Tombstone’. The film is far from being a recent member of the genre with an initial theatrical release in 1993. The reason for this consideration is re re-release of the film on Blu-ray as part of the Disney Studio’s incentive to provide high definition versions of classics in their much lauded vault. There have been many telling of the events that took place in that infamous Arizona town, some better than the one here. This version had star power and attempted to return to some of the classic trappings of the true old school western many fans of the genre grew up watching. As with most films re-released on Blu-ray the experience is much like enjoying the film for the first time. The film is a very good combination of classic western themes and more modern methods of relating a story. This makes for an interesting approach to a well known tale but has disappointed audience members expecting a more direct remake in the old style. One factor that worked against this film’s complete success is it had big shoes to fill most notably John Sturges' 1957 definitive account of the events in his ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’. Even with its short comings this flick comes across as s rip roaring good time and Blu-ray will provide a fresh look at it.

The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, a man who has been noted for extremes in the reception of his work. He received a Golden Globe nomination for his script for the Civil War epic, ‘Glory’ and won a dreaded ‘Razzie’ for his contribution to the screenplay for ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’. As with almost any film based on true events the audience should not come to this flick expecting a history lesson. The use of ‘dramatic license is common enough of a practice but in this particular case the fundamental story has been reinterpret so often it has become a central piece of the ‘Old West’ mythology of our country. That does afford the author a bit more in the way of flexibility in that relating this story has long since become more about interpretation than facts. If you are really interested in the true story try the library or at least the History Channel. At its heart this is a timeless story of the never ending battle between good and evil with the Earp brothers representing law and order and the outlaw faction well forwarded by the infamous Clanton boys. In this movie the demarcation between good and evil is somewhat blurred; a vast departure from the fifties westerns were the color of a character’s hat, black or white, visibly displayed the persona of its wearer.

This story has achieved such a proliferation into our culture because of how it employees so many themes that underscore the human experience. One of the most basic among the ones here is how a small event that seems almost insignificant at the time came rapidly escalate into violence far beyond anyone’s expectations. In 1882 Tombstone, Arizona was like many mining towns in the American West where law and order was barely more than a theoretical concept. It was also the place that former U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) selected to spend his retirement. He arrives with his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) meeting up with old friend, gambler in residence Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer). It doesn’t take long before the Earp brothers are reluctantly pulled back into the peace keeping business after the murder of town Marshal Fred White (Harry Carey, Jr.) In order to offset the dangerously criminal activities of rouge cattlemen including "Curly Bill" Brocious (Powers Boothe) and local outlaw patriarch Ike Clanton (Stephen Lang) the Earp faction takes on the responsibility of trying to hold things together. Virgil steps up to become the new marshal and attempts to ban carrying firearms within the town limits. When this policy is openly defied by the outlaws the fuse is lit that quickly degrades leading to the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In s departure from the usual Western Wyatt is a reluctant hero; wanting to leave violence behind but unable to stand idly by and watch such lawlessness.

The Blu-ray version here is admittedly not the best of this high def series from Disney but it does stand above the previous standard DVD releases, the color palette is somewhat pushed to favor the reds and yellows amplified by the sun baked setting of the Arizona badlands. The contrast wavers from soft to harsh sometimes in the same scene. The 1080p video exhibits some grain but overall holds together nicely with an acceptable level of detail present; certain better than standard definition but not up to films that have been completely re-mastered for the upgrade or made with high def in mind. Some of the second unit shots featuring the landscape are quite remarkable. The audio is presented in an exceptionally well done DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1sound stage. Right from the start the hoof beats of the horses transcends just something to hear by reverberating throughout the room. I have never heard a major gun battle with such attention to audio details. You can differential the individual guns and hear the bullets careening through bodies and splitting walls. The bottom line here is the transfer like the film itself could have been better but this release will not disappoint.

Posted 04/24/2010

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