Thursday, 5 May 2011

Tombstone (1993)

One of the worst trailers in cinema...

... And possibly one of the most entertaining scenes.

A flashy entry into the 1990's wave of Western films, Tombstone's retelling of the Gunfight at the OK Corral was fraught with production problems. The original motive power behind it was furnished by Kevin Costner and director Kevin Jarre, but a disagreement over the tone led Costner off to make his own version, released as Wyatt Earp.

Perhaps fuelled on ideas from Dances with Wolves (1990), Costner wanted a ponderous Western epic, which is most definitely what Tombstone is not. Ironically, it bears a great deal of similarity to Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Both are adventurous and romantic films that gorgeously sanitized, looking spotless and fantastic. They play loosely with history to provide sumptuous costume melodramas.

Nevertheless, Costner departed and Kurt Russell was brought in to play Wyatt Earp, followed by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, both with some reservations. Jarre was eventually disposed of when Buena Vista (Disney) got skittish about the production schedule, knowing that Costner's film was coming down the road. George P. Cosmatos replaced Jarre, co-directing with Russell and Tombstone made it into theatres six months before Wyatt Earp.

Unfortunately, one of Russell's misgivings about the script bears out for all to see. He felt that the film was about 20 pages too long, and his estimation is correct. The real climax of a film about the Earps, Clantons and McLaurys is always the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Subsequent reprisals against the Earps, Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Ride, and the passing of Doc Holliday from tuberculosis a mere six years later could be subjects of an interesting film on their own, if that film began with the Gunfight. In Tombstone, they become an extended denouement so radically different from the scenes before that it drags the movie down.

Following the Gunfight are the attempted assassination of Virgil Earp and the successful assassination attempt on Morgan. Wyatt becomes unhinged and begins his famous Vendetta Ride, indicated by a montage of riding and guns shooting and more riding and more guns shooting. The montage pauses long enough for Kurt Russell to utter the best-worst "noooooooooooooo!" in cinema history and for Doc Holliday to wrap up an unnecessary subplot with Johnny Ringo. Once that is dispensed with, we get a concluding montage of riding and shooting and riding and shooting ending at Holliday's bedside.

A director's cut of the film exists which grafts cut scenes back in, which is all find and dandy. What it needs is a deft editor to take the unnecessary fluff out. Johnny Ringo and his subplot with Doc Holliday can be dispensed with almost entirely, as the mythic schoolyard antics between the only two college educated gunslingers in the Wild West is never developed enough to be anything more than a vehicle for Val Kilmer's delivery (as evidenced in the scene above). The entire Vendetta Ride could be handled in a single montage, so that it does not dull the theme of loss, revenge, death and rebirth that carries from the Cowboys' reprisals to the demise of Doc Holliday. With a newfound dividend of time, the budding relationship between Wyatt and Josephine and the love triangles it caused could be more thoroughly explored. In a perfect world, that is.

Nevertheless, the film that exists is still enjoyable to watch. It's not exactly an A-list cast, but they have fantastic moustaches. Kilmer was nominated for two MTV movie awards and is generally considered to have been robbed of the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, let alone Oscar (which went to Martin Landau for Ed Wood).


Scott said...

I really liked this movie. It was fun, funny, and for the most part, exciting. I agree with your criticism of the end scenes, but I don't think they affected my enjoyment quite as much. Thanks for the review/commentary!

Esther said...

A mostly fun western but Val Kilmer is inspired as Doc Holliday