This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
VISTA Series DVD - The Director's Cut
Audio Commentary by Director George P. Cosmatos
Though I've upgraded to the Blu-ray Disc release, I've kept the VISTA Series DVD, which features George P. Cosmatos's director's cut of the film as well as bonus materials including his commentary track.
Cosmatos explains early in his commentary that, as an Italian, he grew up with a great fondness for American Westerns. His knowledge and passion for the genre permeate his entire perspective on Tombstone, from mentioning his influences and matinee idols to contrasting this film with other screen iterations of the legend of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, et al.
Cosmatos took great pride in the amount of research that went into his film, and rightly so. Everything from costumes and sets to the blocking of the notorious gunfight at the O.K. Corral reflects painstaking research from department heads and the screenwriter(s).* The actors were clearly also at least exposed to the research, some conducting their own, to ensure the verisimilitude of their performances.
And yet, it's Cosmatos who openly admits to making storytelling choices that flout that commitment to detail. In the background as our protagonists ("heroes" is too strong a word for the Earps and Doc) walk toward the O.K. Corral, we see a building engulfed in flames. The threat of a burning building in a small town where everything nearby was likewise combustible makes it so improbable that it's impossible for us to believe that anyone - much less civic leaders like the town marshal - would ignore such a danger. Cosmatos claims responsibility for the imagery, his intent to tell us visually that these guys are so committed to the gunfight that they can't even stop to deal with that.
It's a little thing, really, and certainly no more egregious than having Doc Holliday be the one to gun down Johnny Ringo in the finale, or having Wyatt Earp chat bedside with his friend just before he passed - both points which are roundly rejected by the historical record of each man's whereabouts on those occasions - but it also feels more irksome than those choices. Having the Doc/Ringo showdown is a Hollywood invention, but at least it's a satisfying one, as is the Wyatt/Doc farewell. The burning building, though, tells us not that these guys are committed to the showdown but instead that they're actually pretty shortsighted. Casual viewers may not even give it any heed whatsoever, but for viewers who know the ins and outs of the era, it's simply baffling and its contribution to story negligible at best.
Cosmatos also claims responsibility for setting the Wyatt/Curly Bill shootout in a river, though the actual shootout occurred on solid ground. This, I find more forgivable because unless you've researched that fight, there's no obvious reason for the river to take a viewer out of the movie in that sequence. And, I agree with Cosmatos; it is more visually interesting.
Though the director has praise for his department heads and his ensemble cast, he's surprisingly light on specifics. He praises the work of Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer throughout (and rightly so!), but has very little to say about the women in the cast, often failing to even conjure their names, referring to them either as their character or with ambiguous, pronoun-laden remarks. He mentions music only once that I caught, remarking that he likes music but not too much music. In my estimation, Bruce Broughton's score is a pure delight and it's disappointing as a fan of his work on this film that Cosmatos has so little to say about it.
If anyone has right to take umbrage at the commentary, it's the late screenwriter, Kevin Jarre (who also wrote Glory). Not only is Jarre never named; Cosmatos refers little to the screenplay or Jarre's own meticulous research. To hear the director tell it, he and his collaborators did all the heavy lifting, without any real acknowledgment of the tremendous work that the writer(s) had done in the first place.
*Jumping ahead just a bit, but I also caught on the Disc Two Bonus Materials that in the original teaser trailer, John Fasano is credited as co-writer. His name was removed in time for the theatrical trailer and the film itself.
Tombstone is immensely satisfying for me as a viewer, and I attribute this to the balance between historical accuracy and showmanship. Act III may be largely Hollywood, but so much of Acts I and II were so authentic that it allows me to just go with the film in the end. After all, to borrow from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "...This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That's what George P. Cosmatos essentially explains he did with Tombstone, and my qualms with some of his choices aside, the truth is I love the film.
Disc Two: Bonus Materials
I actually watched Disc Two on 3 December, but it seemed foolish to create a second diary entry for just this.
The Making of Tombstone
"An Ensemble Cast" (12:37) ***
"Making an Authentic Western" (7:03) ***
"The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (7:38) ***
It's always fun when you get to hear so many people involved in making a movie you love say how much they loved it, too. The commitment shows on the screen. No one shares anything groundbreaking here, though I was surprised to hear there are 85 speaking parts in the movie. That's fourteen more speaking roles than there are Twitter users I follow. I don't know why that resonated so much with me, but it did.
Tombstone Timeline ****
I'm not a fan of on-screen text-based bonus materials, but I confess I got into this one, primarily because it makes mention of quite a few relevant matters that never made it into the film, such as an entire episode in which Wyatt Earp was tracking some thieves who'd stolen mules from the U.S. Army. Earp struck a deal with Ike Clanton to sell out the thieves, but then backed out of it. I had no idea about this incident until I read through this interactive timeline. I tip my hat to whoever produced and approved it for allowing it to go outside the scope of events shown in the film.
Director's Original Storyboards: OK Corral Sequence (4:00) ***
Storyboards can be neat, but they can also be boring. Cutting this one and setting it to Bruce Broughton's score makes this one more neat than boring.
The Tombstone Epitaph ****
Like the Interactive Timeline, I found this depiction of the actual Tombstone Epitaph newspaper coverage of the events at the O.K. Corral and witness testimonies fascinating. My background is in history anyway, so I tend not to find such things "dry" in the first place, but perhaps because I read through this while I, and the rest of the world, have been fixated on the events in Ferguson, MO, I found the testimonies particularly captivating. It's easy to read the various attitudes and tones through the text, and it creates a far murkier picture of events than any film prior to Tombstone had ever admitted. Well worth reading, though I was not a fan of the on-screen presentation so much. I'd much rather have had this in booklet form.
Trailers and TV Spots
Theatrical Trailer (2:35) ***
Theatrical Teaser (1:27) ***
TV Spot "Friends" (0:33) ***
TV Spot "Owned" (0:33) ***
TV Spot "Legend" (0:33) ***
TV Spot "Place" (0:33) ***
TV Spot "Cast" (0:33) ***
TV Spot "Family" (0:33) ***
TV Spot "Justice" (0:18) ***
All pretty ordinary trailers and TV spots. If I saw any of them in 1993, I don't recall taking notice of them, though at that point I was still quite disinterested in Westerns anyway; I was far more excited about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which opened that same day. Of note, though, as I previously mentioned, is that in the Theatrical Trailer, the writing is credited to both Kevin Jarre and John Fasano. I know that the screenplay that was green lighted and the final film are quite different, but I'm afraid I know little about the evolution of the story and why Fasano's name was taken off of it. Gonna have to look into that later!
Tombstone Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#14/1665)
Tombstone > Kronk's New Groove → #14
Tombstone > Superman: Doomsday → #14
Tombstone > Bridesmaids → #14
Tombstone > Transformers: Dark of the Moon → #14
Tombstone > O Brother, Where Art Thou? → #14
Tombstone > 8½ → #14
Tombstone > Dumbo → #13
Tombstone < Casablanca → #13
Tombstone > Amélie → #9
Tombstone > Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid → #8
Tombstone < Casablanca → #8
Tombstone was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #8/1665