Saturday, January 26, 2013



directed by: George P. Cosmatos, Kevin Jarre
starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Jason Priestley, Jon Tenney, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Dana Delaney, Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, John Corbett, Terry O'Quinn, Frank Stallone

Released in 1993.

Tombstone is not as good as Wyatt Earp.  Both films were released around the same time, both feature the same characters and the same scenario, but one does it better.  Don't get me wrong.  It's certainly worth watching both.  Tombstone probably has a better overall reputation, mostly because it's not the one starring Kevin Costner in yet another historical epic.

What both films unmistakably are is Hollywood's attempt at the time to keep the Western alive.  The Western was a genre that dominated movies and television for decades.  With the passing of John Wayne, its most iconic star, however, the Western fell out of favor with the general public.  Everyone moved on, and for a while it was a lot easier to pretend it simply no longer existed.  Yet Hollywood loves to revive things, and in the 1990s the Western was the subject of a persistent revival effort.  Clint Eastwood, who had earlier made his name with the "Man with no Name" trilogy, scored with Unforgiven, but then no one seemed to know what to do next.  Instead of a monolithic presence, it had become a specialty genre.  Tombstone represents one way to make this special attraction a real attraction, by amassing a notable cast in the place of a notable star.

Kurt Russell has been a Hollywood project since he was a kid.  He's been a successful star, sure, and has had his share of signature hits, but he's never really been iconic.  As this film's Wyatt Earp it's much the same.  He's not really a Western actor, anymore than he's any given genre actor, just someone who can appear in any given one and be fairly respectable.  He's the main reason why there has to be so many other notable actors in the project, beginning with Val Kilmer, who at this point in his career cuts a more recognizable figure as Doc Holliday than his Wyatt Earp (and in this role, superior) counterpart Dennis Quaid.  Everyone else is far lower on the instant recognition scale, but the cast is packed with talent all the same, even a few (Thomas Haden Church, Billy Bob Thornton) whose subsequent careers make their appearances here more significant to newer audiences than those who saw them originally.

You can certainly enjoy Tombstone for what it is, but it didn't at the time and never will represent anything more than a movie Hollywood made to be a Western, rather than a true contribution to the genre.

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