Tombstone: The Director's Cut:

Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, Powers Booth, Robert Burke, Dana Delaney, Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, Joanna Pacula, Bill Paxton, Jason Priestly, Michael Rooker, Jon Tenney, Billy Zane, Charlton Heston; narrated by Robert Mitchum. Directed by George P. Cosmatos. Aspect ratio: 2.35 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, THX. Two DVDs. 134 minutes. 1993. Touchstone Home Video 23118. R. $29.99.

Possibly the best Western of the 1990s (if that sounds like faint praise, it isn't), Tombstone is intense—intensely colorful and, stylistically at least, an intensely accurate re-creation of life in a frontier town in the 1880s. This recapitulation of the Earp brothers' famous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral pushes all the right buttons, and while there are enough different accounts of the historical event to make any re-telling open to criticism, Tombstone's version is as believable and dramatically gripping as any you're likely to see.

When the Earp brothers settle in Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory, they find themselves in a nest of thugs who call themselves "the Cowboys." The Earps just want to settle down, but find themselves drawn ever more deeply into the morass, encouraged by townsfolk who want them to use their brand of frontier justice to crush the Cowboys and put an end to their terrorizing of the local populace. The gunfight itself is only the centerpiece of the story, not its conclusion, as the Earps' fortunes are subsequently drawn into a spiraling cycle of vengeance.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Kurt Russell is first-rate as Wyatt Earp, and Dana Delaney (a personal favorite whose career seems to have peaked with this film) is his intriguing love interest. But Val Kilmer nearly steals the show with his portrayal of the tragic Doc Holliday. He may never have a juicier role, and he deserved (but did not receive) an Oscar nod for it.

Touchstone's two-disc The Director's Cut is part of Disney's Vista Series, and it's a first-class effort. Don't even think about the lamentable, standard letterbox release issued during Disney's anamorphic-free DVD infancy. This new version is the ticket. The video transfer is only a little short of the best; a very slight softness and occasional edge enhancement are its only minor shortcomings. There are also a few shots—particularly in Wyatt's impromptu picnic with Josephine—that are poorly exposed. But that's apparently a flaw in the original film elements that can't be counted against this transfer. (I saw the same problems in the laserdisc and the previous DVD release.) And the sound, whether you choose Dolby Digital or DTS, is dynamic and up-front—perhaps a bit more in-your-face than some might prefer, but that's apparently the way the filmmakers wanted it, and it suits the story. The bass is solid (check out the thunderstorm during the film's climax), and the surrounds are active when they need to be.

This version also includes six minutes' worth of previously deleted scenes incorporated into the film itself (not as separate extras), thus The Director's Cut designation. Extras include a director's commentary, a "making of" featurette, storyboards, a Tombstone timeline, a DVD-ROM game, and more.

About my only criticism of this release is the packaging. It's very well done artistically, but, like all of these elaborate cardboard slipcases (which are becoming increasingly popular for special editions), it will be tattered and worn long before any of your plastic keepcases will. And that's a certainty if Tombstone spends as much time off your storage shelf as I suspect it might.

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