(On DVD, May 2017) It’s either a good or a bad thing that I got to see Tombstone a week before Wyatt Earp. A good thing, in that Tombstone suggests a better way to develop the same material as the dour, overlong and self-important Wyatt Earp. Although, to be fair, seeing Kevin Costner at the top of the cast would suggest something as dour, overlong and self-important as nearly all of his other movies. Rather than focusing on a specific slice of time in Earp’s life, this movie chooses a far more inclusive approach, beginning with childhood experiences and going all the way to an Alaskan cruise epilogue. In doing so, it may present a more faceted portrait of the character, but it can’t be bothered to provide excitement or even enough entertainment over the course of a rather long three hours and change. Costner himself is stoic, impassible, heroic without being engaging. (On the other hand, Dennis Quaid is compelling as Doc Holliday) The film plays without being interesting, and even the Tombstone-set segment suffers in comparison to Tombstone’s more dramatic approach. There’s no scenery chomping here, and that’s too bad, because even as Wyatt Earp does touch upon the nature of myth-making late in the film, there’s a sense that it, itself, has not pushed that aspect more. Years later, Tombstone has decisively won the comparison with its near-contemporary: it’s remembered more frequently and fondly. Even if the only thing people remember from Tombstone is Kurt Russell’s over-the-top “Hell is coming with me!”, then that’s one more thing than people will remember from Wyatt Earp.
(On TV, May 2017) In an ideal world, I would be writing my impressions about Tombstone in a perfect vacuum, untainted by any later film or experience. In this world, however, I waited two weeks before jotting down this capsule review … after seeing the similar Wyatt Earp. I’m unlikely to be the only one to draw comparisons between the two, as both movies came out in 1993–1994 and have been linked ever since. While Wyatt Earp tries to give a whole-life portrait of Earp, Tombstone focuses on the events immediately preceding and following the shootout at O.K. Corral. But more crucially, Wyatt Earp is dour and interminable, whereas Tombstone does have Kurt Russell with a glorious moustache shouting “You tell ’em I’m coming … and hell’s coming with me, you hear? Hell’s coming with me!” That’s everything you need to know about both movies. Game over. Go home, Kevin Costner, you’re playing a drunk. More seriously, though: While Tombstone is the better of both Earp movies, it’s hardly a perfect film. While Russell, Val Kilmer (as Doc Holliday) and Sam Elliott (among many others) make a good impression, the film does take a while to find its footing: it’s only after some tedious throat-clearing and mismatched scenes that Tombstone realizes that it can have fun with its story and truly gets going. At times, it seems as if the film (wrongly) assumes that its viewers are familiar with the O.K. Corral shootout: there seems to be some connecting narrative tissue missing, some subplots disappear into nothingness and there’s an argument to be made that the shootout is the climax—anything that follows becomes less and less interesting and isn’t shot with the same amount of intensity. Looking at the comparison between Tombstone and Wyatt Earp once more highlights that Tombstone is better because it’s more fun—so maybe had it been even more fun it would have been even better? A shorter, even more focused, even less historically accurate version may have been a stronger movie. I suspect that had Tombstone been made a few years after Wyatt Earp, it would have been quite different.