Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tombstone (the 1993 movie)

Watching Tombstone after visiting the town was a completely different experience from seeing it before going there. When I first watched the movie, I just viewed it for its entertainment value. The second time around, I watched for places I had visited and for historical veracity.

This 1993 film, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp, and several other well-known actors, is thoroughly enjoyable. Slightly over two hours long, at 122 minutes, Tombstone never drags.

The audio commentary, by director George Cosmatos is excellent; he explains how the movie is historically accurate and how many of the scenes were filmed. For example, the newsreel-like footage before the title appears contains both real footage of the time period and scenes from this movie edited to resemble early 20th century film stock.

Tombstone was filmed at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona. The mission set was instantly recognizable in the wedding scene at the beginning of the movie, even thought it was rebuilt after a 1995 fire and now looks slightly different. And the signature three mountain peaks could also be seen periodically in the background throughout the movie.

The production team did a great job of recreating the real Tombstone that is located just an hour away. It was very interesting to see the Bird Cage Theatre, Fly's Photography studio, the Oriental Saloon, the Crystal Palace, the Grand Hotel, and Boot Hill depicted in Tombstone. When I visited the real Bird Cage Theatre, the employees there told me that the movie producers had wanted to film inside the actual Tombstone building but that didn't work out because they would have had to redo the interior to make it viable for filming.

Two things in Tombstone differed from the historical record (as far as I know it). First, in the movie, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was far longer than the thirty seconds it was reported to have been. But since this was one of the climaxes of the film, for artistic purposes it made sense. Secondly, in the movie Boot Hill is shown as being part of the town of Tombstone, where in actual fact it is located some distance away on a hill overlooking the town.

Besides taking place in a town that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry visited, another connection to ASJ is a comment made by Wyatt Earp about halfway through Tombstone. He says, to his brothers Morgan and Virgil, "For the first time in our lives we got a chance to stop wandering and be a family." This reminded me of the scene in the Pilot where Heyes was trying to persuade Kid not to draw on the bully in the saloon in Porterville because, as Heyes pleaded, "I'm asking for something, too; something we ain't never had a chance at before."

Heyes successfully convinced Kid to stand down. To find out if Wyatt Earp also was successful, you'll have to watch the movie!