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From Under A Rock: Tombstone

July 22, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Tombstone  


To steal a phrase from MovieBob, this week’s pick is a real G.E.M.: a Good Enough Movie. It’s one Michael requested me to pick, and it’s quality of being a “good but not great,” yet-still-beloved film makes it an interesting subject for this column.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Wet Hot American Summer. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Tombstone.

Released: December 25th, 1993
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos (& Kevin Jarre, briefly)
Written by: Kevin Jarre
Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp
Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday
Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp
Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp
Powers Boothe as “Curly Bill” Brocius
Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo

Aaron Hubbard: This one was picked as per Michael’s request, and I was happy to revisit it since I was always a fan and hadn’t seen it in a few years.

Michael Ornelas: I reaaaaally wanted to see this. I remember bits and pieces of it from when I was a kid, but I never saw it with any context or understanding. Now upon watching it, I still have less than 100% understanding because this movie certainly bounces around quite a bit…
“Cool” Movies
Aaron: Sometimes we all like movies for one reason or another, even if the film in question is of dubious merit. A film like Independence Day or (for me anyway) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The good sticks in our minds and the faults aren’t enough to ruin those memories. To me, that’s Tombstone; a film where really cool actors play really memorable characters saying really great lines.

Michael: I get that mindset, but I’m not sure I fully agree with it as it applies to Tombstone. I think one of the reasons for that is the fact that I actually wasn’t sold on Kurt Russell here; his performance seemed off to me. And he’s an actor I adore. The supporting cast was great, but I thought Russell dropped the ball a little bit on the cool factor (maybe he spoke too much? I really don’t know). Kilmer more than did his share though to pull in the “cool” and he is definitely the most memorable takeaway from this movie for me. Also, I don’t see any flaws in Independence Day, for the record. 10/10, most fun ever.

Aaron: I also think it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with a movie being “fun” or “cool” or “good”. Our culture is given to hyperbole and everything is either the best thing or the worst thing ever. Sometimes, hell, most of the time, a film is just “good” or “average” or “kinda bad”. Tombstone has good and bad traits, but for me, the good outweighs the bad enough for the occasional rewatch.
Narrative A.D.D.
Michael: So I’m going to preface this by saying that I liked the movie and the action was fun, but it really did feel like it had shoot-outs and violence just because those behind the movie thought it was “fun” and “cool” at certain times. The OK Corral scene was epic and awesome, but the entire second half of the movie diminishes the impact of shoot-outs by how many there are. I felt that the narrative thread got lost a little bit in the second half (which isn’t me saying it wasn’t there), and it was a little overwhelming.

Aaron: I don’t think you’re wrong here. Sometimes a film peaks and then just kind of goes on with diminishing returns. Tombstone feels way longer than it is, due to an uneventful second act and a third act that’s sort of perfunctory until the emotional gutpunch. As a story, it’s kind of weak.

Michael: Unfortunately, I’m that guy where story comes first, and so weak stories really do hinder a movie’s standing with me. Tombstone is a lot of fun, but it felt like a trudge to get through, despite being high in action. It’s a really weird paradox I somehow experienced with this movie.
Characters Save The Movie
Aaron: As a viewer, a film can have a lot go wrong with it and I will still be forgiving if I like the characters. A plot can be standard and uninteresting, special effects can be unconvincing, dialogue can be rough and acting can be campy, and I’m fine. But if the characters suck and I don’t want to spend time with them, the film has a fatal flaw nine times out of ten. Fortunately, this is the thing that Tombstone does very well. I won’t be able to tell you a single thing about how the plot in Tombstone goes a week from now, but I can and often do quote Doc Holliday verbatim. And the Earp brothers and their fates hit me the way they should.

Michael: I can totally get behind this point — Tombstone had fantastic characters. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoyed Doc Holliday, but Sam Elliott was wonderful (and arguably had too good of a nuanced performance for the tone of this movie, but that’s not a complaint). The impact of the loss/disfiguring of family on Wyatt was incredibly motivated and appropriately treated with gravitas. The characters were the saving grace of this film 100%.

Aaron: Sam Elliot is always taking things too seriously, which is part of the reason you cast him in a role like this. I will also express disagreement and say I like Kurt Russell in this. I love the scene where he gets Billy Bob Thornton to leave the bar, I love his near feral revenge mode, and I like his romance subplot. But yeah, Val Kilmer is the MVP of this film. I always wish he could have gotten a spinoff.

Michael: I really wanted to adore this movie and be all in on the fun, but there were a lot of glaring flaws that detracted some of the enjoyment for me. The cast was fun, but this is the least I’ve been into Kurt Russell’s acting as a leading man (something about the performance didn’t sell me). The narrative was sloppy, but the fun was present throughout the movie. Doc Holliday was amazing (as was Kilmer’s portrayal) and held this movie together. At the end of the day, I enjoyed the film, but it doesn’t fall into “classic” territory for me.


Aaron: Tombstone has self-evident good traits and self-evident bad traits. The bad is never bad enough to make it a bad movie, but the good is good enough to nudge it into being a good movie in my opinion.


Michael: This seems like a fair rating overall. Our score is actually just about even with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus.

Aaron: I feel it would be healthier for all of us to be comfortable rating movies in the “B” range more often than we do.

What is your favorite “good enough” movie, one that isn’t a classic but is still worthwhile.

Next week:

Michael: Hoo boy. Next week’s movie is sooo stupid but soooo fun! I remember watching this in Physics class in High School.
The Core
Aaron: This one definitely has me on edge a bit based on critic consensus, but I like other dumb disaster movies. Can’t be worse than Armageddon, right?

Michael: I’m sure it could. We’ll see what you think! It’s an absolute guilty pleasure for me.

What would you do if the Earth’s core stopped spinning…?

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The final score: review Good
The 411
Tombstone is good for some reasons (the characters, dialogue and atmosphere) but fails to have narrative cohesion. It's enough for us to like and recommend the film, especially for Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, but neither of us fully loved it enough to put it in our highest echelon of movies we’ve reviewed so far.