Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p (VC-1 codec)
Running Time: 190 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 French, 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Review Date: October 25, 2007
Wyatt Earp is nothing if not one of the most ambitious westerns ever made. An epic, three-plus hour extravaganza about the fabled life and times of one of America’s most celebrated frontier lawmen, Wyatt Earp delivers on many of its promises.
Kevin Coster brings his considerable charisma to the screen as the legendary marshal of Dodge City, Tombstone, and other mythic towns, and though he’s almost the entire show, there is room to detail the other members of his family and other eminent denizens of the Old West. Doc Holliday, the Clantons, Bat Masterson, and other elite members of that time in history strut across the frame in full view and with reputations open to scrutiny.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the Dan Gordon-Lawrence Kasdan screenplay is its stubborn insistence on showing Earp’s real life, warts and all. He was not a perfect person, seems to have been something of a cold and calculating man, and was possessed of a fiery and vengeful temper that sometimes got the best of him. An air of verisimilitude wafts over the entire film that isn’t always present in screen biographies, and it’s more than welcome.
Kasdan offered Costner a career-making introduction in an earlier Western Silverado, and in this movie he did likewise for a cadre of wonderfully talented and impressive then-young actors. Though naturally Costner’s Wyatt is center stage most of the time, there is still screen time to examine some of the lives and personalities of Earp’s brothers Morgan (Linden Ashby) and Virgil (Michael Madsen) and Bat Masterson (Tom Sizemore), Mattie Earp (Mare Winningham), and father Nicholas (Gene Hackman).
Costner goes through many permutations in portraying the life of this legend, and it’s a powerful performance, not perhaps as driven as his work in JFK but equally up to his performances in Dances with Wolves and Field of Dreams, in both of which he portrayed very determined men. During the period after the death of his first wife when Earp was at his lowest, Costner offers some of his most edifying screen work.
Dennis Quaid also delivers a memorable take on the tubercular Doc Holliday. Skeletal and raspy voiced, coiled like a snake ready to strike, Quaid is mesmerizing in clearly the richest role he had yet played on screen. Gene Hackman is wasted in his brief father’s role, and such well-known names as Mark Harmon (as a lawman whose lady’s heart is won by Wyatt), Betty Buckley, Jeff Fahey, Bill Pullman, and Isabella Rossellini manage to makes their presences known but little more than that. Even 190 minutes isn’t enough time to develop this many interesting characters when the movie‘s central figure has had such a full and interesting life.
The wives of the Earp brothers do manage to turn the spotlight on themselves for a moment, and they’re impressive. Winningham, as Wyatt’s common law wife who feels betrayed when Wyatt chooses a Jewish girl over her, makes the strongest impression, but Catherine O’Hara, JoBeth Williams, and Joanna Going acquit themselves wonderfully.
Unlike most movies that have centered on Wyatt Earp, the climax of the movie is not the showdown at the O.K. Corral. In fact, Kasdan downplays the shootout to less than one minute. The story continues after that famous confrontation with stories of the Clantons’ retaliation and the Earps’ revenge. Throughout, showdowns and shootouts are sometimes surprises and sometimes expected, balancing one’s involvement with the picture but not allowing ennui to set in despite its lengthy running time.
The film is beautifully shot with the widescreen panoramas startlingly captured in brilliant hues (the fireworks display early on is stunning in high definition), though that same sharp color and style also make such sequences as the buffalo slaughtering and skinning rather unappetizing. Such attention to detail adds stature and authenticity to the film. Some aspects of the Wyatt Earp story are familiar enough to make certain sequences of the film perhaps overly mundane, but there is enough new and different on display here to make the film a recommended one. It’s an often striking and sometimes stirring screen biography.
The film’s 2.40:1 Panavision aspect ratio has been brought to Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. It’s a very fine encoding of a very ambitious film with nice sharpness, exceptional flesh tones, and colors that are balanced and quite beautiful. Blacks are deep and shadow detail can be impressive. Dimensionality has been better in more recent film transfers, but there are no artifacts on the print used for the transfer, and on the whole, it’s a nice looking job all around. The last standard definition 2-disc set of the film looked very nice, but the Blu-ray version ups the visual quality by at least half a step. The film has been divided into 63 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 (48 kHz/640 kbps) soundtrack is the identical one used in the standard definition issue of the film (though the Blu-ray has a slightly higher bit rate). The music produces the best occurrences of deep bass in the soundfield, and while the rear channels are used for ambient effects (thunder, galloping horses and buffalos, whizzing bullets), more could have been done with the rear channels. Frankly, I was disappointed that a lossless audio track was not made available for this Blu-ray release.
The Blu-ray disc incorporates all of the bonus features from the standard definition release, though the presentations are disappointingly in 480i with one exception, and all looked either washed out or unimpressive (or both).
“It Happened That Way” is a 14-minute featurette featuring interviews with director Lawrence Kasdan, and many of the leading actors in the film discussing making a film based on real characters.
“Wyatt Earp: Walk with a Legend” is a 22½-minute television special (in 4:3) which details what goes into making an epic film. Comparisons to such classics as Ben-Hur, Spartacus, How the West Was Won, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Searchers, and My Darling Clementine are made, and again the major players before and behind the camera are interviewed (in fact, some of the interviews here are also present in the previous featurette). The special is hosted and narrated by actor Tom Skerritt.
11 lifted scenes from the film running almost 18 minutes are presented. The scenes are shown in the order that they would have appeared in the movie, but none of them really was necessary, and their being edited out is understandable.
The theatrical trailer for the movie is presented in 480p. It runs 3½ minutes, but it is completely lacking in sharpness and does the film no favors. As usual, a score is attached to the preview that has nothing to do with the beautiful music James Newton Howard composed for the film.
Wyatt Earp makes a fine looking high definition release of a western that has often been underappreciated. Yes, it’s long, and Kevin Costner is center stage for a huge amount of the film’s running time, a problem if one isn’t a fan of his work. With a good video transfer and an acceptable (if a tad disappointing) audio track, Wyatt Earp makes the best case for itself in this high definition transfer from Warners.