Review: Tombstone (expanded)
5 / 5 Stars
From Peckinpah to Leone\'s Spaghetti Westerns, Hollywood\'s portrayal of the American frontier has often been visceral, romantic, and spectacular. The Wild West is an unforgiving, yet versatile backdrop that complements practically any story and theme you can throw at it - even Joss Whedon\'s sci-fi series, Firefly, feels oddly natural. It\'s unique terrain on which chaos and order frequently butt heads, and simple survival becomes a delicate balancing act. However, the rampant anarchy that\'s characteristic of this setup isn\'t what creates drama; it\'s how the participants handle the whimsical twists of fate. And when spontaneity reigns supreme, it\'s nearly impossible to predict the results.
In 1993, Kevin Jarre, screenwriter and director of Tombstone, was fired at the last minute and replaced with George Cosmatos. Jarre (known for penning Glory) was struggling during his directorial debut, and was promptly excised from production – along with entire chunks of his original script. Hollywood\'s tendency to shoot from the hip isn\'t rare; but had competition, time, and monetary pressures not been dire factors, what became a (surprisingly) successful, stylized romp of little substance... could\'ve become so much more.
The story of Tombstone has been told and retold by others (notably John Sturges\'s Gunfight at the OK Corral), but never rendered realistically in shades of grey. Jarre\'s original screenplay focused on compelling characters (similar to Glory), built into a subtle, complex arc, and culminated in blurred paranoia, romance, and utter lawlessness. In the final, uber-revised script, producers sidelined much of the human romance, and ventures intermittently into Peckinpah-esque territory. Thankfully, Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II) was able to salvage what was left of the story, and focus on highlights. Whatever the film lacked, it made up for with solid cinematography, a quality acting ensemble, superb costuming, and absolutely phenomenal music.
Bruce Broughton\'s score for Tombstone is undeniably one of his finest, and equals his work on Spielberg\'s Young Sherlock Holmes. From a traditionalist standpoint, this is a purely orchestral work done right. Within the film, it covers the entire canvas of emotions and infuses in the west a buoyant, revitalized air. But as a standalone, re-mastered, expanded edition, this could be Jarre\'s vision come to life! The special two-disc album is the complete movie score that features a bonus disc of alternate cues, and music heard in the Fabian Theater. Tracks are arranged in film order and best of all, it enhances the listening experience ten-fold.
Unlike some other extended scores, Broughton\'s Tombstone never takes away from the film or seems superfluous; his flowing layers of string, horn, and wind fill in the emotional gaps of the script, add nuances, and make frontier life palpable. Lean plot aside, the film bursts at the seams with aesthetic details, so Broughton has his pick of virtually anything for subject matter. Whether it\'s depicting the town\'s seedy underbelly, looming menace, or the delights of a budding romance, the composer\'s aural textures are expertly arranged; foreground instrumentals, used for narrative effects, are dramatically pronounced even while intertwined with the accompanying ambiance. Every single track of the first disc is a mesmerizing example of Broughton\'s gift for weaving counterpoint; from the saloon-styled "Prologue" to breezy "End Credits", the score is naught but a fantastic, aural tapestry.
Composer sensitivity and music\'s remarkable litheness are what smooth the choppy nature of the film, and add continuity missing in the storytelling. Due to some awkward, on-screen performances (and plot structure), relevant emotions don\'t always show. "Fortuitous Encounter/Wyatt & Josephine", one of the score\'s few motifs, is fleshed out, intricate, and embodies the very spirit of Aaron Copeland. A timid wind opening gradually builds in confidence to merge with coy strings, and then blossoms into a rousing likeness of "Rodeo" (or "Billy the Kid") as Wyatt and Josephine gallop along the plains. Explosive, undulating waves of energy fills the air with an invigorating zest, and perpetually flirts with us when the mood suits the couple. If you\'ve already seen the film, this track magnifies all sensations, and can paint in your mind such a vast, complex deluge of nuances (read: sonic watercolor) that re-watching the scene isn\'t necessary.
Had Jarre\'s original story been realized, Broughton\'s masterpiece wouldn\'t have matched it more perfectly. The thirty-six tracks possess an uncanny amount of richness - intrinsic to both period and milieu - that it\'s impossible to mistaken the work as a score for a generic Western. Also, the decision to place additional material on the bonus disc is a smart decision: it doesn\'t interrupt or diminish the rest of the music, and provides introspective comparison cues. The in-house garnishes heard at the Fabian Theater (e.g., "Thespian Overture", "Piano/Cello Duet", "Faust ("Danse Macabre")") give the score a sense of wholeness and authenticity; and that they\'re arranged as a miniature suite makes them a great bookend for the album. In conclusion, you must own this score... there\'s really little else I can add without sounding like a broken record.