Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp (1994)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore
Extras: Documentary, TV Special, Lifted Scenes, Trailer

It is hard to believe that Lawrence Kasdan’s "Wyatt Earp" has taken so long to make it to DVD but the film has finally arrived, and it is a beauty to behold. Starring Kevin Costner and an all-star cast, the film tells the lifestory of the Wild West’s most controversial figure, Wyatt Earp, an iron-fisted lawman who put more than a few men in their early graves.

The film begins showing us Wyatt’s early life as he’s growing up being the middle one of five brothers. Always ambitious, Wyatt is a born leader and as they grow up his brothers tend to follow Wyatt’s guidance. After his family relocates from Missouri to California Wyatt returns home years later to marry Urilla, his puppy love. But their happiness doesn’t last too long as Urilla and their unborn child soon pass away of typhoid, leaving Wyatt a broken, desperate man with no will left to live. After falling into an abyss of alcoholism and thievery, with a little help by his father Wyatt eventually manages to get back on his feet and sober up, moving out West again to leave his past and memories behind. There he begins a new life among the rugged and ruthless men of the Wild West. He discovers the might of the gun and soon becomes an expert shot who can kill a man faster than they can ever see it coming. His exceptional courage one day lands him the job of Deputy Sheriff and from that day he has found his vocation. In the years to come the name Wyatt Earp became synonymous with putting down the law, though his reputation and ruthless methods also made him a lot of enemies. Not everyone agrees with Wyatt’s zero-tolerance approach to disobeying the law, while other cities are looking for exactly that in order to clean their streets. Together with his brothers Virgil (Michael Madsen) and Morgan (Linden Ashby), and their friends Bat Masterton (Tom Sizemore) and the infamous gunslinger Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid) he upholds the law at any cost. In Tombstone, Arizona, however, the cost is getting a bit high, when Wyatt is determined to put an end to the out-of-control antics of Ike Clanton (Jeff Fahey) and the McLaury Brothers and all the men that ride with them. Their clash culminates in the infamous shooting at the OK Corral which went down in history and made Wyatt Earp the single-most controversial figure of his time.

Lawrence Kasdan who co-wrote and directed this film walked a thin line, examining an American icon so intimately but the film succeeds masterfully. We get to see Wyatt’s ties to his family and the importance this back support has always held for him. We get to see the world he grew up in and the lawless world of the West during a period when it was at its wildest and untamedest. It would be easy to argue that the film’s weight comes largely from the stellar cast that fills every little role with a big name actor – a cast that includes luminaries such as Gene Hackman, Isabella Rosselini, Bill Pullman, Mare Winningham, Mark Harmon, to name but a few of the seemingly endless list. But the simple truth of the matter is that the story is wonderfully written and laid out, well paced despite its 3-hour running length and that is creates characters that are real. Kevin Costner is never better than in his Westerns and "Wyatt Earp" is just another example of this. He brings to life the inner conflict of this man, the determination, the rage, the principles as well as his underlying empathy despite his cold outer shell, like you wouldn’t believe it.
Dennis Quaid is simply staggering in his performance of the tuberculosis-ridden Doc Holiday, man who is dying one bloody cough at a time. Looking like a walking skeleton with nothing but skin to keep him together, Quaid truly manages painfully well to capture the mannerisms of a man who is in constant pain and ridden by cough-seizures.

Add to all that the wonderful landscape of Arizona, California, Missouri and Kansas and you have an epic movie that has been made for the ages and will help keep the lifestory and struggles of Wyatt Earp alive and fresh.

Warner Home Video is presenting "Wyatt Earp" in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The image is clean and free of defects throughout, and reveals an immaculate level of detail. Colors are vibrant and rich though never appear over-saturated as they render the lush imagery of the film. Skin tones are perfect and always natural looking. The transfer has very deep blacks which helps bring to life the stark cinematography the film uses at times. Shadows are deep and impenetrable when required, yet never lose definition in the more naturally lit shots. A bit of edge-enhancement is visible in the transfer, especially in the shots where the filmmakers are using images of excessive contrast, but I never found it distracting. The compression has been handled masterfully and not a compression artifact is in sight anywhere – no doubt also due to the fact that Warner decided to spread this film over to separate DVDs, thus allowing plenty of headroom for the compression.

A remastered <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track is included on this disc and it helps bring out the epic scale of the production as the music sweeps through your living room, making good use of the surround channels to create a wide sound field. Sound effects are dynamic and make also good use of the surround channels to enhance the viewing experience of this movie. Dialogues are perfectly balanced and always understandable, never drowned out by the music of effects.

The DVD set also contains a new behind-the-scenes documentary called "It Happened That Way" in which the historic facts about Wyatt Earp are discussed in a bit more detail. Also included is a "Making Of" TV Special that was used to promote the theatrical run of the movie in 1994.

The DVD is rounded out by the movie’s theatrical trailer

"Wyatt Earp" is a wonderful epic film that combines great story-telling, irresistible characters and lush imagery to weave a tale that may – once again – be larger than life. But larger than life is what the Wild West’s most famous lawman deserves – no less. Warner made us wait for this DVD for a long time, but the wait was well worth it, as this spectacular presentation is a sight for sore eyes. Make sure to add this DVD to your collection.