Warner Bros. // 1994 // 190 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 18th, 2004
"Dave Rutabaugh is an ignorant scoundrel! I disapprove of his very
existence. I considered ending it myself on several occasions but self-control
got the better of me."
-- Doc Holiday (Dennis Quaid)
When it comes to gun slinging, tobacco spittin' cowboys, Kevin Costner is our generation's equivalent to John Wayne (keep in mind I said equivalent, not equal). So far Costner has been featured in such westerns as Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado, the Oscar winning Dances With Wolves (which also garnered a Best Picture Oscar in 1991), 2003's Open Range, and his second western with Kasdan, the 1994 flop Wyatt Earp. Wyatt Earp is now available on a two-disc special edition care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp follows the legendary title character (Kevin Costner) as he goes from shy school boy to respected lawman in the 1800's dirty, grimy old west.
Born into a farming community with a stern but loving father (an underused Gene Hackman, Unforgiven), young Wyatt Earp looks to lead a mellow life with his young new wife (Annabeth Gish). When tragedy strikes and she's killed, Wyatt goes on a drinking binge, stealing horses and eventually getting caught by the law. Wyatt's father, also a lawyer, sets him free from prison and instructs the young man to leave town and never look back.
In this moment Wyatt's new life begins, one that will take him to Dodge City, where Wyatt becomes a lawman with his brothers, Virgil (Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs) and Morgan (Linden Ashby, Wild Things 2), and befriends Doc Holiday, a swaggering gunslinger dying of tuberculosis. Wyatt is soon married to a new woman, Mattie Blaylock (Mare Winningham, St. Elmo's Fire), but falls in love with Josie (Joanna Going, Runaway Jury), the fiancée of a local sheriff (Mark Harmon, Chasing Liberty).
As Wyatt earns a reputation in the west (such as the showdown at the OK Corral), he also garners many disgruntled enemies. When tragedy befalls one of the Earp brothers, Wyatt goes on a hunt to avenge his family's honor and in the process thrusts himself into American folklore.
Wyatt Earp had the unfortunate luck of being released only a short while after the beloved Tombstone, released in 1993. Like Tombstone, Wyatt Earp deals with lawman Wyatt Earp's (Kurt Russell) legendary gunfight at the OK Corral alongside sickly Doc Holiday (played by Val Kilmer). While Tombstone was a tight, taut action movie with memorable characters, Wyatt Earp is a lumbering, sometimes pretentious melodrama that seems unsure of just who Wyatt was. Hero? Jerk? Cheater? Romancer?
The film deals with Wyatt Earp's childhood, teen years, 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on. In the beginning of the film, Wyatt starts out as a bashful boy who has a hard time talking to ladies and sports a warm, likable aura. Then we see Wyatt in his later years -- he's suddenly a cold, hard son of a bitch who seems to care about only two things in life: his brothers and the law. In Kasdan's Wyatt Earp, the character seems to be vague and indecisive. As played by Costner, an actor I genuinely like, Wyatt is bitter, mean, and so closed off to the world around him that it's hard to get a gauge on just who the real man was. It's no secret that Costner can play a great character -- his role as Lt. Dunbar in his Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves is one of his most memorable creations. Yet in Wyatt Earp we get the feeling that we're only seeing parts of a character, not a whole.
Worse yet are the periphery characters that come and go. Wyatt's brothers, Virgil (Michael Madsen) and Morgan (Linden Ashby), seem to be nothing more than sketches of people that actually existed. Many women wander through Wyatt Earp, but hardly any leave a lasting impression; Catherine O'Hara, Allison Elliot, and JoBeth Williams are good as the Earp brothers' wives, but do little except complain about Wyatt's stoic demeanor. Three women float through Wyatt's life -- Wyatt's late wife (Annabeth Gish); Mattie (Mare Winningham), the woman he's married but doesn't love; and Josie (Joanna Going), a Jewish girl he falls in love with -- but none are clearly defined, mostly because Costner's Earp seems so indifferent to them.
Then there are the men, including (hold your breath) Adam Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Jeff Fahey, David Andrews, Bill Pullman, Tom Sizemore, and James Caviezel, almost all of them unrecognizable under ten gallon hats and thick moustaches. The character who comes off as the most interesting is Dennis Quaid's Doc Holiday, all swaggering bravado as he careens headfirst into death's arms. Quaid lost a fair amount of weight and grew out a moustache for the role -- in fact, Quaid nearly disappears into the role, quite a feat considering how thinly drawn most of the characters are.
It's hard for me to recommend Wyatt Earp when there are so many other better western films out there. While Wyatt Earp isn't overtly painful to sit through, it's also poorly paced and rambles on for far too long. Hardcore western buffs need only apply.
Wyatt Earp is presented in a fine looking 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Warner has made sure that this picture looks exceptionally clean -- hardly any major defects exist in the print. The colors and black levels are both solidly rendered without any bleeding or heavy grayness. Edge enhancement and digital artifacting are both absent in the picture. Overall this is a very nice looking picture that should please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the video presentation, this audio mix is very good. There are many instances where directional sounds are heard through both the front and rear speakers. Gunshots often surround the viewer, and composer James Newton Howard's music score is both lush and vibrant. All aspects of the mix are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
While Wyatt Earp is part of Warner's two-disc "special edition" collection, this set is surprisingly lacking in any truly substantial extra features. The two meatiest supplements are an all-new 15-minute documentary titled "It Happened That Way" and a vintage 20-minute featurette titled "Wyatt Earp: Walk with a Legend." The "all-new" documentary doesn't look to be so new -- it sports on-the-set interviews with cast members Catherine O'Hara and Mark Harmon, as well as director Lawrence Kasdan, and pontifications by Joanna Going and Kevin Costner. "Walk with a Legend" is hosted by Tom Skerritt and features behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with cast and crew members, and various other information about the film. Neither give too much insight into the making of the film, only surface thoughts by the actors and director.
Also included on this set are some lifted scenes (11 scenes, each presented in non-anamorphic widescreen), and an anamorphic theatrical trailer for the film.
Wyatt Earp is not what I'd consider a perfect western. Though there are a few scattered good things going on in the film, the fact remains that it's a bit too slow and far too long for my personal tastes. Costner fans will certainly get a kick out of this fine transfer and well mixed audio track.
Wyatt Earp needs a good beating, care of old Doc Holliday.
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 190 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "It Happened That Way" Documentary
* "Wyatt Earp: Walk With A Legend" Vintage Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer