Split Screen: WYATT EARP & TOMBSTONE
Both TOMBSTONE & WYATT EARP feature the same story with the same characters but told in different ways with different actors by different Directors. I was going to do individual reviews, however, the story is the exact same, so a comparative review might be more fun.
WYATT EARP is a biopic style re-telling about the legendary character and lawman. It follows the character from his early teenage days all the way through till his retirement, thus providing deeper character development and more nuances to the story than the other movie.
TOMBSTONE features only the story of Wyatt Earp at a certain point in his life, and the events leading up to the famous ‘Shootout at the OK Corral.’ It’s a dramatic Western about a certain conflict, complete with the well-developed villains and all.
Now on to the comparisons!
Wyatt Earp Himself
Kevin Costner plays the titular character in WYATT EARP, while Kurt Russell portrays him in TOMBSTONE. Both actors play the character amazingly, however, there are a few distinctions that stand out.
Kurt Russell as an amazing actor, with a history of action, drama, thrillers under his belt. Costner is more of a thinking actor with epic movies under his. As Wyatt Earp, Russell commands the screen presence needed for such a badass character in TOMBSTONE. Everything about his character screams a hardened man with a history of ass kickery, and that ginormous Moustache just tops it all off.
Costner on the other hand, is not an especially intimidating man. However, the journey of the character in WYATT EARP provides explanations and fills up anything lacking in Costner’s own performance as Earp. In comparison to Russell’s’ portrayal, Costner’s Earp seems more reserved, uncaring and cold. But it all makes sense given the backstory provided in WYATT EARP.
Example: Russell comes off as a heartless cheating dick when he meets the actress while being having a drug addict wife. Whereas Costner doing the same thing is not as reprehensive, given his 1st wife died, souring him towards women forever, which drives his next ‘wife’ to take up drugs in order to deal. There’s just more depth to the horrible things Costner’s Earp does than Russell’s.
Val Kilmer vs. Dennis Quaid
I love both these actors, and they both play the same character of Doc Holliday in each movie, Dennis Quad in WYATT EARP & Val Kilmer in TOMBSTONE. Both characters have the same background and characterizations by the actors. A horrible man, dying of tuberculosis, spending his days drinking, gambling and supporting Wyatt Earp till death.
Dennis Quaid gives us a very bland, and at times clichéd performance of Doc Holliday. The trademark of babbling and rambling is off-putting and trite. Doc Holiday was set up to be a cold and bitch of a guy, so it’s contradictory when he tears up and tries to console others with cheesy dialogue.
Val Kilmer’s performance in TOMBSTONE on the other hand of the same character, is more consistent. He’s a bitch, he knows it and he acts it… to everyone. The ending of TOMBSTONE featuring Kilmer is amazing, as it further accentuates his consistent sarcastic and deceptive nature.
Wyatt Earp has a few brothers, who are all featured in both movies, however with different effects entirely.
In TOMBSTONE, older brother Virgil was played by Sam Elliot, who, as good as he was, didn’t provide anything extra to the story. As the older brother of Wyatt, it wasn’t clear why he followed around his younger brother, despite having convictions of his own. Whereas Michael Madsen’s Virgil in WYATT EARP was unabashed about showing that despite being younger Wyatt knew what he was doing. His character was established as a man that sticks with family despite anything. Even the other supporting brothers had more character development in WYATT EARP than in TOMBSTONE. But I can chalk that up to the enormous differences in runtime and style of movies.
This is more due to the styles of the two movies than the actual performances themselves.The Brothers in TOMBSTONE
The story of TOMBSTONE centered around one event in the life of the character of Wyatt Earp. There were attempts at creating back-story and a history around the world, however it didn’t really work. Wyatt himself seemed hell bent on retiring from the life of being a lawman, and going into business for himself and his family. There was no real explanation of why. So when he reluctantly get back into the same lifestyle… there’s no sympathy, as the audience didn’t know why the apparent badass, didn’t wanna be a badass anymore. You can’t have a reluctant hero, when you don’t know why he’s so reluctant in the 1st place. It’s protagonist 101.
TOMBSTONE also boasted of some pretty cheesy dialogues. Lines like ‘Oh, there he goes again, same ol’ Wyatt.’ As a way of showing that those two characters know each other for years, is a sad attempt. The characterization of Russell’s Wyatt Earp is also inconsistent, squinting hard at a man’s soul in one scene, and being giddy after interacting with a girl of interest in the next.
WYATT EARP features the typical Kevin Costner style of storytelling… epic. It’s 3+ hours of run time is able to tell a paced story about the life and times of one man and how he comes to be how he is. In both films, the character of Earp is shown to be flawed and fallible, however in WYATT EARP the reasoning for his personal failures are better fleshed out.
Despite the similarities and differences in both films, the biggest one is the screenplay. While TOMBSTONE features one aspect of the life of the titular character, WYATT EARP has a more detailed and in depth bio-pic style of storytelling, better suited to this character who himself is larger than life. WYATT EARP is the clear winner in my eyes.
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