DANCES WITH WOLVES: 20th ANNIVERSARY
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Kevin Costner’s directorial debut won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film tells the story of Lt. John Dunbar, a Civil War hero who takes a post on the American frontier. Left alone by the Army, Dunbar soon befriends a tribe of Sioux Indians, learning about their lives and their culture. As Dunbar becomes closer with the Sioux, he begins to accept their ways and joins the tribe. However, when the U.S. Army finally comes to his post, he is faced with the decision to choose his new way of life or his old one.
WHAT I LIKED
I remember when this film came out and what a splash it made in the theaters. Not that the plight of the Native Americans hadn’t been examined before, either in film or in the history books, but it was one of the most high-profile looks at it in a while. This is what makes “Dances With Wolves” such a legendary film. Preaching and overt political overtones aside, it’s still a fine, fine film to watch. And it looks pretty good (though not perfect) with the Blu-ray transfer.
The new Blu-ray includes the extended cut, which adds almost an hour to the already long three-hour running time. It’s a marathon movie, and the longer cut of the film makes it move slower, but I can’t say that any of it was really unnecessary, at least not for the story that Costner and writer Michael Blake were trying to tell.
Anyone who has a fondness of Native American culture and the lost American West will enjoy the look and feel of this movie, which idolizes the life of the Native Americans in a very smooth fashion. The movie brings to light several tough issues, which can spark discussions among people who haven’t seen it before.
Oddly enough, this was probably the last film that Kevin Costner made that really had him respected as a film star. Following this up with his enjoyable but accent-butchering “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and later the ridiculous and overblown “The Postman,” Costner clearly reached the height of his career with “Dances With Wolves.” It’s a rare chance for a viewer to examine a movie that is undeniably a current working actor’s pinnacle… and it’s a beautiful movie at that.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
As respectful and honorable as “Dances With Wolves” is to the Native Americans and the Sioux Nation, it does fall easily into cliche. This is to be expected from a film like this, and being the most prominent examination of these issues, it was impossible to expect anything otherwise. But looking at it twenty years later, it’s a bit silly to have every soldier in the Union Army (save one) presented as a stuttering redneck.
Also, if you’re new to “Dances With Wolves,” I can’t say I’d immediately recommend diving into the four-hour extended cut. While it’s not a wasteful cut of the film, it does run long, and the original three-hour theatrical cut (not presented on this Blu-ray) might be more manageable.
The 20th Anniversary Blu-ray comes with two discs and is loaded with additional features. The extended cut is the money shot of this set, considering most of the bonus material comes from the 2003 DVD release, but at least the supplementals are still worth it.
Included on Disc 1 are two audio commentaries: one with Costner and producer Jim Wilson, and the other with cinematographer Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis. Also included on this disc are two embedded Blu-ray features: the educational pop-up informational “Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide” and the quiz “Read History or Movie Make-Believe?”
Disc 2 includes the vintage supplementals, including the featurettes “A Day In the Life on the Western Frontier,” the original 1990 “Making of Dances With Wolves” and 2003’s feature-length “The Creation of an Epic: A Retrospective Documentary.” There’s also the original trailer, TV spots and a photo montage with an introduction from still photographer Bill Glass.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Fans of Kevin Costner and people suffering from white guilt… and anyone who wants to see a fine film.