BLU-RAY REVIEW: Dances With Wolves - 20th Anniversary Edition
1990's Best Picture of the Year receives 20th Anniversary Edition in hi-def...
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While actor/writer/director Kevin Costner might be in a bit of a slump lately, in 1990, he was the bee's knees. His western epic Dances with Wolves was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and took home seven, including Best Picture and Best Director (Costner). Now, 20 years later, film fans can pick up this daring drama in beautiful hi-def, loaded with special features and ready for viewers of ages.
Costner plays First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, a soldier fighting in the Civil War and nearly dying in the process. However, after an uncanny act of heroism (or stupidity) earns him his choice of duty stations, the Army Officer chooses the desolate Fort Sedgwick at the edge of the disappearing American west. Alone at his post and marking his time in a journal, Dunbar spends time watching the wildlife and the local Lakota Sioux. However, through circumstance, Dunbar soon becomes friendly with the locals and "goes native," becoming more a member of the tribe than an Army officer. This leads viewers on an exploration of the Native American tribe and their struggles, celebrations, needs, wants, and fears.
What's truly astonishing about Dances With Wolves isn't that it is recognized as a masterpiece (for it's rightfully so), but that it was ever made. Helmed by an inexperienced director (Costner) on a shoestring budget of $22 million, it took almost five years to complete. The film's native language is Lakota Sioux, meaning much of the film is subtitled (something the average American fan seems to disapprove of) and it's run time (theatrical release) was 181 minutes, or just over 3 hours! Even with all of these working against it, Dances with Wolves made over seven times its budget domestically, making it a huge financial success.
Now, thankfully, film fans are able to pick up Dances With Wolves in hi-def with a wide variety of bonus material included in this 2-disc set. The extended edition of this film, at 234 minutes, makes for a long and somewhat tiring watch; it would have been appreciated had the studio included both the theatrical and extended versions.
Of course, the video transfer of this extended edition, complete in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, looks beautiful as the colors are vivid and bright, capturing the western plains of South Dakota beautifully. Likewise, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers plenty of audio effects, including solid use of the rear and side channels (especially during the battle and celebration scenes).
As for special features, Disc 1, which includes the film, also includes two audio commentaries, both previously recorded and presented. The first is with Kevin Costner and Producer Jim Wilson, and the second with Director of Photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis. While both include some interesting bits of info, considering the film is nearly 4 hours long, there's some tedious times as well. Disc 1 also includes the "Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide," which should give historical military fans and Civil War buffs (like my father) something to smile about. The guide uses pop-ups to present info on the various battlefield roles of those in the film as well as factual information on the different ranks therein. Lastly, Disc 1 includes "Real History or Movie Make-Believe?" a true-or-false quiz of sorts that questions the viewer on their knowledge of contextual information, including historical American military, the Native American way of life, and more.
Disc 2 of the set includes a wide variety of bonus material, including the all-new 15 minute "A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier," in which several historians give viewers additional info on what life was really like for pioneers; the original 20 minute "Making of Dances with Wolves" featurette, a basic behind-the-scenes short; and the 7-part, 75 minute "The Creation of an Epic - A Retrospective Documentary" which was originally included on the DVD, but is still a welcome addition here. Other short featurettes and behind-the-scenes bonus material include the 3-minute short "Original Music Video Featuring Music by John Barry," the 5-minute "Second Wind" piece (an editor's reel) and a 2 minute short on an "Animatronic Buffalo" used in the film. Three other short featurettes about military history and the battles include the 2 minute "Confederate March and Music" sure to be a hit with the Civil War buffs, the 4 minute "Getting the Point" about how one of the bow and arrow attack scenes was shot, the 1 minute "Burying the Hatchet" about how the special effects work. Other standard bonus features include two TV spots, the film's theatrical trailer, a poster gallery, and a photo slide show.
With the only major disappointment about this release is the set not including the original theatrical cut (which is a full hour shorter than this extended cut), there's really not that much to complain about here. Truly heartwarming and earth-shattering in its emotional ride, intense in its action, and painstakingly beautiful in its setting, Dances with Wolves is one of the best pictures of the last two decades. While four hour epic films may be a thing of the past (thankfully!), there are a few stories which deserve this much film and Dances with Wolves is one of them.
If you've not seen the film, I highly recommend picking it up and giving it a watch. Truly capturing every major genre (from romance and action to drama and comedy), Dances with Wolves captured audience's and critic's attention 20 years ago and it continues to do so today.
Dances with Wolves: 20th Anniversary Extended Edition Blu-ray is available now wherever fine home video is sold and is rated PG-13.
- Jess C. Horsley