To commemorate its 20th Anniversary, Dances with Wolves has been released for the first time on Blu-ray. And with Dean Semler's Academy Award winning cinematography of the sweeping vistas of the South Dakota Badlands, this epic tale definitely deserves this gorgeous re-mastered high-def treatment.
I recommend the bigger the TV, the better to luxuriate in this wide screen ode to the glories of the open expanses of the prairies. I would love to watch this Dances on one of those 21:9 Cinema wide TVs that are arriving later this year.
But be forewarned, that with 55 minutes of new footage added, this story of a Civil War soldier discovering his true nature in the Lakota Sioux Indian culture now stretches to almost four hours. You may want to schedule an intermission.
The movie moves at its own rhythm, and Director Kevin Costner seems in no hurry to unfold the storyline. Costner, the actor, reinforces that pace with his plain spoken, laconic voice over narrative.
But if you have never seen this film that won the Oscar for Best Picture, (along with six other statuettes), beating out Goodfellas (some say robbing Martin Scorcese's mob masterpiece), then I must add that Dances includes its share of action sequences, including the famous buffalo hunt with barebacked riders chasing a herd of thousands of rumbling bison.
The real appeal of the film for me lies in the quiet interactions between Lt. John Dunbar (Costner) and the Sioux Indians (most of them played by Native Americans speaking the Lakota dialect).
With nuanced performances by fine actors like Graham Greene and Mary McDonnell (both nominated for Oscars), Dances was able to reveal the dignified humanity of a people often portrayed in earlier movies as wild savages.
In his novel and screenplay, Michael Blake desired to manifest this common bond and Costner and cast succeeded admirably.
With the four hour movie filling one Blu-ray disc, this 20th Anniversary package includes a second Blu-ray with bonus features. Except for the newly produced, "A Day in the Life on the Frontier," most of the other Extras were prepared, (in standard definition), over a decade ago to accompany the original DVD release.
Much of what I sampled on the second disc tended towards that congratulatory back patting that is so common in these Featurettes. You can pick your way through them depending upon your interests.
For example, there is a vignette on the animatronic buffalo used in the hunt scene. (The first major movie for the now famous KNB Effects Group.)
If you are a fan of recently departed John Barry, who won an Oscar for his haunting and mythic Original Score, you might want to bypass the oddly, cheesy music video. (As a side note, Murray Chaykin, who tore up the scenery with his quirky portrayal of the mad Major Fambrough, also passed away in the last year.)
For the cineaste, the gem of the Special Features is the audio commentary of Costner and his good friend and Producer, Jim Wilson. They add tasty tidbits about the trials and tribulations of the production.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment & MGM
Director: Kevin Costner
Cast: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Tantoo Cardinal, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman, Robert Pastorelli, Charles Rocket, Maury Chaykin, Jimmy Herman