Dances With Wolves 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray
Very few directorial debuts are as ambitious as Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves. Even fewer are as successful at the box office, and fewer still earn seven Academy Awards. However it would be hard to argue that its legacy has endured as well as that of Goodfellas, which was the strongest competition that year. Dances with Wolves 20th Anniversary seeks to reestablish its films relevance. Curiously enough its release coincides with the midway point between the film’s theatrical release and when it won these awards. Dances with Wolves 20th Anniversary edition provides the most conclusive home release needed for the film.
Set in 1863 during the American Civil War. Dances with Wolves tells the epic tale of the free spirited Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), who after a daring gambit on the frontline is reassigned to an frontier Union outpost by his request. Once he arrives he finds the place entirely deserted. He eventually comes across a tribe of Sioux Indians. He slowly starts to build a friendship with them, and eventually he becomes fully assimilated. Along the way he meets his love interest Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell). Likely seen as the definitive version, the film only comes with the director’s cut. At just shy of four hours the film almost comes off as being a little indulgent. However the film is incredibly sincere with its characters and avoids being offensive, which goes a long way towards making its length bearable. The film also has a certain authenticity, which is due in large part to its lead character’s honest desire to discover the frontier. Overall there is much to be admired about this picture.
Dances with Wolves 20th Anniversary comes in a two-disc Blu-Ray set. The first disc contains two audio commentaries, and 2 pop-up extras that play over the course of the film. The first audio commentary features Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson. It was recorded in 1998 when the first DVD was released. The two were recorded together and have the benefit of hindsight to the insights. The second commentary track features director of photograph Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis who obviously talk more about the technical elements and curiously more about the production design. The second commentary track is arguably more interesting. Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide is an interesting big of pop up information that gives the viewer some societal context to the two factions Dunbar is affiliated with in the movie. Real History or Movie Make-Believe is essentially a series of questions that run throughout the course of the movie quizzing you on the film’s production, story events and factual accuracy. What is fun about this quiz is that most of the information can be found throughout the set’s extras.
Disc 2’s main attraction is The Creation of an Epic: A Retrospective Documentary. This hour and a half documentary interviews some key people from the film including Kevin Costner, Jim Wilson, screenwriter and novelist Michael Blake and a few of the principle actors. While this is easily the most in-depth extra on the disc it doesn’t prove as interesting a the 20 minute Original Making-of Dance with Wolves, simply because there is too much recollecting and these people are looking at the film with more a lens of nostalgia than actual hindsight. Consequently, the shorter feature seems a bit more fresh and a tad more real because of it. Other features on the second disc include A Day In The Live On The Western Frontier, which provides some historical data on what people saw as opportunity out on uncharted land. Interesting context is given as to why there was such animosity between homesteaders and the Indians. The featurette don’t hesitate to point out some of the film’s historical inaccuracies, which is admirable. There is also a theatrical trailer and two TV spots that are in standard definition. There is also a photomontage with an introduction by set photographer Bill Glass; this is also in standard definition.
The film’s video quality is considerable for a film. There was very little noticeable compression to be found anywhere on disc 1. Some of the film’s scenes are truly beautiful in HD and have held up considerably well for a film that was shot almost 22 years ago. Such highlights include the scene where Dunbar and Stands Like a Fist kiss for the first time. In one set up of this scene she stands in a body of water that nicely reflects the magic hour sunlight. In the reverse where they lean upon a tree, we see with great detail the fluff from the cotton trees as they blow across the shot’s foreground. Sound is also pretty impressive as it comes in an English 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio and standard English Dolby Surround. Much care was taken for the film’s presentation. Unfortunately there is only one English setting for the subtitles in this movie. It should have had one for the film’s Lakota and Pawnee dialogue and another with English as well. The one English subtitle encompasses all, and fact that setting reads as “English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing” is a tad condescending to non-Lakota and Pawnee speaking people.
While the Dances with Wolves 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray set will probably not reaffirm the film’s place in history, it does provide enough insight to those who are fans of the film. The amount of historical data present makes is commendable. The making of stuff is well done and the AV presentation is pretty strong. Overall, it seems to cover all of the film’s bases, even if this isn’t one of Costner’s baseball movies.
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