Dances with Wolves

I have this uncanny knack of being able to pick the Oscar-winning Best Film each year. My friends hate me for this, but when I’ve seen that year’s Best Picture winner, I know it. It’s been going on for more than ten years, and not once was I wrong. The moment I walked out of the screening of “Dances with Wolves,” I turned to my friends and said they’ve just seen the Best Picture of 1990.

danceswithwolvesOf course, it didn’t take a genius to know that Kevin Costner’s debut as a director would go on to win at the Academy Awards. The film is that good. You walk out of it feeling like you’ve seen a movie. Not just a movie, a great movie. Like all great movies, “Dances with Wolves” is filled with characters and situations that manage to touch us long after we’ve left the darkness of the theater.

Unlike films that came before it, “Dances with Wolves” was a film about Native Americans told from their perspective. Kevin Costner and screenwriter Michael Blake (adapting his own novel) took great pains to make sure that “Dances with Wolves” was as accurate and responsible as it could be. Costner chose Native American actors to play the supporting roles and fill in the background as extras.

The script was translated into the Sioux language, and a Native American teacher was hired to make sure that the cast spoke it correctly and with conviction. The film maker’s went through a lot of effort to guarantee that “Dances with Wolves” would be an experience that anyone who saw it would not soon forget. Epic in scope yet intimate in it’s human strengths, Costner’s film fills the screen with adventure and romance, and occasionally heartache.

Costner is superb both in front of and behind the camera (he won the Oscar for Best Director). He plays Civil War Lieutenant John Dunbar, whose mindless yet heroic deed in battle lands him the assignment of his choice. Dunbar decides he wants to see the great frontier before it disappears. He’s assigned to a deserted outpost in the middle of nowhere, and due to some complex plot threads, is immediately forgotten by his superiors.

On his own and trying to make the best of a bad situation, Dunbar tidies up the place and gets on with his life. He befriends a wild horse, and eventually a wild wolf that hangs around the parameter of his camp. The wolf isn’t the only one keeping an eye on Dunbar. A local tribe of Sioux have been keeping tabs on Dunbar as well. It’s only a matter of time before Dunbar and his Sioux neighbors meet, and when Dunbar saves the life of the beautiful Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell), he’s welcomed into the Sioux camp. Lucky for Dunbar, Stands with a Fist knows a little English, so communication between the two cultures opens up.

How Dunbar becomes an important member of the tribe and falls in love with Stands with a Fist is interlaced with some exciting sequences, like an impressive buffalo hunt that is both captivating and thrilling. There’s also an attack by a vicious rival tribe, and an encounter with the Calvary that tests Dunbar’s loyalties to his new family. Told with intelligence and respect, the story is honest and refreshingly free of cliches. The cast is superior, and the tech credits are just outstanding. “Dances with Wolves” is an event picture worthy of the title.


VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Except for a minute trace of compression artifacts and some problems with patterns, the digital transfer of “Dances with Wolves” is exceptional. Cinematographer Dean Semler’s gorgeous landscapes and perfectly lit interiors survive the transfer with the utmost respect. Delivered in the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions, “Dances with Wolves” features striking colors (especially hot reds and soothing blues) and solid blacks. The flesh tones look a little warm in some scenes, but it’s an artistic choice and not a transfer problem. The images are sharp and display lots of depth, even the intricately lit night shots.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

The “Dances with Wolves” DVD has something to please every sound system, from a thunderous 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track that puts you right in the middle of the action, to an impressive Dolby Digital Surround track that is as good as they get. The DVD delivers a crisp, clear sound mix with intricate stereo separation, powerful basses that make it sound like a buffalo stampede is running through your house, and pin drop high ends that cut through the air with precision. The dialogue mix is superior, while John Barry’s lush and romantic score fills the room from all directions. “Dances with Wolves” has been THX mastered, and the quality is noticeable.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed Captions for the hard of hearing in English.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The interactive menus are some of the most attractive I’ve seen. Handsome, rustic images frame images from the film, while the scene access menus feature clips from each scene and the sound of buffalo hoof beats stampeding in the background. The DVD features an alternate audio commentary with Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson filled with juicy little insights about the making of the film and the hardships of directing a first film. Costner and Wilson have been friends for a long time, and it’s this chumminess that makes the narrative so engaging. They work so well together they can complete each other’s sentences, which they do. I liked the fact that the commentary was taped in stereo, with Costner’s comments coming from the left speaker and Wilson’s comments emerging from the right speaker. Costner and Wilson divulge enough behind-the-scenes info that you should watch the film first before listening to their comments or they might destroy some of the illusion for you. I’ve seen the film numerous times, so I was thrilled to get a different take on it. The DVD includes filmographies of the cast and crew.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Well saddle me up and call me Cha Cha’s with Chihuahuas, “Dances with Wolves” is a must for every DVD collection.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated PG-13/181 Minutes/Color/RSDL/25 Chapter Stops/ Snapcase/#ID4710ORDVD

John Larsen





HMO: Orion Home Video/Image Entertainment

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