{2jtab: Movie Review}

Dances With Wolves - 20th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition


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20th Anniversary Extended Cut Edition

5 Stars

“Actually, sir, I’m here at my own request.” - Lt. John Dunbar

There is a glorious peace that kicks up around the edges of the frame in Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves.  It’s a pastoral sense of emotion that is accompanied by John Barry’s brilliant score; it beckons; it whispers; it brings out a feeling of compassion and understanding from its audience.  While the film’s major themes might be heavy in thought, suggesting steely-eyed imperialism and national conquest, its little hand tickings are what makes the film run like clockwork.  As a result, Dances with Wolves - twenty years later - might just be the most sincere film to ever come from out of the (mostly) deplorable depths of Hollywood.

Costner’s film, made at the height of his massive popularity garnered from films like Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and The Untouchables, single-handedly ushered in the rebirth of the Western as viable film genre in 1990.  There was no Unforgiven yet; no Tombstone; no Wyatt Earp.  More importantly, this is the film responsible for a renewed interest in the American epic.  Yet, nothing is without its detractors.  Some critics have dismissed Dances with Wolves as merely an attempt to revisit and revise the roles of the typical western – in which the Indians are good and the Cowboys are bad – but nothing could be further from the truth.  Costner, pulling double-duty as the film’s director and lead actor, walks a very fine line here and gives us a carefully weighed balancing act where sympathies are on both sides of the proverbial fence; not just one.  And, make no mistake about it, a careful viewer will see that the Native Americans - specifically the Pawnee Tribe - are presented as animalistic as the classic Westerns from the 1950’s.  Simply put, Dances with Wolves is a damn fine story presented with an absolute integrity of the American spirit.

The screenplay, handled by Michael Blake (who based it off of his own book which, in turn, was based off of his original screenplay), is an elegant waltz through Sioux country by a wounded Civil War soldier, Lt. John Dunbar (Costner).  Requesting a post on the frontier, to see it before it disappears completely, Dunbar makes fast friends with his Sioux neighbors and Two Socks, a lone wolf eager for some human warmth and companionship, because he has to.  Through this contact, this struggle to communicate with another human being, Dunbar finds himself.  He’s not the war hero his army celebrates him as; he’s a neighbor of this tribe – and that role alone grows to mean more to him than any medallion pinned to his uniform ever could.

Dunbar has been told lots of things about Native Americans and he quickly figures out what is true and what are lies about these people.  He doesn’t speak the language, but communicates well enough – until a reluctant translator is required in the form of Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell).  Soon enough, his interest in the tribe gets significantly piqued by her fierce spirit.  Adopted by Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) and watched over by Wind in His Hair (Rodney A. Grant), Stands With a Fist becomes the love of Dunbar’s life.  Her struggles become Dunbar’s as he battles a never-ending war against the army he so bravely inspired when they come to claim the Sioux territory as their own.  It is a fight worth having, yet Dunbar knows he’s on the losing side.  To keep on moving is the only answer.  Never to find home again.  The audience, with the weight of history, knows this, too.  Still we watch; still we hope; and still our flesh becomes goose-pimpled by the final snowy shot as the film closes in a tidal wave of pathos.

To suggest that Dances with Wolves in anything less than a real masterpiece of faith and vision is doing this glorious treatise of American filmmaking a genuine disservice.  This is gold star material; ripe with meaning and character.  All one has to do is concentrate on the buffalo hunting scene or the poetry of the continual landscape – effectively captured by cinematographer Dean Semler – with its rustic hues and cinematic charm to understand all things Americana.  Shot on location in South Dakota and Wyoming, Dances with Wolves is, visually, in a league of its own.  Want to see a real sunset?  Watch this film.  It’s honesty of expression will do more to romanticize the sun and its surrounding landscape than the real thing could ever hope to do.

Celebrate this movie because, twenty years and still counting, they simply don’t make films like this one anymore and – with attention spans dropping and 3D gaining momentum - they probably won’t ever.


{2jtab: Film Info}

Dances With Wolves - 20th Anniversary Blu-ray EditionMPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, animal deaths, discreet sex & nudity.
Director: Kevin Costner
: Michael Blake
Kevin Costner; Mary McDonnell; Graham Greene; Robert Pastorelli
: Western | Drama
Lt. John Dunbar is about to discover the frontier...within himself.
Memorable Movie Quote: "The strangeness of this life cannot be measured: in trying to produce my own death, I was elevated to the status of a living hero."
MGM/UA Home Entertainment
Release Date:
November 21, 1990
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 11, 2011

Synopsis: Having been sent to a remote outpost in the wilderness of the Dakota territory during the American Civil War, Lieutenant John Dunbar encounters, and is eventually accepted into, the local Sioux tribe. He is known as "Dances with Wolves" to them and as time passes he becomes enamoured by the beautiful "Stands With a Fist". Not soon after, the frontier becomes the frontier no more, and as the army advances on the plains, John must make a decision that will not only affect him, but also the lives of the natives he now calls his people.


{2jtab: Blu-ray Details}

Dances With Wolves - 20th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

3 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 11, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (2 BDs)

I’d love to tell you that this film hasn’t simply been ported over from DVD to HD. I’d love to tell you that it has been painstakingly remastered both visually and sonically, but to do so would mean I would have speak of things I know not of. What I can tell you is that the film looks AMAZING on blu-ray. The color levels are strong throughout, although the black levels get a little soft indoors.  The only detraction I see on the disc is that the entire film is crammed on one blu-ray disc. Unfortunately, this leaves issues. Since this is the Director’s Cut and spans for a whopping four hours, the disc shows its limitations as some artificial banding and noise is noticeable. Not too much, mind you, but enough to warrant a concern and wonder if Hollywood will do right with a future release...ten years from now. The sound, presented DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, is wonderfully plump with surround effects. Horses travel through the channels and the ambience is legit throughout the affair, making for a wonderful sonic experience. True, this film looks and sounds better than it ever did upon its initial release.



Ported over from a previous release are the discs original commentaries. Both are good. Both are worth your time.

  • The first commentary is provided by Costner and producer Jim Wilson.
  • The second one is hosted by those responsible for the look of the film: the film’s Director of Photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis.

Special Features:

Again, most of these are ported over from the last DVD release of the film. There are only a couple of new entries: one being a worthless trivia segment and the other being a mini-docu about life on the frontier.  Not groundbreaking additions, but that’s what they give us. Fortunately, the original special features are exhaustive and well-worth the continued inclusion. They cover, in-depth, the making of the film; stressing the non-use of CGI effects and the real use of the actual language as spoken by the actors. Some features are archived from on-set filming and some are retrospective in nature, filmed for the initial DVD release of the film. For fans, there is an abundance of information. Too bad this release sees fit to only release them in a standard definition format.

The breakdown is as follows (please note the new features are marked with a star):

  • A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier (14 min)*
  • The Original Making of Dances with Wolves (21 min)
  • The Creation of an Epic - A Retrospective Documentary (74 min)
  • Original Music Video Featuring Music by John Barry (4 min)
  • Second Wind (5 min)
  • Confederate March and Music (2 min)
  • Getting the Point (4 min)
  • Burying the Hatchet (1 min)
  • Animatronic Buffalo (2 min)
  • Two TV Spots (1 min)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
  • Dances Photo Montage (9 min)
  • Three Image Poster Gallery
  • Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide *
  • Real History or Movie Make-Believe?*

{2jtab: Trailer}