DANCES WITH WOLVES
Right up front, let me say that I have never seen the theatrical cut of the Academy Award winning DANCES WITH WOLVES. My first experience with the film was the extended version of the film, which was released on Laserdisc roughly a decade ago. I immediately fell in love with DANCES WITH WOLVES in this form, and couldnít comprehend how approximately an hourís worth of footage could have been cut from this wonderful movie. As you might have guessed, I had no desire to see the truncated version of this epic western, so I never bothered with the initial DVD release, which only offered the theatrical cut. Fortunately, I can now retire my Laserdisc because MGM Home Entertainment has issued the extended edition of DANCES WITH WOLVES as a special edition DVD release for $29.98.
DANCES WITH WOLVES is a fascinating western that is sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans during the nineteenth century, thus the movie weaves its tale to embrace the culture of the Sioux people. The protagonist of the film is Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), a decorated hero of the Civil War, who requests a posting on the frontier, so he can see this unspoiled expanse of the American wilderness before it is gone. When Dunbar arrives at his remote post, he discovers Fort Sedgewick a deserted ruin, but makes the decision to stay and fulfill his duty to the United States Army.
After a period of solitude, Dunbar finds himself unexpectedly befriended by a lone wolf that remains within close proximity to the fort. While the wolf is an intriguing distraction, Dunbar still longs for human companionship, which causes him to seek out his nearest neighbors- the Sioux Indians, a people with whom he has had some minor skirmishes. While the Sioux are initially distrustful of Dunbar, the tribeís spiritual leader Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) becomes fascinated with the white soldier and decides that his people should learn more about him. Eventually, Dunbar and the Sioux form a relationship of mutual respect after the language gap is bridged by Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman, who was adopted by the tribe when she was an orphaned young girl.
While I certainly love DANCES WITH WOLVES, I have never been particularly impressed with Kevin Costnerís talents as an actor. Costnerís emotionally reserved performance style does come across somewhat better in DANCES WITH WOLVES than it has in other films; however, it was his work as the filmís director, that showed where his true talent lies. Costner brought true vision and a real emotional center to this western epic, and his efforts behind the camera earned him a richly deserved Oscar for Best Director. Additionally, Costner imbues DANCES WITH WOLVES with a definite sweep during the larger set pieces and a real sense of humanity during the smaller moments. The fine supporting cast of DANCES WITH WOLVES features Rodney A. Grant, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Tantoo Cardinal, Robert Pastorelli, Charles Rocket and Maury Chaykin.
MGM Home Entertainment has made DANCES WITH WOLVES available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer is nothing short of superb, which is certain to leave fans with a big smile on their faces. DANCES WITH WOLVES is a fairly gorgeous movie and this transfer really shows off Dean Semlerís Academy Award winning cinematography. One other note, the presentation of the film does not show any truly noticeable signs that would differentiate the theatrical cut from the additional footage that comprises the extended version of the film.
The image on the DVD is quite sharp and beautifully defined, even in sequences captured under low lighting. Colors are fairly vibrant and favor a warm, earthen toned palette, as well as producing natural looking flesh tones. Neither chroma noise nor smearing is present to mar color reproduction. Blacks appear inky, whites are crisp and contrast is truly excellent. The film element used for the transfer is virtually free from blemishes, although there is a slightly noticeable grain structure during the darker scenes. DANCES WITH WOLVES has been authored across both sides of a DVD-18, which keeps digital compression artifacts very well concealed indeed.
The Special Edition release of DANCES WITH WOLVES comes with a very fine sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. For a movie that was made on a rather small budget (for its size and scope), the sound design is a rather impressive element of the completed film. Certainly not as aggressively mixed as newer films, DANCES WITH WOLVES makes excellent use of the entire soundstage- adding character and ambience to smaller moments, while pumping up the larger sequences with full-bodied sound that places the viewer in the midst of the action. The bass channel proves to be thunderous during the encounters with stampeding buffalo and down right solid at other times. Dialogue is render rather crisply and intelligibility is always excellent whenever the characters are speaking English. No other language tracks have been included on the DVD, although English, French and Spanish subtitles have been provided.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials that have been spread across both discs of this two-disc set. On the first disc, one will find two separate running audio commentaries. The first commentary track is with director/star Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson, while the second features cinematographer Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis. Both commentary tracks prove to be outstanding and worth the viewers time (yes, an additional eight hours) for the amount of valuable information that the participants impart about this wondrous production.
Also on disc one is an Original Making Of Dances With Wolves featurette from the time of the filmís theatrical release. The twenty-minute program isnít the usual fluff PR piece and provides a decent look behind the scenes. A "Music Video" consisting of John Barryís music and behind-the-scenes and movie footage closes out the first disc. Onto disc two, one will find The Creation Of An Epic: A Retrospective Documentary is an eighty-two minute program that has been broken up into parts that cover various aspects of the production. The program is a fascinating look back on the creation of this classic western, which can be viewed a section at a time, or in its entirety thanks to a play all option. Also on disc two is a photo montage of publicity photographs that are shown slideshow fashion and is accompanied by John Barryís music. A poster gallery, two TV spots and the filmís theatrical trailer close out the supplements.
DANCES WITH WOLVES is an incredible western epic that has certainly achieved classic stature. MGM Home Entertainment has wisely issued the extended version of film on DVD, giving its fans the kind of special edition they have been longing for. Not only is the quality of the presentation outstanding, so is the DVDís supplemental content. Absolutely recommended.
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