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Featured Blu-ray Review: Dances with Wolves

February 17th, 2011

Dances with Wolves - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Dances with Wolves is the third Blu-ray review for an Oscar winning movie I've done in a row, following Raging Bull and Thelma and Louise. This film earned the most Oscars, at seven, and was the biggest hit at the box office of the three. It's a movie I enjoyed the first time I saw it, but has it aged well? And is the special edition Blu-ray worth the upgrade?

The Movie

Kevin Costner wrote, directed, and starred in this movie, which starts in the Civil War. Wounded in battle, John G. Dunbar is left on the operating table after the surgeon runs out of ether. Instead of lying there contemplating his fate while waiting for gangrene to set in, he rises up, puts his boots back on, and rides towards the enemy line. This provides the distraction needed for the Union troops to break the deadlock and advance forward. As a result, he's given a promotion, a horse, and his choice of assignments.

For his next assignment, John Dunbar chooses Fort Sedgewick, on the frontier, because he wants to see the frontier before it disappears. But when he gets to the fort, it's been abandoned, what little there was of it. It appears that even at its peak, Fort Sedgewick was little more than a few sod buildings and a crudely constructed fence. Despite this, he stays and is determined to rebuild, as best he can. This task is complicated when he begins to have run ins with the Sioux Indian tribe, which ran off the previous inhabitants. But instead of abandoning the post, or trying to fight a war, he tries to establish a relationship with the Sioux. When he saves Stands With A Fist, the adopted daughter of the tribe's medicine man, Kicking Bird, the two sides begin to interact, although the language barrier is a serious problem. Stands With A Fist eventually agrees to act as a translator and as John Dunbar learns more about the Sioux, he starts to feel closer to them than he does to the army, which sent him out there. So when the army does eventually come back, it sets up a real confrontation.

While watching this film, I was reminded of two other multi-Oscar winning films: Gladiator and Braveheart. I loved all three of these films the first time I watched them, but going back many years later and I was less impressed. It's still a good movie, but not seven Oscars good. (Ironically, while I would have given Best Picture and Best Director to Goodfellas instead of this movie, I would have given the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor to Graham Greene instead of Joe Pesci.) The story is a little simplistic, while its pacing is an issue, especially the nearly four-hour director's cut. That said, the film is still worth watching and there's enough replay value that many will want to own over just renting. But it would have been nice to have the theatrical cut as well as the extended edition.

The Extras

Disc one has two audio commentary tracks, the first with Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson, while the second is with D.P. Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis. There are also two pop-up tracks, the first about military ranks and Indian society, while the second is a trivia quiz. To get through all of it, you will have to set aside nearly 20 hours. Good luck.

The main extra on disc two is a feature-length retrospective on the movie, but there is also a short making of featurette, behind-the-scene clips, etc. The biggest of the new extras is A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier, a 14-minute featurette about the real life of a frontier settler. In total, its nearly two-and-a-half hours of extras.

The film's audio and video are both good, but not great. There are no major problems, but little things including a few scenes where the clarity is not what it should be, or there's a bit of compression artifacts. Most of the film looks fantastic, so I'm more than willing to forgive the small issues that creep up. As for the sound, it makes good use of your surround sound speakers during the more action oriented scenes, like the buffalo hunt. There are not that many scenes like that in the movie, but enough to give it a good score overall.

The Verdict

Like I said, Dances with Wolves is a good movie, but not as good as its performance at the Oscars would indicate. It's worth owning and the Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is loaded with extras and at just $15 would be a deal for shovelware. An easy recommendation.


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