Blu-Ray Review: ‘Dances With Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition’

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CHICAGO – Can anyone else believe that it’s been 20 years since “Dances With Wolves”? In a lot of movie snob circles, the Kevin Costner epic has been relegated to a tragic tale as the thing most remembered about it is that it stole several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, from a movie that even Costner himself would probably now admit deserved them more — “GoodFellas.” Watching it again after so long, it’s easy to see what people liked about the film. It may not have deserved Best Picture but it’s still a worthy addition to many a movie lover’s collection. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0

In many ways, “Dances With Wolves” was about timing. Kevin Costner had just come off a remarkably successful run of films in the ’80s that had made him one of the most beloved actors in the Hollywood star system. And the Academy loves it when famous stars get serious behind the camera (“Ordinary People,” “Braveheart”). The seven Oscars bestowed on “Dances With Wolves” weren’t completely without merit but it’s impossible to deny that there wasn’t a little bit of gratitude for how much money Costner had made the system over the previous decade at play in the voting.

It also helped the film’s reputation that “Dances With Wolves” was a passion project for its filmmaker, who reportedly spent years getting it together and fought the studio on its measly budget, a reported $22 million. According to Box Office Mojo, the film has made $424 million worldwide, a stunning number even today, much less in 1990 dollars. The film went on to be nominated for an amazing 12 Oscars and won 7 of them including Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Sound Mixing, and Score (a truly beautiful one from John Barry). It was one of the biggest success stories of 1990.

Dances With Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition was released on Blu-Ray on January 11th, 2011
Dances With Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition was released on Blu-Ray on January 11th, 2011
Photo credit: Fox/MGM Home Video

Even in high school, I remember thinking that Marty Scorsese was getting screwed and that “GoodFellas” was not only the superior film but that history would soon recognize it as such. In no time at all, but definitely by the time Marty was being considered again in the ’00s for films like “The Aviator” and “The Departed,” dozens of writers were noting that “he should have won in 1990.” It didn’t help the legacy of Costner’s film that its director’s star seriously lost some luster in the ensuing decades with “Waterworld” and “The Postman” becoming cautionary tales.

The revolving door of critical acclaim can be fickle and I think history is coming back around to “Dances With Wolves.” Sure, it’s a bit melodramatic and I’m generally opposed to tales of minorities that turn the white man into a hero, but this is a well-made film. It’s not coincidence that the Academy ignored the movie’s three acting nominations and instead awarded in tech categories where it truly deserved to win. The cinematography by Dean Semler is his best and Barry’s score is stunning.

Naturally, beautiful camera work and lovely music play better on Blu-ray and the two-disc special edition release from MGM/Fox plays to the film’s strengths. Just as they did for the 30th anniversary of “Raging Bull” earlier this month (perhaps someone sensed the irony of linking “Dances” with Scorsese again), MGM/Fox has released a beautiful special edition. January 2011 has seen a number of catalog releases and the best two have come courtesy of MGM’s archive.

The two-disc set includes previously-available special material along with 55 minutes of additional scenes in the film (for a total running time of 234 minutes) and new material, including retrospective looks at the film. It’s a great collection of bonus features for an epic that deserves another look.

Special Features:
o Audio Commentary with Kevin Costner and Producer Jim Wilson
o Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Dean Semler and Film Editor Neil Travis
2 Blu-ray Exclusive In-Feature Experiences: Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide and Real History or Movie Make-Believe?
o A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier
o Original Making-of Dances With Wolves
o The Creation of an Epic: A Retrospective Documentary
o Dances Photo Montage with Introduction by Photographer Bill Glass
o Original theatrical Trailer and More!

“Dances With Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition” stars Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, and Graham Greene. It was written by Michael Blake and directed by Kevin Costner. It was released on Blu-ray on January 11th, 2011. It is rated PG-13 and runs 234 minutes. content director Brian Tallerico

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