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“Dances with Wolves” - (20th Anniversary)- {Blu-ray}
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: MGM (Distributed by Fox)
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
1/11/11
Special Features:

Yep, there’s lots of ‘em including—Two commentary tracks, featurettes, documentaries, trailers, poster and still galleries, TV spots, music video, trivia tracks Rated: PG-13

Review:

The late 20th century brought a lot of very unusual and cool things unfortunately films that are retroactively PC isn’t one of them. At the time “Dances with Wolves” was released “Dances with Wolves” was at the forefront of Hollywood’s move to be politically sensitive and take the naïve point-of-view the noble savage a cliché that has weaved its way in and out of Hollywood films for the last 40 years. For all of its merit the one thing that hobbles “Dances with Wolves” and prevents it from smoothly gliding across the open prairie this hoary cliché which is about as offensive in its idiocy as the other simplistic extreme (i.e., that ALL “advanced” cultures are superior to “primitive” societies). The truth is somewhere between these two extremes and based on the cultural bias of the viewer as well as whether or not they embraced the foolish concept of manifest destiny. ***

Regardless of this major flaw “Dances with Wolves” still manages to work due to producer/director/actor Kevin Costner’s performance as disenchanted Civil war soldier John Dunbar who ends up going native after a brave but suicidal attack on the enemy line. As a reward he’s given any assignment he wants and he picks the wild frontier of the Dakota countryside. Dunbar finds that the outpost he’s been assigned to has been abandoned and he fascinates the Sioux living in the area just enough so that they don’t kill him immediately. Dunbar earns their respect and falls in love with Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell) a white woman that was raised by the Sioux after her family died. ***

When the outpost is reopened the soldiers stationed there have orders to subdue any Indians in the area and Dunbar isn’t considered truth worthy since he has gone native. Dunbar gets thrown into their conflict and he has to consider whether or not he is going to protect his new people or the world that he ran away from. ***

As I’ve stated before any western is really about the time it was made in and “Dances with Wolves” fits that bill to a tee—it’s a politically correct tract on the “evils” of our society. While that evil may exist, it exists in ALL cultures. The film is certainly well made and entertaining so it’s relatively easy to forgive the film for its sin of creating a simpleton’s parable. I haven’t read Michael Blake’s novel but it is as derivative and morally simplistic as the film is, then it isn’t much of a novel at all. Don’t get me wrong, “Dances with Wolves” is deceptively entertaining which makes its message go down easier but it also invites simplistic thinking about a complex time when two very different cultures with completely different sets of values clashed because of their incompatible philosophies. ***

I would have gotten around to reviewing this Blu-ray reissue of the film but MGM which is now distributed by Fox has elected to not pass along copies to a lot of review sites instead opting for more friendly and less critical “consumer” sites that will review the film without any critical thought. I had requested a copy of this over a month ago and was informed that the demographics (even though this site is in the top 20 for websites) weren’t robust enough. I ended up having to get a rental copy which delayed this review. I don’t begrudge Fox wanting to get as broad a review audience as possible but it seems as if offering these films to those who will uncritically endorse the quality of the product while a smart marketing move, is at heart, a deceptive practice. Hopefully the person that handles the MGM titles distributed by Fox will wise up and recognize that a critical assessment that is honest and without bias as to the quality of the presentation is essential for maintaining some level of critical detachment. Anyhow, enough of my rant let’s get on to the technical presentation of this Oscar winning film. ---

Image & Sound:

Based on a number of MGM catalog titles that Fox has been in charge of, I was expecting the worst for “Dances with Wolves”. Luckily, I turned out to be wrong. The often breathtaking cinematography looks positively stunning at times with a sharp, detailed presentation that doesn’t suffer the over processing that has marred many presentations from Fox. Fox has steadily improved in presenting exceptional quality presentations of catalog titles unlike, say, Universal with the substandard presentations for films like “Darkman” and “Spartacus”. The four hour film is on the first disc. ***

Audio sounds positively stunning as well with a beautiful sounding, rich Lossless presentation that highlights John Barry’s marvelous score.

Special Features:

Porting over the standard deluxe edition DVD extras to this edition would seem par for the course for most studios. Fox however has introduced some new special features that specific to this disc and in HD. ***

The commentary track by Costner and co-producer Jim Wilson is informative but a bit laid back. The second commentary track by cinematography Dean Semler and film editor Neil Travis provides a bit more on the technical side of things. ***

We also get two “In-Feature” pieces including a “Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide” and a history quiz that are pop up trivia pieces. I suspect that unless you are a huge fan of the film you’re unlikely to watch ALL of these special features back to back. ***

The bulk of the rest of the special features are on disc two. We get a couple of documentaries on the making of the film (one ported over from the previous edition), a documentary on the westward expansion. We also get a music video, poster gallery, photo montage, the theatrical trailer and TV spots. I’m not sure if it was MGM or Fox’s decision on how this was put together but whichever party made the decisions on the transfer and special features should be commended. ---

Final Words:

“Dances with Wolves” is a simplistic but beautiful looking film that focuses on one man’s discovery of who he is and what he wants out of life on the frontier. While the film demonizes one culture at the expense of allowing the film to become little more than a politically correct tract that simplifies and distorts what happened on the American frontier.

 

 
 
 
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