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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "Dances With Wolves" Special Ed. (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

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Dances With Wolves
Special Edition






Studio: MGM/Orion
Year: 1990
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 236 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish




The Civil War had ended, but one man's battle with himself was just beginning...


This must be about the fourth or fifth time that
I have watched Dances With Wolves, and it
just astounds me that this film still manages to
pull so many of my emotional strings. One minute
I am laughing at the way a white man and a tribe
of Indians try to understand one another -- the
next moment I find myself in tears as I watch other
white men come along and destroy that Indian culture.

Throughout motion picture history, film has
constantly portrayed Indians as vicious war-like
folk. Westerns have always strived to glorify the
cowboys who fought so valiantly against the red man.
It was these sort of films that gave me an inner
prejudice towards Indians, that is, until films like
Dances With Wolves and Little Big Man
showed these noble people in an entirely different
light. It was these films that allowed us to look
into the hearts of many different kinds of human
beings and realize the badly wrong things we have
done to the Indian people who lived across the
great prairies of North America.



Kevin Costner directs and stars as Lt. John Dunbar,
a member of the U.S. Army. As the film opens, we
watch the soldier regain consciousness in a Civil
War battlefield amputation tent, about to lose
his wounded foot. Dressing himself and taking a
horse, he rides a suicide route in front of the
Confederate picket line, managing to barely escape
death. When he is hailed a hero for his efforts, he
is given a choice of assignments. Dunbar chooses
to see the prairie "before it's all gone" and is
posted to Fort Sedgeweck, an outpost in the middle
of "Indian territory," where he keeps a journal
of his experiences as he rebuilds the fort, and
even encounters a friendly wolf.



Tending fort, Dunbar eventually finds himself
face-to face with a trespassing Sioux tribal leader
named kicking Bird (Graham Greene). What follows
is a relationship that begins with fear and distrust
on both sides, gradually evolving into friendship.
When Dunbar sets out to visit the Indian village
for the first time, he happens upon a native woman,
(Mary McDonnell) apparently distraught and on the
verge of death after slitting her wrists. When John
saves her and brings her back to her people, he
realizes that the Indians are not the savages he
thought they would be. Through the friendship of a
warrior and a medicine man, and the love of a
remarkable woman, Dunbar discovers his true place
on earth - yet to safeguard it he must ultimately
make the hardest choice of his life.



Dances with Wolves is an epic motion picture
that not only captures the wild, beautiful world
of the American frontier in the 19th century but
attempts to give people a clear and sobering look
of the fate of the Native American tribes during
those years. The realism and authenticity of the
film are reinforced with the use of authentic Lakota
Sioux dialect which is subtitled in English throughout
the film. Dances With Wolves is a visually
and emotionally rich film experience thanks to its
Oscar-caliber acting performances, Dean Semler's
stunning cinematography and John Barry's stirring score.


The Extended Edition


Some time after the film's theatrical release,
an extended version of this film appeared in a
Special Edition laserdisc that sported some 55 minutes
of additional footage. Since the demise of that
format in the late 1990s, fans of the film have
been forever petitioning the release of that
Extended Edition to the DVD format.

Unfortunately, the initial DVD releases back in
1999 were of original 181 minute theatrical version.
The most popular of these versions was a 2-disc
high-bitrate DTS version of the film produced by
Image Entertainment which is still regarded
today as demo-quality material.

MGM has now released Dances With Wolves in
a brand-new 2-disc Special Edition which finally
brings us the highly requested Extended Version to
the DVD format (minus the inclusion of DTS). This
is the very first time I have ever seen this
extended version, and I must say that although it
took me nearly 4 hours of my time to watch it, the
experience made the film seem practically brand-new
for me. The 52 additional minutes that represent
this "new" version adds more depth to an already
incredibly deep movie.

The newly added material certainly fleshes out
much of the story and its characters. Without
spending too much time listing all 52 minutes
of added scenes, I'll give a summary of what
you can expect.




One of the most talked about scenes over the years
is Dunbar's interaction with the insane Major
Fambrough who sends Dunbar out to a new base right
in the frontier. These additional scenes give us
more moments that lead up to and follow his suicide.
Our first introduction to Stands With Fist is at
the Sioux camp where we see her crying out in
anguish alongside her slain husband. In another
sequence, Dunbar has a moment of doubt about his
newfound friends as he finds them all celebrating
their slaughter of the white buffalo hunters who
were responsible for the waste of so many fine
animals. There's another really nice moment where
we see silhouettes of Dunbar, Kicking Bird and
Stands with Fist as they throw rocks across the
prairie. Shorter sequences involve meetings
with the Indian elders. All of these scenes are
so seamlessly edited back in the film that those
who have not seen the theatrical cut in some time
may find it difficult to recognize all the added
material.



Dances With Wolves arrives in a uniquely
styled outer packaging, which from a distance, really
looks like a leather-clad journal with buttoned
strap. Unfortunately, once you remove the shrinkwrap
you'll find a flimsy cardboard cover held together
with a thin velcro strap. Not that I am complaining --
I am sure this was the best the studio could do
without escalating the cost of this product. The
cardboard journal cover opens up to a 3-pane
gatefold that contains some very nice photos in
addition to a personal introduction from director
Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson.



Inside the cardboard journal cover rests the
standard Amaray casing with an additional Alphapak
page that holds the 2 DVD discs. A 4-page
booklet is filled with in-depth information about
the film, including a list of chapter stops. What
is notably absent here is any indication of where
the new material has been added into the film --
something I wish MGM had taken the time to map
out for easier access.


How is the transfer?


I wasn't confident that this new version of
Dances With Wolves would be able to stand
up against the former DTS version from Image
Entertainment
released at a higher bit-rate.
Looking at both versions, it's nearly impossible
to tell each other apart, though I give an edge
to the MGM transfer that looks slightly more
brilliant and sharper. This film is everything
you would expect from a finely mastered transfer --
a pristine print that sports not a single blemish,
images that are brilliantly defined and colors
that are deeply saturated and accurately rendered.
Blacks are very deep and prominent throughout.
This is as good as a transfer gets, folks!



I wasn't happy that MGM decided to omit a DTS
track on this DVD. I compared both the Image DTS
release against the MGM release in a few small
spots and found the DTS version to be a slightly
more enveloping and realistic sound environment.
It's a real shame that MGM couldn't go the distance
in giving us the absolute best picture and sound
they could -- especially when they spread the
film presentation across 2 sides of a DVD disc.

Mind you, the film's 5.1 transfer isn't anything
to smirk at. The soundtrack comes across with
wide dynamics, tight bass, and crisp clear dialogue.
I love hearing how distinct the sound of whispering
plains grass sound across the front channels. I
didn't find the activity in the rear channels to
be exceedingly aggressive, but they do handle all
the film's ambient surround sound effects including
bullets that occasionally whizz past your head and
a rainstorm that sounds as if it is happening around
the listening area. Of course, the film's infamous
buffalo stampede still is an impressive sonic
experience to behold. The .LFE channel really
struts its stuff not only underlining the hoofs
of rushing horses, but adds thunderous rumble to
the buffalo hunt, where the Sioux riders race
alongside thousands of rampaging buffalo.



Special Features



The entire feature has been spread out across
two sides of a DVD-18 disc. The first half of
the feature runs approximately 2 hours and 13
minutes, ending its side break with a INTERMISSION
card that plays against the film score, directing
viewers to turn the DVD over to the opposite side.
The side break seems to be very well placed.



On Side 2 of Disc One, we find a few added bonus
features....

First up we get not just one -- but two full-length
audio commentaries. The first features director
of Photography Deam Semler and Editor Neil Travis.
The second, which I opted to sample, features Kevin
Costner and producer Jim Wilson. After nine Summers
these two individuals reunite to give a commentary
that is very warm and informative. What a better
way to start this commentary than to talk about the
film's opening scene where both Costner and Wilson
are standing inside an amputee tent with Kevin's
bloodied stunt double lying across the table. We
learn how the studios pressured Costner and Wilson
to remove the opening 10 minutes of the film and
how they fought back to keep that footage intact
for the fact that it was a frank representation of
the Civil War period. Costner talks about what
it was like to do his nude scene -- hoping that the
photographers were careful enough to hide his bare
necessities behind the grass brush. Throughout this
commentary the director talks about the various Indian
wardrobe, how he staged many of his shots, and shares
lots of fun memories about the cast. From the bits
and pieces of commentary I sampled, I found this to
be a real treat to listen to. Costner certainly put
some effort into making this informative.




The original making of Dances With Wolves
is an excellent featurette for the fact that it
never becomes overly promotional, and gives us lots
of behind-the-camera activity. I enjoy the fact
that we are brought back to 1990 and the original
mind set of the film's cast and crew. Costner
talks about what it was like being a first-time
director. Though he was inexperienced, he felt
he brought an interesting perspective to the film.
It's not too surprising that he and his filmmaking
partners often disagreed, but time would prove
them wrong. In an interview Mary McDonnell
(Stands With Fist), talks about the honor of having
the part of a white woman who becomes part of
a highly spiritual culture. Actor Grahan Greene
(Kicking Bird) talks about his feelings of including
original Sioux Indian dialect in the film. Just a
terrific little featurette made in a time before
featurettes became so commercialized.
(length: approx. 21 minutes)

An Original Music Video by conductor John
Barry shows some very sweet moments from behind-
the-camera during the making of the film.
(length: approx. 4 minutes)



Okay, let's move forward to Disc Two where
the wealth of Bonus Material awaits us.....




The creation of an epic: A retrospective
documentary
is an all-new immense 82-minute
featurette that shows how a very uncertain film
shot on a budget of $16 million went on to become
a Best Picture, not to mention one of the grandest
epics ever made. Broken down into categories,
Novel to screen; The Actor becomes the director;
The Buffalo Hunt; The look and sound of Dances;
the Art of composition
and The success of
Dances
, there isn't a piece of information left
out of this featurette. Through the various
chapters we learn how Costner, Jim Wilson and
writer Micheal Blake transformed the book to
screen. From there we watch first-time director
Costner in action behind the camera as he talks
about what it was like to be put in the driver's
seat. Stunt Coordinator Norman Howell talks about
staging the infamous Buffalo Hunt and his avoidance
of using professional stunt men. There's a look
at make-up and wardrobe as well as interviews with
director of Photography Dean Semler and editor
Neil Travis. One of my favorite parts of this
documentary was listening to the cast and filmmakers
talk about Oscar night and their anticipations and
disappointments with the various awards given out
for the film. This is one of the grandest "making
of" featurettes ever to appear on DVD -- certainly
fitting for the film it represents.



Still photographer Ben Glass introduces a photo
montage
of publicity photographs that he had
taken during the film's production. Though this
was the first time he had ever shot for a feature
film, Glass has managed to do an admirable job with
the dozens upon dozens of photos that are presented
against John Barry's orchestral score.
(length: approx. 9 minutes)

Rounding up the extras, a poster gallery
presents us with four unique designs for the
film's promotional one-sheet. Two TV Spots
and the film's original theatrical trailer
are also included.


Final Thoughts



Dances With Wolves is one of the most
visually and emotionally stunning movies I have
ever had the opportunity to see. It's heartfelt
tribute to a vanished culture is one that will
not easily be erased from memory.

MGM has done an exceptional service to fans of
this film by finally bringing out this Extended
Version to DVD that features a first-rate audio
and video transfer, and an outstanding support
of supplemental material.

This is truly a DVD set worth owning -- even if
you already own earlier released versions of this
film.


Release Date: May 20, 2003


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality
 
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Felix Martinez

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Great film, great review!

Looking forward to adding the new disc to my library, right next to my Image DVD and LD box set (I'm still not going to get rid of that huge LD set with book and CD!).

Cheers,
 

Nick Senger

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Thanks for the excellent review! I can't wait to get this great film, especially since I have not seen it since it was in theaters.
 

Jon_W

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Solid review Ron. It is nice to know there are other people who are touched this this film. I am looking forward to May 20 even more now, but is was always a sure purchase for me.
 

ThomasC

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Thomas
Thanks for the review, Ron. I think you'll want to edit the "Home Theater Forum DVD Reviews" section of the front page, because Dances With Wolves isn't listed as Highly Recommended.
 

Ronald Epstein

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You guys are very kind.

Actually, I just updated the review. I thought
my remarks about the two commentaries were
included, but I accidently posted the first draft
of my review (I always review the commentary last).

I have updated the review with my thoughts on
the commentary that I sampled.

Also, I have adjusted the announcements to reflect
the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED status.

Thanks again.
 

Bill J

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Great review, Ron.

Any chance that you will be reviewing the Windtalkers Extended Edition which is being released on May 20th also?
 

Ronald Epstein

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Bill,

Probably not. Though I just received the screener,
Windtalkers was a film I just didn't care for.
Having to sit through it again is going to be a
painful experience. I am opting instead to review
some classic MGM fare being released at the same time.

Then again, who knows...if I have the time I may
just review it after all.
 

TheBat

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they showed the special edition of Dances With Wolves on ABC Network many years ago..they showed it in theatres in the UK.. then released it on laser disc. Iwatch the ABC version of it.I also saw the laser disc version.

JACOB
 

BrentJ

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I have never seen this movie (theater or extended version) so I will definately be adding this to my collection.
 

Joe Tilley

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I cannot wait until this one comes out. I have wonted to get it for quite some time now but when I decided to get it I found out it was no longer in production.
This is easily one of my favorite movies I have seen yet but I don't know if I've seen the theatrical version or the special edition. The first time I saw it was on HBO I think, about 5 or 6 years ago, & I caught about the last half of it when it aired on tv.
I am disappointed to see that we wont get treated to a DTS track, but I will still be very happy to add this to my collection.
Thanks for the great review Ron:emoji_thumbsup: :emoji_thumbsup:
 

TonyD

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ron compared the image of the old dts with this new version.
i was wondering if anyone can compare the new to the old DD version.

i feel like i rmrmber reading that that version had a slightly better pick then the dts image disk.
 

Steve_Tk

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Thanks for the good review. Can't wait to see the extended scenes because I've never seen them before.
 

Kenneth Cummings

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Good review once again Ron. Even so I don't like Kelvin Coaster that much, I been meaning to see this movie, and this dvd sounds like a good purchase for me.
 

Lou Sytsma

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Well Ron your review has made me change my mind about this - looks like I'm going to have to pick it up now.:angry: :D

BTW - the music played during the Intermission screen - does it recycle after awhile or does it play the whole soundtrack?
 

Joshua_Y

Screenwriter
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Why? Why? Why DVD-18? Ugh...I hate having to get up and flip it over...makes my 5-disc player useless...would have been better just to make it a 3 disc set...oh well...Im still gettin it...
 

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