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

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Apr 22, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein

    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


    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
    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

    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
    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
    , 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
    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

    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
  2. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

    Aug 27, 2001
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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!).

  3. Nick Senger

    Nick Senger Stunt Coordinator

    Jun 17, 2002
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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.
  4. Tom Tsai

    Tom Tsai Supporting Actor

    Nov 13, 2002
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    Wow, thanks for the great review. I'll be picking this up. [​IMG]
  5. Jon_W

    Jon_W Stunt Coordinator

    Jul 19, 2000
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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.
  6. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

    Dec 15, 2001
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    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.
  7. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Jan 24, 2002
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    Zen K. Butler
    A truly epic review! for a great epic film. It's already ordered
  8. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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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.
  9. Bill J

    Bill J Producer

    Oct 27, 2001
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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?
  10. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    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.
  11. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

    Apr 15, 2002
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    great review as usual, and looking forward to finally own this

  12. TheBat

    TheBat Producer

    Aug 2, 1999
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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.

  13. BrentJ

    BrentJ Second Unit

    Apr 27, 2002
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    I have never seen this movie (theater or extended version) so I will definately be adding this to my collection.
  14. Joe Tilley

    Joe Tilley Supporting Actor

    Jan 1, 2002
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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[​IMG] [​IMG]
  15. Lucho Cohaila

    Nov 24, 2002
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    excellent review Ron...... an excellent selection of captures....

  16. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

    Dec 4, 2001
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    Great review Ron....I can't wait to pick this one up on May 20th. I've never seen the extended cut before and from your detailed review, this disc is going to be a real pleasure to watch.[​IMG] [​IMG]
  17. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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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.
  18. Steve_Tk

    Steve_Tk Cinematographer

    Apr 30, 2002
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    Thanks for the good review. Can't wait to see the extended scenes because I've never seen them before.
  19. Kenneth Cummings

    Kenneth Cummings Supporting Actor

    Aug 7, 2001
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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.
  20. Lou Sytsma

    Lou Sytsma Producer

    Nov 1, 1998
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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.[​IMG] [​IMG]

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

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