PicturePresented in a anamorphic 2.35:1, the transfer on offer can be considered good to excellent. The most striking aspect of the print is simply how clean it is. Free from dirt and with only a handful of minor scratches, this looks like it was filmed yesterday. Colours are striking, and whilst the palettes are generally earthy and subdued, they impress with their clarity and depth. The skies in particular are a testament to the mastering of this DVD - taking up sometimes large portions of the screen, we are presented with bold swathes of blue with no compression artifacts or other gremlins present.
Clarity and detail are two high points also. Whilst some of the longer distance shots betray a touch of softness - though it's never too noticeable - overall this scores highly, with the grassy plains looking crisp with little in the way of edge enhancement (in fact this is only noticeable on horizons, and even then it isn't distracting), and the flanks of the Indian horses looking wonderfully detailed.
Shadow detail remains consistently good, with the night scenes possessing depth and again revealing no artifacts, and grain only becomes apparent in a handful of scenes.
Overall this is an excellent transfer, and comparing to the Region 1 edition reveals little in the way of differences: both are equally good.
It's worth noting at this point that the biggest drawback of this edition - and it really is a deal breaker - is the issue of subtitles. Many sections of dialogue are spoken in Sioux, and thus subtitles are required. Obviously as this is a Japanese release, you can only select “English” subs as a general rule, and not choose them to be displayed only during the Sioux language parts. So you have to choose to watch the entire movie with English subtitles, or be very quick with the remote and switch them on whenever an Indian speaks. This is incredibly frustrating, such that in the end I just left the subtitles switched on as I found myself missing opening sentences of Sioux.
The subtitles on the Japanese version are obviously player generated, and comparing them to the “burnt in” subtitles on the Extended Region 1 counterpart, I found them wanting: the burnt in text is of a smaller font and smoother, and much easier on the eye.
Whether this is of concern is purely down to individual taste: if it bothers you then it goes without saying, plump for the US version.
SoundThe extended cut is presented in full rate DTS (1536 kbps) and Dolby Digital (448kbps), with the theatrical version presented only in Dolby Digital. Choosing DTS, I found the soundtrack to offer clarity and depth across the front soundstage, with adequate steering but most importantly - rich, crystal clear dialogue. With Dances with Wolves being largely dialogue driven this is essential, and I'm happy to say that on this count it doesn't disappoint.
Bass is restrained and although only used occasionally - the stampede is a good example - it is successful in adding depth and a powerful low-end kick to proceedings. There are a couple of moments where we witness thunderstorms, and again this is effective in execution, with the force and power realized well.It all sounds good so far, but sadly the surround channels remain stubbornly quiet throughout the running time. Although the musical score kicks them into life (and John Barry's score is a masterpiece), their usage is kept to a minimum, with many wasted ambient opportunities. And even when they do come into play, they sound muted with little presence to truly envelop the viewer.
Comparing the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks reveals obvious differences. DTS sounds far brighter, with greater low end extension and an overall sense of being livelier. Dolby Digital sounds flat and compressed by comparison, and not as pleasing.
Overall, this is a solid, if uninspired audio offering: it does its job but is nothing more than average.
ExtrasThis 4 disc package comes with the extended cut of the movie and an audio commentary on the first 2 discs, the theatrical cut and 3 theatrical trailers on the 3rd, and the main bulk of extras on the 4th and final disc.
The audio commentary - featuring Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson - is an informative and in-depth discussion/dissection of the movie, which is an interesting if lengthy listen. We also have a retrospective documentary “The Creation of an Epic”, which takes us on a journey from the initial concept of the movie through to completion, and includes several interesting cast interviews (when you watch it, you'll be surprised to learn - amongst other things - how the majority of the Indian cast had to learn their language as few of them even spoke a word of Sioux). It's no doubt a little high in the “this movie was wonderful to work on” blurb, but interesting nonetheless.
Also here is the same “Making of...” featurette which thankfully isn't your typical puff-piece and containing lots of shots of the movie itself being filmed (though still too many clips for my liking). Speaking of clips, we also have 4-shooting clips on offer, and a musical montage of composer John Barry with several film stills. Also here is a vast collection of still with an Introduction by Ben Glass, Poster Gallery, TV spots, and finally cast and crew bios (all in Japanese).
Overall a comprehensive and enjoyable collection of extras, and with English prompts behind the Japanese text, thankfully they are easy to navigate.
At this point I should mention the packaging. This 4-disc set is presented in 2 amaray cases in a cardboard slipcase, which fits snugly into a leather-look PVC pouch which has “Dances with Wolves” embossed on the front. It's unique, certainly, and collectors will no doubt be impressed by this quality.
VerdictA superb, classic movie, this presentation is second to none with an excellent video and extras presentation. The sound is solid though average, and perhaps the only clincher is the subtitles. Combined with the cost of this set, English audiences may well be better off seeking out the US extended edition, though of course this doesn't feature DTS. You pays your money, you takes your choice...
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