The 20th Anniversary edition of ‘Dances With Wolves’ thunders on to Region A locked American Blu-ray with a handsome looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colours look beautiful with the deep blue skies of the prairie scenes combined with the yellow long grass and the warmth of the fire lit Tepee interiors. Skin tones look quite natural with Costner’s paler visage in striking contrast to the more orange/red of his Sioux friends. Contrast looks good throughout and the night shots give us nice deep blacks. The image is sharp without being clinical, so it has a very pleasing filmic look and this blends with the quality of light in much of Dean Semler’s cinematography in producing visual beauty. There’s no noticeable grain in the well lit daytime exteriors, but during the night time Tepee interiors it can easily be seen in the background. This is no failing of the transfer, but due to pushing the film stock to its limits through using firelight as the only light source in many shots. Despite the ‘all new High Def transfer’, I did spot a few, very rare, white speckles and some tiny black dust spots which occurred around dissolves. Apart from that nit pick, this is a fine looking transfer.
The audio on ‘Dances With Wolves’ comes in a new DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix. As you’d expect, dialogue is crisp and clear throughout being mainly locked to the centre channel. The main stereo pair fill the room with John Barry’s superb score, resplendent with soaring strings and horns. His music sounds quite powerful in the mix though never fighting with effects for pride of place. The 7.1 mix comes into its own during the buffalo hunt sequence as the rumble from the travelling animals is all around you with the subwoofer adding the necessary threat element. Rifle shots have a great depth and crispness to them too, so nobody should fall asleep during this version. It’s a very pleasing sound treat for the ears.
Audio Commentary with Kevin Costner & Jim Wilson - Quite a laid back track from old pals Kev and Jim as they fill us in on the background to each sequence as well as describe the people who were instrumental in bringing the production to the screen. It’s a bit soporific but nice to hear it from their viewpoint.
Audio Commentary by Director of Photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis - It’s interesting to hear from two technicians at the top of their respective trees. There are many gaps in the commentary, but we do hear gems such as the frame speed used on certain scenes, like Dunbar's suicide horse ride. On the editing side we hear how cutting techniques were used to elongate certain sequences. Behind the scenes anecdotes, such as the film lab contact commenting on the amount of footage shot of the wolf and buffalo hunt, flesh out the chat.
Military Rank & Social Hierarchy Guide - This guide allows the viewer to learn more about the roles, the era and the events that occurred during the period in which ‘Dances with Wolves’ is set. At various points during the film, the guide appears on screen and a category may be chosen using the remote to access the extra information.
Real History or Movie Make-Believe - Just what we really needed, a quiz! The viewer is asked whether various historical facts appearing on screen are true or false against a time limit for each question.
A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier (HD, 14 mins) - A look at the life of the pioneers who settled on the Great Plains covering the problems associated with the shortage of water and lack of readily available supplies of wood. Various historians chip in with their own understanding of the USA Homestead Act whereby people could pay $10 and cultivate their land for 5 years to become owners. Interesting background information on the period in which ‘Dances with Wolves’ is set.
The Original Making of ‘Dances with Wolves’ (SD, 21 mins) - This was the doco that showed at the time of the movie’s release and thereafter on laserdisc. We go behind the scenes as Kevin Costner explains why he wanted to make the film with Producer Jim Wilson and Writer Michael Blake. Most memorably, we get to see the effects used for the buffalo hunt sequence along the way. Interesting stuff.
The Creation of an Epic- A Retrospective Documentary (SD, 75 mins) - As it says on the tin, this is a much more in depth look at the production of the movie covering scriptwriting, finance, location scouting, shooting, editing, music and final release. We hear from Director Costner and co about the problems they had to overcome. It’s interesting to hear of first time director Costner’s confidence problems on first day of shooting. This is well worth a viewing.
Original Music Video Featuring Music by John Barry (SD, 4 mins) - I’d never seen this before. It’s John Barry’s music with a House beat over some production footage. Surprisingly, it’s quite catchy - like an ‘easy listening’ version of the main theme.
Second Wind (SD, 5 mins) - This is a presentation reel which pretty much sums up the film in 5 minutes with a musical background track. It looks like it is cut together from rush prints as you can see every tape splice. Well edited cut down.
Confederate March and Music (SD, 2 mins) - Video footage of Confederate soldiers as they march to a drum and fife. Looks as if they’re rehearsing for a shoot in front of some camera track.
Getting the Point (SD, 4 mins) - This shows Kev directing a scene where the effects guys use a ‘down the line’ arrow to shoot one of the movie’s early characters.
Burying the Hatchet (SD, 1 min) - Here we see the preparation behind one of the extras getting a hatchet buried in his chest. No CGI here.
Animatronic Buffalo (SD, 2 mins) - Kev directs a hydraulically operated buffalo with the effects man for the hunt sequence on a windy day.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 mins 30 sec) - Just as it was sold to the cinema audiences prior to release.
TV Spot: Courage and Passion (SD, 30 secs) - Yup, it’s a TV ad for the movie.
TV Spot: Academy Campaign (SD, 30 secs) - Tells you all the gongs for which the movie was nominated.
Poster gallery - It’s a gallery of just a few posters for the movie folks.
Photo Montage with intro by Ben Glass (SD, 9 mins) - The stills photographer introduces much of his work from the movie.
Kevin Costner’s multi Oscar winning ‘Dances With Wolves’ rolls on to Region A locked American Blu-ray in its Extended Edition with a very good looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Dean Semler’s cinematography looks beautiful in the very filmic transfer which combines striking colour with good contrast and a sharp image. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix makes the most of John Barry’s emotive score while dialogue is clear throughout. The buffalo hunt will rock your room with rumble. A couple of laid back, though interesting comm. tracks from Director Costner and DOP Semler combine with a retrospective ‘Making of’ documentary as highlights of the extensive extras in this 2 disc package. The Extended version of the movie, at 234 minutes long, takes it’s time to tell an epic story without the aid of CGI of the Great Plains and the Sioux people together with one man’s desire to see it before it’s all gone. Kevin Costner directs and stars along with Graham Greene and Mary McDonnell. One for every film buff’s collection.
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