Dances with Wolves: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray) (1990)

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Released 1-Nov-2018

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Audio Commentary-Kevin Costner (Director/Actor) And Jim Wilson (Producer)
Audio Commentary-Dean Semler (Dir. Of Photography) And Neil Travis (Editor)
On-Screen Information Track-Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide
Quiz-Real History or Movie Make-Believe?
Featurette-A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier (14:19)
Featurette-The Original Making of Dances with Wolves (20:59)
Featurette-Creation on an Epic: A Retrospective (74:40)
Music Video-John Barry Music Video (3:53)
Featurette-Second Wind (5:19)
Featurette-Confederate March and Music (2:14)
Featurette-Getting the Point (3:59)
Featurette-Burying the Hatchet (1:13)
Featurette-Animatronic Buffalo (2:19)
TV Spots-x 2
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 233:49
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kevin Costner

Starring Kevin Costner
Mary McDonnell
Graham Greene
Rodney A. Grant
Maury Chaykin
Robert Pastorelli
Case ?
RPI ? Music John Barry

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 7.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     The American Civil War, Tennessee 1863; Union Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) lies wounded amid bloody chaos in a field hospital and is about to have his leg amputated. Deciding he prefers to be killed, he leaves the hospital, struggles onto a horse and gallops alone across the front of the Confederate lines. Instead of being killed he inspires the Union soldiers to charge and win the battle. Dunbar’s action is witnessed by a General; his leg wound is treated and he is decorated and offered his choice of a posting. Dunbar chooses to go to the frontier and is ordered to a fort in the middle of the Great Plains.

     Dunbar arrives to find the fort derelict and deserted but decides to stay until other soldiers arrive or he receives orders to leave. It is a lonely existence as Dunbar repairs the fort and writes his journal, his only companions his horse and a wild wolf that turns up. After a month or so his presence at the fort becomes known to the tribe of Lakota Sioux led by Ten Bears (Floyd Red Crow Westerman); initial meetings between soldier and Indians are plagued by misunderstandings and the lack of a common language but gradually Dunbar achieves some rapport with Kicking Bird (Graham Greene), the tribe’s medicine man, although fierce warrior Wind In His Hair (Rodney Grant) remains hostile. Dunbar starts to visit the Sioux and to experience their culture, his way helped when Kicking Bird and his wife Black Shawl (Tantoo Cardinal) persuade Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman who has lived with the Sioux since she was an infant when her family was killed, to remember her English and talk with Dunbar.

     As no relief or orders arrive and summer turns to autumn, Dunbar becomes more and more accepted by the tribe and enamoured with their way of life, joining the buffalo hunt, helping the Sioux fight their traditional enemy the Pawnee, learning their language and falling in love with Stands With A Fist. When winter comes, and the tribe pack up their lodges to move to winter quarters, soldiers finally arrive at the fort and the serenity of Dunbar’s life is destroyed.

     Dances with Wolves is an epic film in every way which catapulted director / star Kevin Costner’s career into the stratosphere. The film was nominated for 12 Oscars and won 7 including best picture and best director as well as best screenplay, editing, sound, cinematography and music. It is hard to disagree with the cinematography Oscar for Dean Semler for the landscapes of the Great Plains in South Dakota, with tiny figures surrounded by a sea of prairie, the magnificent autumn colours, the beautiful skies and sunsets, the deserted fort or the Lakota village are simply stunning. Likewise the Oscar for the epic score by John Barry is well deserved. Whether the film deserved best picture, however, has been the subject of some debate, more than one critic arguing that Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas was the superior film. The theatrical cut of Dances with Wolves clocked in at 3 hours (that cut of the film is included on the second Blu-ray in this package); this “Extended Cut” adds another 50 minutes to the film including 38 new scenes plus extended scenes, which highlights some of the issues with pace and drama within the film.

     Dances with Wolves is a languid film. In the extended cut it takes almost an hour for Dunbar to arrive at the abandoned fort, then more than the next two hours chronicle his gradual interactions with the Sioux. Dances with Wolves strives for, and achieves, authenticity in Sioux language, costume and culture, presenting Native Americans in a way that is almost unique in Hollywood filmmaking, but this length and detail results in an almost anthropological examination of a society that was destroyed by white settlement, rather than a dramatic film. It is fascinating, and looks beautiful, but the 4 hours of the film are still a slog and the dramatic intensity falters. Then, suddenly, with about 30 minutes to go, the tone of the film alters abruptly with the appearance of the soldiers at the fort and Dances with Wolves races to its conclusion.

     Along the way, however, Dances with Wolves includes some breathtaking set pieces, such as the opening Civil War battle, the buffalo hunt (which in pre-CGI days is done with real buffalo) or the Pawnee attack on the Sioux village, plus there are beautiful widescreen vistas and sets. It is also very funny in places showing the lighter side of Native American society while the interaction of Costner with a real wolf is also very amusing. Indeed, Costner is terrific, his smile and charisma very much in place. Dances with Wolves is also a film of its times. It is not only Mary McDonnell’s massive hair; Dances with Wolves is a revisionist western, showing the Sioux in a very different light than how they were portrayed in other, countless westerns although whether all the Sioux were such exemplary individuals, and the whites all so dastardly, may be debated. I suspect that, like most things, humans being humans whatever the colour of their skin, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

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Transfer Quality


     Dances with Wolves is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     This is a beautiful print with stunning widescreen landscapes of the plains and rich deep colours; the green trees, brown and yellow of the prairie, blue sky, rich red blood, red sunsets and beautiful orange and red autumn colours. The detail on sets and costumes is strong, allowing all the authentic touches to be seen. Blacks and shadow detail are excellent; the scene in the Sioux camp with dancers around a roaring fire shows no banding or colour bleed. Skin tones are natural, brightness and contrast consistent.

     I saw no artefacts or marks.

     White English subtitles for the hearing impaired plus Spanish and French subtitles are provided while yellow subtitles automatically translate sections of Lakota dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio choices are English DTS-HD MA 7.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and two English commentary tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0).

     I am not set up for 7.1 but even in 5.1 this is impressive. Dialogue is always clear and centred. The surrounds and rears featured music, wind in the grass, flags flapping, thunder and rain, hooves, loud gunshots, war cries, yells and the impact of arrows and weapons, the thud and rumble of the buffalo hooves during the hunt. The subwoofer added oomph to the gunfire, hooves (horse and buffalo), rain and thunder. The Oscar winning score by John Barry was fabulous; melodic, epic and dramatic. It is hard to imagine the film without it.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Disc 1

     These two commentaries are on the extended cut of the film.

Audio Commentary with Kevin Costner and Producer Jim Wilson

     Recorded 9 years after the release of the film, Costner and Wilson are old friends with obvious rapport. This is not a detailed or technical commentary and there are silences but they chat about their memories of the shoot and touch briefly on a lot of things including the writer Michael Blake, the sets and production design, the budget, locations, plot points, the cast, DP Dean Semler, the score, plot points, the animals, the Native American dialogue and the subtitles, the Indian society, the buffalo hunt, the various cuts, the weather, costumes, reactions to the film.

Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis

     Semler and Travis sit together and watch the film. They find it a bit hard to find something to say over the 4 hours but do provide some information about camera tricks, lighting scenes, magic hour shots, the different cuts, the buffalo hunt sequence, editing choices and anecdotes from the shoot. Semler confirms that, as the buffalo were privately owned, they did all have ear-tags but that only one person noticed!

Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide

     Selecting this means that during the film you can select pop-up text screens that give details of military rank and Lakota society.

Real History or Movie Make-Believe?

     A true or false quiz about aspects of the Civil War and Sioux society and culture. You have 30 seconds to answer each question and at the end receive either a military rank or a Lakota role.

Disc 2


Theatrical Cut (181:05)

     The three hour theatrically released version of the film. Audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1. Follow this link for a breakdown of the differences between the theatrical and extended cuts of the film: here.


     Most of these extras date from the 1990s, are 1.33:1 and SD with a range of artefacts with banding on images prevalent, especially in the “Original” making of.

A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier (14:19)

     Made in 2010 using archive black and white photographs, drawings, some film clips and comments by a range of academics, historians and authors, including Dances with Wolves author Michael Blake, this extra covers the migration to the Great Plains, relationships with the Indians, the railway and what life was life on the frontier.

The Original Making of Dances with Wolves (20:59)

     Made in 1990 this is an old fashioned making of, more a documentary, using a narrator, lots of behind the scenes on-set footage and comments by Kevin Costner, producer Jim Wilson, writer Michael Blake and a number of the Native American cast. Things covered include the friendship between Costner, Wilson and Blake that generated the project, the filming, Native American culture and language, casting, stunts, trying to train the wolf and the stunts.

Creation on an Epic: A Retrospective (74:40)

     Made in 2003, this is a comprehensive look at the creation of Dances with Wolves and reaction to the film. It features extensive on-location and behind the scenes footage, still photography, camera wardrobe tests and comments by Kevin Costner, producer Jim Wilson, writer Michael Blake, DP Dean Semler, composer John Barry, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, costumer designer Elsa Zamparelli, executive producer Jake Eberts, stunt coordinator Norman Howell, editor Neil Travis and cast Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell. Items covered include how Costner, Wilson and Blake met, the writing of the novel and screenplay, scouting locations, the decision to use Native American language, financing, Costner as first time director, the look of the film, production design, sets and costumes, editing, the score, reaction to the film and the Oscars.

John Barry Music Video (3:53)

Second Wind (5:19)

     A presentation reel by editor Neil Travis: Dances with Wolves in 5 minutes.

Confederate March and Music (2:14)

     Shooting the Confederate March scenes.

Getting the Point (3:59)

     Filming the stunt where the mule driver is hit by a number of arrows.

Burying the Hatchet (1:13)

     Takes of the scene where the soldier is killed with a tomahawk.

Animatronic Buffalo (2:19)

     The testing of one animatronic buffalo.

Photo Gallery

     After an introduction by stills photographer Ben Glass, approximately 100 photos play automatically accompanied by the music.

Poster Gallery

     Three posters which advance automatically. Silent.

TV Spots (1:05)

     Two TV spots.

Theatrical Trailer (2:34)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” of Dances with Wolves contains all the extras that were on the US Region A “20th Anniversary Edition” but, in addition, we get both versions of the film, making this release the definitive edition.


     It has become a bit fashionable in the decades since its release and Oscar triumph for some critics to down play Dances with Wolves as overrated, perhaps channelling Kevin Costner’s decline from superstar status. However Dances with Wolves still remains very fresh on Rottentomatoes with both critics and audience.

     Dances with Wolves was a massive achievement, an audacious first film by Costner, a sprawling epic film detailing the horse society that has now vanished from the Great Plains. There can be no doubting the passion and commitment of the filmmakers to tell this story. I cannot help but feel, though, that in attempting to tell this story at such length, especially in this Extended Cut, the dramatic impetus of the story is mislaid.

     Dances with Wolves gets perhaps its definitive Blu-ray release from ViaVision with both theatrical and extended cuts of the film, great video and audio and copious extras in one fabulous package.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Thursday, December 06, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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