Dances With Wolves (Blu-ray Review)

Count ’em…five, six, seven Oscars.  A film doesn’t earn that kind of accreditation from being just good.  When the world left the 1980’s behind, a new decade began, and with it, an impressive library of films found their way into our hearts and minds.  Things didn’t just start off like a shot for 90’s cinema; it was more like a ‘kaboom’.  One such film that contributed to this was 1990’s Dances with Wolves.  Already well-established as an actor in Hollywood, Kevin Costner took to the director’s chair for the first time in his career with the western-oriented story penned by Michael Blake.  Now available for the first time on Blu-ray, comes this incredible tale of a man who found his way.


While it’s attributed to reviving the Hollywood western, I don’t know if it’s the most accurate category to file this under.  It takes place in 1864 and features several Native Americans.  Yet, it’s devoid of cowboys, an aspect that is almost necessary for a film to be declared a western.  I only mention this for those who have not yet experienced Dances With Wolves and are also turned off by the western genre.  In short, don’t associate one with the other.  This piece of artistry is just too positively profound to let slip through your list of films to watch.

We follow the journey of Union war veteran, Lieutenant John Dunbar (Costner).  From army hero, the officer decides to take the road less traveled as he requests to be reassigned to Fort Sedgewick, a small military outpost on the Great Plains, a landscape that was once referred to as “The Frontier.”  With a little foresight and knowing man’s lust for land and “progress,” Dunbar hopes to see this environment before it gets taken over.  His desire to see the endless acres of flatland and its native inhabitants is puzzling to his peers.  Still, the army man perseveres and heads west with his horse, a coarse navigator (the late Robert Pastorelli), and a wagon full of supplies for his new assignment.

Over time, Dunbar develops a patient, lasting friendship with a local Sioux tribe.  His eyes are opened to a new way of life which the Native Americans have long embraced; one that makes the most out of everything around them where nothing goes to waste.  Though this relationship isn’t built easily, the time it takes to establish contributes greatly to the beauty of this film.  In the process, Dunbar sees how the white man leaves destruction in his wake with a simple mentality of “I’ll take what I want.”  It’s disturbing and at times, heart-wrenching.  Additionally, the way settlers and soldiers treated Indians was despicable in every sense of the word.

If you remember seeing Dances with Wolves in the theater or on VHS, you’ll recall a 3-hour runtime.  The Blu-ray release provides that plus another 53 minutes of additional, integrated footage.  I will say, unlike the added scenes in the special edition versions of the Lord of the Rings movies, these rekindled scenes do fit well for the most part.  Some are out of place, but viewers will now get a better understanding of how and why Fort Sedgewick was deserted and what happened to the white bison hunters.  I would have preferred to the option to watch the film without these added scenes only because it turns into a 4-hour movie with them.  Granted, the film is still an amazing piece of work, but how often do any of us have four hours we can set aside for a movie in a day?

Dances with Wolves is referred to as a modern classic.  Seeing it as a teenager in theaters 20 years ago and again today as an adult on Blu-ray, I can say that is a most appropriate title to bestow upon this film.  It is timeless and preserves a part of American history that is not often mentioned in high school history books.  Though the film is historical fiction, it is also historically accurate in how things played out between two cultures in North America.  This movie comes with the highest recommendation to see offering a bit of humor here and there, love and romance, incredible landscapes, and a bounty of drama that is magnificently captured.


Dances with Wolves arrives on Blu-ray with a mostly impressive transfer.  Technical attributes include a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and an AVC encode.  The film’s opening sequence, while superior to dvd quality, isn’t all that impressive at time.  However, this is rather brief as Dunbar soon carries himself from operating table to battlefield.  Once he reaches the rolling Tennessee field, the beauty of 1080p kicks in pristine clarity takes over.  There are scenes of fairly dense grain that appear sporadically during the film’s 236-minute runtime, which provide a minor visual distraction at best.  These are especially notable in low-light or night time shots.  Skin tones remain consistent throughout and overall, it’s an eye-appeasing experience.  One significant complaint from me is the film’s final scene that follows the actors up a snowy mountain pass from a 3/4 overhead view.  The resolution looks terrible, almost as if I had zoomed in on the screen to get a closer look.  This, of course, is not what I did, as the film naturally came across that way for the final minutes.  It was like drinking the best wine you’ve ever had, only to have an unpleasant bite in the after taste.  It went down great, but didn’t end so well.  Thank goodness that final scene is only a minute or two in length.


The disc’s audio does a better job here making proper use of surround sound with its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 capabilities.  Black powder rifles erupt in a cracking symphony from all angles, horse hooves pound the soil from behind and dialogue is clearly delivered from the front.  Sounds of the plains and crackling camp fires chime in to present those subtle, yet noticeable background effects, which add a superb touch to the soundtrack.  Speaking of soundtracks, the film’s musical score is ever so brilliantly captured here.  John Barry’s symphonic masterpiece has never sounded better, making full use of all the speakers at hand, subwoofer included.  If I have one complaint here, it’s that those stallion gallops and gunshots do not travel from one speaker to another.  This would have been the icing on the cake for an already great audio experience.

Special Features

Dances with Wolves comes in the form of a two-disc set.  The feature film disc does contain a few extras, while the majority of which are reserved for the extras-specific disc.

Feature Film disc:

  • Commentary by Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson
  • Commentary by director of photography Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis
  • Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide (interactive during film)
  • Real History or Movie Make-Believe? (interactive quiz during film)

Extras-specific disc:  Extras here are grouped into four categories consisting of “Featurettes,” “Vignettes,” “Trailer & TV Spots,” and “Galleries.”


  • A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier – Unfortunately, this is the only high definition extra here.  Still, it’s a nice history bit on what it was like to travel through and settle on the American prairie (14:18).
  • The Original Making of Dances with Wolves As with many of the other standard def extras, you’ll find the aspect ratio rather boxy with nauseating visuals (20:58).
  • The Creation of an Epic – A Retrospective Documentary – There are a total of seven items here that consist of over an hour of footage.  Said items include a discussion with the novel and screenwriter of Dances with Wolves, the creation of the film’s music, and orchestrating the buffalo (bison) hunt (1:14:39).


  • Original Music Video Featuring Music by John Barry (3:52)
  • Second Wind – A video montage from various parts of film (5:18).
  • Confederate March and Music – Confederate re-enactors take to the march while delivering military formations and traditional Dixie music (2:13).
  • Getting the Point – We’ve seen Costner in action in front of the camera, now we can see how he works behind it.  This extra films Kevin Costner exercising his directing duties (3:58).
  • Burying the Hatchet – A look at how the crew worked in using a real hatchet on a real actor.  Who needs CGI when you can wear a wooden vest? (1:12)
  • Animatronic Buffalo – A quick view of a robotic bison that was used to simulate a fatally injured one.  Here’s a quick fauna lesson for everybody; there are no native buffalo in the U.S.  I wish they’d stop using the term.  They’re bison.  Buffalo live in Asia and Africa.

Trailer/TV Spots

  • Theatrical Trailer (2:33)
  • TV Spot: Courage & Passion (:32)
  • TV Spot: Academy Campaign (:32)


  • Poster Gallery – There are only a mere 3 posters shown here to scroll through.
  • Dances Photo Montage with Introduction by Ben Glass – Ben Glass is a still photographer who visually journaled life on the set of Dances with Wolves.  His work is nothing short of impressive, capturing an array of wonderful pictures shown here in this slideshow (9:21).

Final Thoughts  

A couple years ago, a movie came out called Avatar.  It carried a great message, but borrowed heavily from Dances with Wolves. In fact, I often refer to James Cameron’s blue people work as “Dances with Wolves in Space.”  If you want to go as far to say Avatar ripped off Costner’s work, I’m not going to challenge you.  Avatar was a well-made movie that I didn’t care for (at all).  If you want to actually see where that film’s roots reside, where you can actually use the film’s message of appreciation in our world, then Dances with Wolves is where your gaze should rest.  It is a timeless piece of artistry that doesn’t need cartoons or false imagery to tell its dramatic tale.

Dances with Wolves hits close to home.  As currently all of the WSB staff are from the United States, this is all part of our nation’s history.  Though not all things are fun flag-waving and apple pie, this film echoes that by featuring some of our darker history as a country.  There’s a Dave Matthews Band song called “Don’t Drink the Water.”  It’s about U.S. history.  The ‘water’ is our history and the song’s message is to not buy into it being all proud and dandy.  The lyric “there’s blood in the water” refers to the tainted moments in our nation’s past.  It runs a strong parallel to what we see in Dances with Wolves. A part of our past many would like to overlook, but one that should never be forgotten.


17 Responses to “Dances With Wolves (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Many of my friends no that I very much dislike Kevin Costner. However, I’ll give him this movie, Open Range, and Bull Durham.

    I also really liked James Cameron’s sci-fi-cats remake!

  2. Sean Ferguson

    Aaron, how could you not like Kevin Costner? Have you seen The Untouchables or No Way Out?

    Nice call on Avatar Gregg! I’m convinced that Cameron just took this movie and the Pocohontas story and set it in the future. Not very original at all but at least he had a lot of good special effects.

  3. Gerard Iribe

    I’ve always dug this movie. I will be getting this 4 hour cut of the film at some point.

  4. Aaron Neuwirth

    Not a fan of either; particularly The Untouchables – with a lot of reason going to Costner, who I think is really bland in that movie.

    Connery’s alright, even if he’s a Scot playing Irish, “Muckin’ with a G.” De Niro is way over-the-top.

    My dislike for Costner also stems from disliking him as a person. From everything I’ve seen of him, not in movies, the guy’s a jerk.

  5. Gerard Iribe

    Aaron, The Untouchables is the bomb, yo! I have the HD-DVD. And it’s a David Mamet script. Connery has always played “other than Scottish” characters with a Scottish accent. That’s his thing.

  6. Aaron Neuwirth

    That’s the other thing that bothers me; I’m a huge David Mamet fan, and this film doesn’t have that Mamet touch or rhythm to the dialogue.

  7. Sean Ferguson

    Wow. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t like the Untouchables. I think the movie is awesome and you better check it out again. Sean Connery is awesome in everything even in dreck like Highlander.

  8. Gerard Iribe

    Sean, the first Highlander is a great film. The first film.

    Aaron, there are flourishes of Mamet in The Untouchables. I’m not sure how much of it was diluted during filming, but the brotherhood of men component is very apparent.

  9. Sean Ferguson

    I didn’t like any of the Highlander movies. But you’re right, they did get worse with each one.

  10. Aaron Neuwirth

    I’ve seen it a few times. Still don’t like it. I said Connery’s alright. Garcia is cool enough. I love the train station shootout. But with all of the things this movie had going for it, I didn’t like it overall.

  11. Sean Ferguson

    Ok that’s good enough for me if you’ve seen it a couple of times already. I’m still not sure why you don’t like it but at least you gave it a fair shot.

  12. Gerard Iribe



  13. Gregg

    Brilliant! I’ll chime in with the fact that I’ve never seen The Untouchables.

  14. Sean Ferguson

    If that was directed at me Gerard, then I’m not sure why you think you got “whacked”. Should I hold Aaron to a different standard than you? Besides, I didn’t say anything about you. I’m guessing the team…team comment is from my post about how it was nice that everyone agreed on Green Hornet which was a refreshing change.

    That doesn’t mean my opinion has changed on judging movies you haven’t even watched. Aaron watched Untouchables a couple of times so even though I disagree with his opinion, I respect that he gave the movie a fair chance. So this whacking you refer to is actually just me being consistent with my philosophy. And by the way, I never said team…team or anything like that other than it was nice that everyone agreed on GH.

    Gregg, I really think you would like the Untouchables so I hope you at least rent it.

  15. Gerard Iribe

    Sean, no, that was a quote from The Untouchables. Remember when Robert DeNiro is doing his “team” bit over the table with his men.

    I was trying to quote the film, because it’s a great scene.


  16. Sean Ferguson

    Ah yes I remember the scene you are talking about and it was a great scene. I need to watch the movie again as it’s been awhile. Also I think it was more whack whack whack wasn’t it? 🙂

  17. Gerard Iribe

    hahaha, yes, more whack whack. Damn my quotation marks!

    Those bat swings sound insane on HD. Whenever I see the film with someone either I flinch or they flinch. It’s brutal.