That's not me, talking, that's producers Kevin Costner and Jim Wilson, writing in the promo material for the multi-disc DVD release of their watershed film about a man who goes a little native after the end of the Civil War. Sent on a questionable "mission" by an insane major (Maury Chaykin), John Dunbar (Costner) finds himself alone in a remote outpost on the frontier, where the Sioux still rule. Already a little suicidal (having surivived his last Civil War battle by openly goading the Confederate army -- twice), Dubar's right at home amid the fear of being scalped, buffalo stampedes, and of course the threat posed by the white man when it's found he's befriended the Indians.
Notable among them is Mary McDonnell's "Stands with a Fist", a white woman captured as a young girl and now fully "one of them." It's through her rough English skills that Dunbar becomes "Dances with Wolves," on account of his friendship with a scraggly mutt that inhabits his camp. When not fighting off the Pawnee, Dances and Stands become friends and eventually lovers. And then there's the nagging issue of Dunbar going AWOL from his post
The 1990 Wolves marked the beginning of the impressive revival of the western, one which would last until 1992's Unforgiven. Both films would win Best Picture and inspire a disastrous teen-ification of the genre with movies like American Outlaws. The story is compelling, Costner's performance is top-notch, and his direction is impressive. But what's most notable is that this cowboys and Indians flick doesn't demonize the Indians. Here, Dunbar makes the cautious steps toward peace a show-stopper, and even though Dances with Wolves has its share of bow-and-arrow battles and buffalo hunts, it's the peacetime tale that is ultimately the most memorable part of the film. (Not to mention, the movie has one of cinema's great, memorable lines from Chaykin: "Sir knight? I've just pissed in my pants... and nobody can do anything about it!")
Wolves is not without its lingering problems. The "romance" is on the mild side and difficult to relate to. Costner's voice-over is stilted, sounding like he's reading from the back of a bag of frozen brocolli. And John Barry's Oscar-winning score is appropriately grand, but without even checking I could tell it was lifted wholesale from the brassy baritones he used in, of all places, A View to a Kill.
Now about that four-hour business... The new cut of the film comprises two sides of a DVD, with a second disc containing extras. The extra scenes blend in seamlessly -- it's hard to know exactly where they fall; I haven't seen this film in a decade, after all. Two commentary tracks (one from Wilson and Costner, one from the editor and the D.P.) are so-so but a little stale; I know I'd run out of things to say after four hours. Better to flip to the second disc, where a retrospective documentary says the same things in a fraction of the time.
Run time: 181 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st November 1990
Box Office Worldwide: $424.2M
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Production compaines: Orion Pictures, Tig Productions, Majestic Films International
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 12
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Kevin Costner
Screenwriter: Michael Blake
Starring: Kevin Costner as Lieutenant John Dunbar, Mary McDonnell as Stands With A Fist, Graham Greene as Kicking Bird, Rodney A. Grant as Wind In His Hair, Floyd Red Crow Westerman as Ten Bears, Tantoo Cardinal as Black Shawl, Robert Pastorelli as Timmons, Charles Rocket as Lieutenant Elgin, Maury Chaykin as Major Fambrough, Jimmy Herman as Stone Calf, Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse as Smiles A Lot, Michael Spears as Otter, Jason R. Lone Hill as Worm, Tony Pierce as Spivey, Doris Leader Charge as Pretty Shield, Tom Everett as Sergeant Pepper, Larry Joshua as Sergeant Bauer, Kirk Baltz as Edwards, Wayne Grace as Major, Donald Hotton as General Tide, Annie Costner as Christine, Elisa Daniel as Christine's Mother
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