There’s presumably, at some point in the dim and distant future, a definitive Blu-ray of Dances With Wolves in the offing. Because, sadly, this isn’t it. There’s not a single extra feature on the disc (which given the length of the film would have been excusable in the DVD world, but you expect more of Blu-ray), while there’s also only one cut of the film. I’m not actually a massive fan of the near-extra hour that Kevin Costner added to Dances With Wolves in the aftermath of its Oscar success, and firmly prefer the shorter version that you get here. But surely it would have been possible to get both cuts on here?
It’s not as if they’ve gone to town on the picture quality here either. I distinctly remember seeing Dances With Wolves on a massive screen, and being blown away by the superb photography, and wonderful landscapes, that were projected onto the screen. Sequences such as the stunning buffalo hunt (which, incidentally, director Kevin Reynolds talks about here), and the broad vistas that Costner’s camera takes are widescreen cinema of real excellence. It’s thus disappointing that there’s softness in the picture for so much of the three hour running time. It’s clear that there’s an upgrade over the DVD, it’s just nowhere near as sizeable a jump as I’d have liked to say.
I know the arguments. This is an old film, and it’s also a catalogue title designed to flesh out the breadth of films available on the Blu-ray format. But it’s also a missed opportunity. This is a film that’s liked very much in many circles, and I’ve always been a very big fan of it. Granted, I don’t think it should have beaten Goodfellas to the Best Picture gong at the Oscars (I really like the film, but I’m not blind!), but it’s hard to understate the achievement here. As a first film behind the camera for Kevin Costner, it’s bold, ambitious, utterly going against the trend of Hollywood (even now), and it really, really works. I’d rather there was a little less narration, in retrospect, and there’s nothing hugely revelatory to the story, but this is still a very strong piece of work. It’s also got an excellent companion piece in Costner’s third, and latest, stint behind the camera, Open Range. Hopefully, he’ll return to the genre, because on the basis of what he’s contributed to it thus far, he’s got more to give.
Dances With Wolves may also be finding itself an unlikely companion piece with James Cameron’s incoming Avatar, which seems to follow roughly the same story, of a man being sent into the midst of the supposed enemy, only to befriend them and defend them when the time comes. We’re not 100% sure that’s the Avatar story, but it certainly seemed that way from the last trailer for it.
It’s going to have a job on its hands to top Dances With Wolves though. For it remains a terrific movie, buoyed by an excellent supporting cast, interesting directorial work and the desire to simply tell a story very well.
And it seems right to end on our favourite part of the Blu-ray – the audio. Again, we’re not talking reference standard here, but John Barry’s outstanding score has simply never sounded better.
Ultimately, though, Dances With Wolves is an excellent movie. But this is a weak disc.
The Movie:The Disc: Dances With Wolves is out now on Blu-ray.