Kevin Costner defied all the odds with his stunning 1990 directorial debut Dances With Wolves, the story of a burned out Civil War soldier despatched to a remote frontier outpost where he communes with a tribe of Native Americans. The film revived the western with epic grandeur while steering clear of the disingenuous flag-waving sentiment that previously marred the genre. It went on to bag seven out of 12 Oscar nominations including Best Actor, Best Picture, and Best Director for Kevin Costner. Nobody mention Waterworld... or The Postman...
Dancing Till Dawn
Three discs are needed to hold this luxuriously extended cut of Dances With Wolves, running at just under four hours. If you're curious as to what was added or re-edited, The Lost Journal Of John Dunbar throws up icons along the way, or you could simply tune in to an audio commentary by Costner and producing partner Jim Wilson. Costner assures us that this extended version doesn't imply his dissatisfaction with the original cut, rather, "it creates an opportunity for those who fell in love with the characters and the spectacle of the film to experience more of both." Indeed it does, although the pace inevitably slows to a belly crawl, and disappointingly, the theatrical version is not available as part of this package.
Creating An Epic is a retrospective look at the making of the movie, and is an epic in itself given its hour-and-a-quarter running time. It's a thorough exploration of all aspects of production, beginning with Michael Blake's novel and the friendship he developed with Costner who later asked him to adapt it for the big screen. "We were nobodies trying to be somebodies," he says.
KC is also refreshingly honest about the insecurities that plagued him as a first time director; however it's his uncertainty in front of the camera that proves more entertaining. The original 'making of' featurette boasts copious behind-the-scenes titbits, including an action sequence where Costner takes a tumble off his high horse - literally. But the red-faced star hastily proclaims, "I didn't fall off the horse, I got knocked off the horse." Pause and rewind...
Shooting From The Hip
There's a separate gallery of behind-the-scenes featurettes - essentially rehearsal video shot guerrilla-style between takes. These include test footage of an animatronic buffalo in death throes and a look at the logistics behind shooting an arrow into an actor's chest and axing someone to death. Needless to say, don't try this at home folks.
Other highlights are an alternative commentary by director of photography Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis, who adopt a nuts and bolts approach in explaining how they achieved that "chocolate box" vision of the Old West. If you click on the inkblot on the special features menu (Disc Three), you'll also be treated to Travis' presentation reel Second Wind - a five-minute promotional reel made for the benefit of anxious studio execs prior to completion of the film.
While it omits the theatrical cut, this Special Edition release of Dances With Wolves is well rounded and thoroughly infused with the passion of those who helped bring it to the screen. For those who loved the movie first time around, this purchase simply makes good horse sense.