|Dances With Wolves|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 17 November 1998|
Director Costner and screenwriter Michael Blake, who adapted his own novel, skillfully immerse us in the American wilderness circa the Civil War. Costner plays Union Army Lt. John Dunbar, whose unorthodox suicide attempt is misread by onlookers as an act of battlefield heroism. Rewarded with his choice of assignment, Dunbar requests to be sent to the most remote section of the Dakota wilderness, because he wants to see the frontier "before it's gone."
Dunbar winds up with more isolation than he bargained for at first, but he soon strikes up a friendship with a curious lone wolf. This serves as a prelude to his relationship with his neighbors, a tribe of Lakota Sioux. The Sioux regard Dunbar with equal parts fascination and apprehension, gradually allowing him to interact with their society as he proves himself to them, first during a buffalo hunt, then in battle against another tribe. The ultimate test of Dunbar's allegiance comes when more whites finally arrive in the region.
Costner has a great feel for pacing that is underscored when the film is watched with the friendly, informative voiceover commentary; it's easier to appreciate the timing of shots and juxtapositions when they're stripped of their dramatic context. Costner and Wilson are generous in their frequent references to the influence of author Blake (it's always nice to see producers and directors willing to acknowledge that scripts don't simply fall from the sky) and are ever-ready to give credit where credit is due. Costner even pays tribute to Justin, one of the horses who plays Dunbar's mount: "He was almost too much horse for me, but he was the only horse who wasn't afraid of the buffalo." Costner and Wilson repeat themselves a bit, but overall, their reminiscences and insights whet the appetite to watch the whole film again.
The DVD provides a choice of Dolby 5.1 and Dolby Surround, allowing the listener, rather than the packager, to determine the best audio track for an individual home system. Viewers who saw 'Dances With Wolves' in its theatrical release will remember that the Lakota characters speak in Sioux dialect with English subtitles. This wise choice of Costner's, not surprisingly, is intact on the DVD. (Indeed, some of the old Western accents of the white characters are so impenetrable that their dialogue might benefit from subtitles as well.) Even the packaging here is unusually handsome, with a variety of color photos and a intelligent, informative behind-the-scenes write-up from Jeff Schwager, all of which goes to make the DVD of 'Dances With Wolves' a worthy home release of a fine film.