Dances With Wolves is a modern Hollywood epic at its best. Just like Titanic or Braveheart, the film is bloated and full of the ego of its director (in this case, star Kevin Costner). It’s full of 80s attitude, even though it came out in 1990. Kevin Costner, as a jaded Civil War hero even sports, dare I say, a modified mullet (his period moustache doesn’t last long). It is utterly and completely politically correct, which may not be exactly accurate, but who doesn’t love to cheer for the “Indians” when they look as hot as Wind in His Hair (drool)?
Costner plays Lt. John Dunbar, a jaded Civil War vet who has been sent to man a remote outpost in Indian Territory. It’s perfect for him, as he is a loose cannon, and really would prefer to be off the grid and isolated. But it doesn’t take long for him to encounter and slowly make friends with the local Sioux tribe, including kindred spirit Kicking Bird (Graham Greene, in a warm, star-making performance). Slowly but surely, through lots of pantomine (raise your hand if you’ve ever made finger-horns and said hesitantly, “Totanka?”) and the sharing of gross white-man foodstuffs like coffee (mmmmm), Dunbar and the Sioux gain each other’s trust and friendship.
Next thing you know, Dunbar is stripping off his clothes and running around with wildlife, not to mention making friends with another lone wolf… who is actually a real wolf that he names Socks. The Indians see the crazy white man cavorting with nature, and his Native self “Dances With Wolves” is born.
Of course the leading man needs a love interest, so conveniently there just so happens to be a white woman in the tribe who has been with them since she was captured as a small prairie child. Now known as Stands With a Fist for her sassy attitude, Mary McDonnell wanders around with inexplicably 80s bushy hair that looks kind of matted as though squirrels are nesting in the depths. Strange, especially because all the Sioux women, like beautiful Black Shawl (Tantoo Cardinal) have gorgeous oiled and combed hair set in perfect braids. Is Stands With a Fist punished for being white by not being allowed to have a comb? It is unclear. But it is clear that she’s white and Dunbar’s white–so they are a match made in whites-gone-native heaven!
Snarkiness aside (it is SO easy to be snarky all over Kevin Costner!), Dances With Wolves remains a hugely entertaining film. I admit that I actually saw it in the theater 3 1/2 times (the half was because I walked out of Oliver Stone’s The Doors in fury, and walked into the last half of DWW to cleanse my palate). Each time I was wowed by the fantastic buffalo hunt, and sobbed when the proud warrior Wind in His Hair (the gorgeous Rodney A Grant) made his proclamation of friendship to Dunbar at the end. Oh, so glorious. The film is still a surprisingly classy Western, and holds up well.
The two-disc Blu-Ray edition (20th Anniversary) includes the extended cut, which offers an extra, grim scene showing the Sioux as a bit less than saintly. Most of the other extras are holdovers from the 2-disc DVD edition, including a couple commentaries (one with Costner and Producer Jim Wilson; the other with the film’s Editor and Director of Photography), a making-of featurette, a retrospective documentary, and “A Day In the Life on the Western Frontier,” and a photo montage, among a slew of extras. New bits include the in-feature experiences “Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide” and “Real History or Make-Believe?”