DANCES WITH WOLVES Extended and Original Theatrical Cuts Come to Shout! Factory Blu-ray

Kevin Costner’s Oscar winning epic gets a fine treatment from Shout! Factory

The Western has long been one of the most cherished pillars of American cinema, depicting a legitimately captivating period of America’s (relatively) short history, although perhaps often with more of a romantic lens than it deserves. In 1990, the genre had lost some of its appeal, only to be revived by one Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. His adaptation of the 1988 book of the same name by Michael Blake not only won seven of the twelve Oscars it was nominated for, including best picture, and it revitalized the American epic in a very considered way. Until now, only an extended cut has been available stateside on Blu-ray, meaning this Steelbook release from Shout! Factory marks the first high-def release of the original theatrical cut that made its mark nearly 30 years ago.


Kevin Costner stars in and directs this triumphant masterpiece written by Michael Blake, based on his novel. This breathtaking Steelbook Collector’s Edition includes the original theatrical cut for the first time on Blu-ray, an extended cut of the film and an entire disc of bonus features. Winner* of seven Academy Awards®, including Best Director and Best Picture, this modern classic tells the story of Lt. Dunbar (Costner), a Civil War hero who befriends a tribe of Native Americans while stationed at a desolate outpost on the frontier. What follows is a series of unforgettable moments — from Dunbar’s tender scenes with Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), to the thrilling, action-packed buffalo hunt. Experience the excitement, emotion and sweeping beauty of this cinematic treasure as never before on Blu-ray!

This film should be familiar to most. It’s the tale of a noted officer who ends up stationed on the frontier at the close of the Civil War. Out there in his isolation, he befriends a tribe of native Americans and begins to learn and appreciate their ways. When the US Army starts to take interest in the region, and these tribes, his loyalties are tested and he must choose between his old life and his new one.

Culture clashes have been a foundational element of most Westerns, but Dances with Wolves approaches it in a very deft way. A lone man is able to break down years of mistrust and forge a bond. Immersion in their culture shows a respect sorely lacking in many films depicting this era. The film even depicts how the Native Americans were often portrayed as brutal savages to the public and the troops, to polarize them and harden their resolve to push them out of lands they craved and vilify their way of life. Michael Blake’s excellent screenplay uses Dunbar to immerse us in the culture and lives of these people: their rituals, their harmony with the land, and their language, the actors (many of them of Native American descent) speaking in their own language. By rising above cheap stereotypes and embracing authenticity, by casting age and culturally appropriate actors, by revering a culture, Dances with Wolves didn’t just reinvigorate the Western genre, it elevated it.

It seems odd then that this Oscar winning best picture has never been released on Blu-ray before, at least not in the form that won. Previously, home video has been graced with an extended version of the film, but now, thanks to Shout! Factory, you can bring both home.

The theatrical cut runs 181 minutes to the extended cut’s 234. You can read a pretty exceptional breakdown of the differences here. In short, I’d equate the two versions to the way the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films work. They open up the story, the people, and the relationships, letting things breathe more. The theatrical version works just fine, and is probably better suited to those who find themselves fidgety through a long, considered story. But with the nature of the film, about integration into another culture and winning trust over time, it does payoff a little better, longer or extra scenes adding more texture and emotion. What’s interesting is that the extended edition has been somewhat dismissed by Costner himself, having been assembled by his producing partner, Jim Wilson. Costner has claimed that he did not work on the creation of the four-hour cut at all. The preference is ultimately down to the viewer, but it’s great to now have a choice at least.

The Package

According to information online from Shout! Factory, “We were not able to create a new master for this release. The masters for both the theatrical and extended versions of the film were provided by the studio that licensed this title to us.” Despite this lack of a new restoration, the transfer presented here is nicely done. It’s a beautiful film, and the natural colors, grain, and detail here do it justice. Special features are plentiful too:

Disc one contains the Theatrical cut of the film, while disc two has the Extended version, which also includes two audio commentaries:

  • Audio Commentary With Actor/Producer/Director Kevin Costner And Producer Jim Wilson: Very interesting listen in regard to the collaboration between the pair, and hearing about how the film was actually made. There were parts of the production troubled by overruns, budget issues and so on, so the frankness here is insightful.
  • Audio Commentary With Director of Photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis

The release also includes a third disc that contains an impressive number of special features:

  • A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier: Experts on the era share how the people of this time would have sustained themselves and developed their relationship with the land.
  • The Original Making of Dances with Wolves: Good insight into the process of making a movie back in the ‘90s, especially for a first time director. Costner continues to share how much of a learning and inspirational experience the project was, and what he might have done differently.
  • The Creation of an Epic — A Retrospective Documentary: Running around 75 minutes, it’s a detailed and fascinating look into the production as well as its legacy.
  • Music Video: Great reason to immerse yourself in the superb John Barry score.
  • Five Featurettes; Second Wind, Confederate March And Music, Getting the Point, Burying the Hatchet, Animatronic Buffalo: Some cool pieces looking at various setpieces or memorable moments.
  • TV Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Poster and Photo Galleries

The Bottom Line

Dances with Wolves is as much the nuanced, sweeping epic today as it was when it swept the Oscars in 1990. There have been different versions on different formats over the years, so credit to Shout! Factory for pulling them both together for this release and backing them up with a nice assortment of extras that deepen appreciation for the work.

Dances with Wolves the Collector’s Edition is available via Shout! Factory from November 13th, 2018 in a limited edition of 10,000.

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