Dances with Wolves
|Dances with Wolves|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kevin Costner|
|Screenplay by||Michael Blake|
|Based on||Dances with Wolves
by Michael Blake
|Narrated by||Kevin Costner|
|Music by||John Barry|
|Editing by||Neil Travis|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Running time||180 minutes
236 minutes (Director's cut)
Dances with Wolves is a 1990 American epic western film directed, produced by, and starring Kevin Costner. It is a film adaptation of the 1988 book of the same name by Michael Blake and tells the story of a Union Army lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find a military post, and his dealings with a group of Lakota Indians.
Costner developed the film over a period of 5 years, with an initial budget of $15 million. Dances with Wolves had high production values and won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. Much of the dialogue is spoken in Lakota with English subtitles. It was shot in South Dakota and Wyoming, and translated by Albert White Hat, the chair of the Lakota Studies Department at Sinte Gleska University.
The film is credited as a leading influence for the revitalization of the Western genre of filmmaking in Hollywood. In 2007, Dances with Wolves was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
In 1863, First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) is wounded in the American Civil War. Choosing suicide over having his leg amputated, he takes a horse and rides up to the Confederate front lines, distracting them in the process. The roused Union army then attacks and the battle ends in a Confederate rout. Dunbar survives, is allowed to recover properly, receives a citation for bravery, and is awarded Cisco, the horse who carried him, as well as his choice of posting. Dunbar requests a transfer to the western frontier so he can see its vast terrain before it disappears. Dunbar arrives at his new post, Fort Sedgwick, but finds it abandoned and in disrepair. Despite the threat of nearby Indian tribes, he elects to stay and man the post himself. He begins rebuilding and restocking the fort and prefers the solitude afforded him, recording many of his observations in his journal.
Meanwhile Timmons, the wagon driver who transported Dunbar to Fort Sedgwick, is killed and scalped by Pawnee Indians on his way back to Fort Hays. Timmons's death and the suicide of Major Fambrough, who had sent them there, prevents other soldiers from knowing of Dunbar's assignment to the post, effectively isolating him. Dunbar notes in his journal of how strange it is that no other soldiers join him at the post.
Dunbar initially encounters his Sioux neighbors when several attempts are made to steal his horse and intimidate him. In response, Dunbar decides to seek out the Sioux camp in an attempt to establish a dialogue. On his way he comes across Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), who has injured herself in mourning her deceased husband. She is the white adopted daughter of the tribe's medicine man Kicking Bird (Graham Greene), her original family being killed by the aggressive Pawnee tribe when she was young. Dunbar returns her to the Sioux to be treated, which changes their attitude toward him. Eventually, Dunbar establishes a rapport with Kicking Bird and warrior Wind In His Hair (Rodney A. Grant) who equally wish to communicate. Initially the language barrier frustrates them, so Stands With A Fist, though with difficulty remembering her English, acts as translator.
Dunbar finds himself drawn to the lifestyle and customs of the tribe and begins spending most of his time with them. Learning their language, he is accepted as an honored guest by the Sioux after he locates a migrating herd of buffalo and participates in the hunt. When at Fort Sedgwick, Dunbar also befriends a wolf he dubs "Two Socks" for its white forepaws. When the Sioux observe Dunbar and Two Socks chasing each other, they give him the name "Dances with Wolves". During this time, Dunbar also forges a romantic relationship with Stands with a Fist and helps defend the village from an attack by the rival Pawnee tribe. Dunbar eventually wins Kicking Bird's approval to marry Stands with a Fist, and abandons Fort Sedgwick.
Because of the growing Pawnee and white threat, Chief Ten Bears (Floyd Red Crow Westerman) decides to move the tribe to its winter camp. Dunbar decides to accompany them but must first retrieve his journal from Fort Sedgwick as he realises that it would provide the army with the means of finding the tribe. However, when he arrives he finds the fort re-occupied by the U.S. Army. Because of his Sioux clothing, the soldiers open fire, killing Cisco and capturing Dunbar. Senior officers interrogate him, but Dunbar cannot prove his story, as a corporal has found and discarded his journal. Having refused to serve as an interpreter to the tribes, Dunbar is charged with desertion and transported back east as a prisoner. Soldiers of the escort shoot Two Socks when the wolf attempts to follow Dunbar, despite Dunbar's attempts to intervene.
Eventually the Sioux track the convoy, killing the soldiers and freeing Dunbar. At the winter camp, Dunbar decides to leave with Stands With A Fist, since his continuing presence will put the tribe in danger. As they leave, Wind In His Hair shouts to Dunbar, reminding him of their friendship. U.S. troops are seen searching the mountains but are unable to locate them, while a lone wolf howls in the distance. An epilogue states that thirteen years later the last remnants of the free Sioux were subjugated to the American government, ending the conquest of the Western frontier states and the livelihoods of the tribes in the plains.
- Kevin Costner as Lt. John J. Dunbar / Dances with Wolves (Lakota: Šuŋgmánit Tȟáŋka Ób Wačhí)
- Mary McDonnell as Stands With A Fist (Napépȟeča Nážiŋ Wiŋ)
- Graham Greene as Kicking Bird (Ziŋtká Nagwáka)
- Rodney A. Grant as Wind In His Hair (Pȟehíŋ Otȟáte)
- Floyd Red Crow Westerman as Chief Ten Bears (Matȟó Wikčémna)
- Tantoo Cardinal as Black Shawl (Šiná Sápa Wiŋ)
- Jimmy Herman as Stone Calf (Íŋyaŋ Ptehíŋčala)
- Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse as Smiles A Lot (Iȟá S’a)
- Michael Spears as Otter (Ptáŋ)
- Jason R. Lone Hill as Worm (Waglúla)
- Charles Rocket as Lt. Elgin
- Robert Pastorelli as Timmons
- Larry Joshua as Sgt. Bauer
- Tony Pierce as Spivey
- Kirk Baltz as Edwards
- Tom Everett as Sgt. Pepper
- Maury Chaykin as Maj. Fambrough
- Wes Studi as the fiercest Pawnee
- Wayne Grace as The Major
Originally written as a spec script by Michael Blake, it went unsold in the mid-1980s. It was Kevin Costner who, in early 1986 (when he was relatively unknown), encouraged Blake to turn the screenplay into a novel, to improve its chances of being adapted into a film. The novel manuscript of Dances with Wolves was rejected by numerous publishers but finally published in paperback in 1988. As a novel, the rights were purchased by Costner, with an eye on directing it. Actual production lasted for four months, from July 18 to November 23, 1989. Most of the movie was filmed on location in South Dakota, mainly on private ranches near Pierre and Rapid City, with a few scenes filmed in Wyoming. Specific locations included the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, and the Belle Fourche River area. The buffalo hunt scenes were filmed at the Triple U Buffalo Ranch outside Fort Pierre, South Dakota, as were the Fort Sedgwick scenes, the set being constructed on the property.
Production delays were numerous, because of South Dakota's unpredictable weather, the difficulty of "directing" barely trainable wolves, and the complexity of the Indian battle scenes. Particularly arduous was the film's centerpiece buffalo hunt sequence: this elaborate chase was filmed over three weeks using 100 Indian stunt riders and an actual stampeding herd of several thousand buffalo. During one shot, Costner (who did almost all of his own horseback riding) was "T-boned" by another rider and knocked off his horse, nearly breaking his back. The accident is captured in The Creation of an Epic, the behind-the-scenes documentary on the Dances with Wolves Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray.
According to the documentary, none of the buffalo were computer animated (CGI was then in its infancy) and only a few were animatronic or otherwise fabricated. In fact, Costner and crew employed the largest domestically owned buffalo ranch, with two of the domesticated buffalo being borrowed from Neil Young; this was the herd used for the buffalo hunt sequence.
Budget overruns were inevitable, owing to Costner's breaking several unspoken Hollywood "rules" for first-time directors: traditionally, they avoid both shooting outside and working with children and animals as much as possible. As a result, late in the production Costner was forced to add $3 million personally in out-of-pocket money to the film's original $15-million budget. Referring to the infamous fiasco of Michael Cimino's 1980 Heaven's Gate, considered the most mismanaged Western in film history, Costner's project was satirically dubbed "Kevin's Gate" by Hollywood critics and pundits skeptical of a three-hour, partially subtitled Western by a novice filmmaker.
The film changed the novel's Comanche Indians to Sioux, because of the larger number of Sioux speakers. Lakota Sioux language instructor Doris Leader Charge (1931–2001) was the on-set Lakota dialogue coach and also portrayed Pretty Shield, wife of Chief Ten Bears.
Despite portraying the adopted daughter of Graham Greene's character Kicking Bird, Mary McDonnell, then 37, was actually two months older than Greene, and less than two years younger than Tantoo Cardinal, the actress playing her adoptive mother. In addition, McDonnell was extremely nervous about shooting her sex scene with Kevin Costner, requesting it be toned down to a more modest version than what was scripted.
Defying expectation, Dances with Wolves proved instantly popular, eventually making $184 million in U.S. box office sales, and $424 million in total sales worldwide. It won the Best Picture Academy Award.
As of 2011, the film holds a positive review score of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Because of the film's popular and lasting impact on the image of Native Americans, the Sioux Nation adopted Costner as an honorary member.
Native American activist and actor Russell Means was less kind about some aspects of the film's technical accuracy. In 2009, he said "Remember Lawrence of Arabia? That was Lawrence of the Plains. The odd thing about making that movie is that they had a woman teaching the actors the Lakota language, but Lakota has a male-gendered language and a female-gendered language. Some of the Indians and Kevin Costner were speaking in the feminine way. When I went to see it with a bunch of Lakota guys, we were laughing." Other Native Americans like Michael Smith (Sioux), Director of San Francisco's long-running annual American Indian Film Festival, said, "There's a lot of good feeling about the film in the Indian community, especially among the tribes. I think it's going to be very hard to top this one."
According to other sources[which?] the gender-specific Lakota words were used correctly in the movie. Some of the criticism was inspired by the fact that the pronunciation is not authentic since only one of the movie's actors was a native speaker of the language. The movie's dialogues in the native language has been lauded as a remarkable achievement. However, other writers have noted that earlier otherwise English-language films such as Eskimo (1933), Wagon Master (1950), and The White Dawn (1974), had also incorporated Native dialogue.
David Sirota of Salon referred to Dances with Wolves as a “white savior” film, as Dunbar “fully embeds himself in the Sioux tribe and quickly becomes its primary protector”. He argued that its use of the “noble savage” character type “preemptively blunts criticism of the underlying White Savior story. The idea is that a film like Dances With Wolves cannot be bigoted or overly white-centric if it at least shows [characters such as] Kicking Bird and Chief Ten Bears as special and exceptional. This, even though the whole story is about a white guy, saves the day.”
Awards and honors
- Best Director – Kevin Costner
- Best Adapted Screenplay – Michael Blake
- Best Cinematography – Dean Semler
- Best Film Editing – Neil Travis
- Best Sound – Russell Williams II, Jeffrey Perkins, Bill W. Benton and Gregory H. Watkins
- Best Original Score – John Barry
Dances with Wolves was also nominated in the following categories:
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Kevin Costner
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Graham Greene
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Mary McDonnell
- Best Art Direction – Jeffrey Beecroft and Lisa Dean
- Best Costume Design – Elsa Zamparelli
American Film Institute recognition:
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #75
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Lt. John J. Dunbar – Nominated Hero
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – #59
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Western and Epic Film
- Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama – Jim Wilson and Kevin Costner
- Golden Globe for Best Director – Kevin Costner
- Golden Globe for Best Screenplay – Michael Blake
- Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement – Kevin Costner at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival
The Holy Road, a well-received sequel novel by Michael Blake, the author of both the original Dances with Wolves novel and the movie screenplay, was published in 2001. It picks up eleven years after Dances with Wolves. John Dunbar is still married to Stands with a Fist and they have three children. Stands with a Fist and one of the children are kidnapped by a party of white rangers and Dances with Wolves must mount a rescue mission. As of 2007, Blake was writing a film adaptation, although Kevin Costner was not yet attached to the project. In the end, however, Costner stated he would not take part in this production. Viggo Mortensen has been rumored to be attached to the project, playing Dunbar.
Judith A. Boughter wrote: "The problem with Costner's approach is that all of the Sioux are heroic, while the Pawnees are portrayed as stereotypical villains. Most accounts of Sioux-Pawnee relations see the Pawnees as victims of the more powerful Sioux."
St. David's Field, Tennessee does not exist, nor did it in 1863. As the opening battle is a minor portion of the film, it was considered undesirable to name an actual historical battle, which might result in knowledgeable viewers taking exception to fictional events.
Fort Sedgwick, Colorado was erected as Camp Rankin and renamed for General John Sedgwick (1813–1864). Sedgwick was killed May 9, 1864, at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. Fort Sedgwick served as an army post from July 1864 to May 1871. John Sedgwick did erect a fort in Kansas in 1860.
Fort Hays, Kansas was named for General Alexander Hays (1819–1864). Hays was killed May 5, 1864, in the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia. Fort Hays served as an army post from October 11, 1865, to November 8, 1889.
There was a real John Dunbar who worked as a missionary for the Pawnee in the 1830s–40s, and sided with the Indians in a dispute with government farmers and a local Indian agent. It is unclear whether the name "John Dunbar" was chosen as a corollary to the real historical figure. 
The fictional Lieutenant John Dunbar of 1863 is correctly shown in the film wearing a gold bar on his officer shoulder straps, indicating his rank as a First Lieutenant. From 1836 to 1872, the rank of First Lieutenant was indicated by a gold bar; after 1872, the rank was indicated by a silver bar. Similarly, Captain Cargill is correctly depicted wearing a pair of gold bars, indicating the rank of Captain at that time.
In an interview, author and screenwriter Michael Blake said that Stands With a Fist, the white captive woman who marries Dunbar, was actually based upon the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the white girl captured by Comanches and mother of Quanah Parker.
The description at the finale is correct; 13 years after the film is set, the last band of free Sioux were forced into a humiliating surrender at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and the dominance and prevalence of the Plains Indians was over.
Home video editions
The first Dances with Wolves VHS version was released in 1991. Dances with Wolves has been released to several VHS versions. The limited collector's edition set comes with two VHS tapes, six high gloss 14-by-11-inch (36 × 28 cm) Lobby Photos, Dances with Wolves The Illustrated Story Of The Epic Film book, and an organized collector's edition storage case.
Dances with Wolves has been released to DVD on four occasions: the first on November 17, 1998, on a single disc; the second on February 16, 1999, as a two disc set with a DTS Soundtrack; the third was released on May 20, 2003, as a two-disc set featuring the Extended Edition; and the fourth was released on May 25, 2004, as a single disc in full frame.
Dances with Wolves has been released on Blu-ray in Germany on December 5, 2008, in France on 15 April 2009, in the United Kingdom on 26 October 2009, and in the United States on January 11, 2011. The German, French, and American releases feature the Extended Edition, while the British release features the theatrical cut.
One year after original theatrical release of Dances with Wolves, a 4-hour version of the film opened at select theaters in London. This longer cut was dubbed Dances with Wolves: The Special Edition, and it restored nearly an hour's worth of scenes that had been removed to keep the original film's running time under 3 hours.
In a letter to British film reviewers, director Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson addressed their reasons for presenting a longer version of the film:
- Upon the release of the four-hour Dances With Wolves, the question naturally arises: why? Why add another hour to a film that by most standards pushes the time limit of conventional movie making? We opted to produce an extended version of Dances With Wolves for several reasons. The 52 additional minutes that represent this "new" version were difficult to cut in the first place...the opportunity to introduce them to audiences is compelling.
- We have received countless letters from people worldwide asking when or if a sequel would be made, so it seemed like a logical step to enhance our film with existing footage. Virtually every character is richer, from the teamster, Timmons, to the tribal chief, Ten Bears.
- Making an extended version is by no means to imply that the original Dances With Wolves was unfinished or incomplete; 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. We hope you enjoy it.
The genesis of the 4-hour version of the film was further explained in an article for Entertainment Weekly that appeared only 10 months after the premiere of the original film:
While the small screen has come to serve as a second chance for filmmakers who can't seem to let their babies go, Kevin Costner and his producing partner, Jim Wilson, hope that their newly completed version will hit theater screens first:
- "I spent seven months working on it," Wilson says of the expanded Wolves. He's quick to defend the Oscar-winning version as "the best picture we had in us at the time," yet Wilson also says he's "ecstatic" over the recut. "It's a brand-new picture," he insists. "There's now more of a relationship between Kevin and Stands With a Fist, more with the wolf, more with the Indians — stuff that's integral all through the story."
- Of course, exhibitors may not want a longer version of an already widely seen movie, but Wilson remains optimistic. "I don't think the time is now," he acknowledges, "but ideally, there is a point at which it would come out with an intermission, booked into the very best venues in America." A premiere in the form of a two-night network miniseries (à la The Godfather Saga) is also a possibility. For now, however, the four-hour Wolves remains a private dancer.
This Special Edition was eventually broadcast in 1993 for the American network television premiere at ABC. For the DVD release, the Special Edition was dubbed an Extended Cut. For Blu-ray, the same cut was renamed Director's Cut.
Director Kevin Costner would later claim that he did not work on the creation of the 4-hour cut at all.
- John Barry composed the Oscar-winning score. It was issued in 1990 initially and again in 1995 with bonus tracks and in 2004 with the score "in its entirety" (although, in reality, approximately 25 minutes of the score is still missing from the 2004 release).
- Peter Buffett scored the "Fire Dance" scene.
- Blake, Michael. Dances with Wolves. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-449-00075-3.
- Blake, Michael. The Holy Road. ZOVA Books. ISBN 978-0-615-51057-6.
- "Dances with Wolves: Overview" (plot/stars/gross, related films), allmovie, 2007, webpage: amovie12092
- 2007 list of films inducted into the National Film Registry
- "Dances with Wolves" - Southdakota.midwestmovies.com
- "Dances with Wolves". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20110-12-25.
- Svetkey, Benjamin (1991-03-08). "Little big movie". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
- "Russell Means Interview with Dan Skye of High Times". Russell Means Freedom. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- Angela Aleiss, Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies, London/CT: Praeger:2005, p. 146.
- "Discussion about the use of Lakota language in Dances With Wolves on the Lakota Language Forum:".
- Aleiss, Angela (2005). Making the white man's Indian : native Americans and Hollywood movies ([Nachdr.]. ed.). Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 165. ISBN 027598396X.
- Sirota, David (February 21, 2013). "Oscar loves a white savior". Salon. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
- Angela Errigo (2008). "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die". In Steven Jay Schneider. 5th Anniversary Edition (London: Quintessence). p. 786. ISBN 0-7641-6151-2.
- "The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- "Berlinale: 1991 Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- Blake, Michael (2001). The Holy Road, Random House. ISBN 0-375-76040-7
- Blake, Michael. "The official website of Michael Blake". Danceswithwolves.net. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
- "Hollywood.com". Hollywood.com. 2008. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
- Judith A. Boughter (2004). "The Pawnee Nation: An Annotated Research Bibliography". Scarecrow Press. p.105. ISBN 0810849909
- Waldo R. Wedel, The Dunbar Allis Letters on the Pawnee (New York: Garland Press, 1985).
- "Fiction, history intersect in a name..." The Day, April 17, 1991 http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=iAQhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qXUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1212%2C4134631
- US Army Institute of Heraldry - History of Officer Rank Insignia
- Aleiss, Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies, p. 145.
- Gritten, David. "Dances with Wolves - The Really Long Version", Los Angeles Times, 20 December 1991.
- Daly, Steven. "Last Dance?", Entertainment Weekly, 30 August 1991.
- Willman, Chris. "True Western", Entertainment Weekly, 23 January 2004.
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- Archived website http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.danceswithwolves.net/
- Dances with Wolves at the Internet Movie Database
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- Dances with Wolves at allmovie
- Dances with Wolves at Rotten Tomatoes