I well remember seeing Dances With Wolves back during its cinema release. It was a lovely cinematic experience that harkened back to an old kind of less cynical, pre-Leone Western while displaying some wisely revisionist respect towards Native Americans. It starred -and was directed by- one of the genuine rising stars at the time and marked a return to film scoring by John Barry (the way the film sounded no doubt helping its rather nostalgic feel). I loved the film and bought the soundtrack and later the film on VHS (yep thats how long ago it was!) and later still another VHS copy of the deluxe-boxed extended cut (back when extended cuts were more of a rarity than now). The film was hugely popular at the time and has possibly suffered a backlash over the years, before being triumphantly remade by James Cameron into a sci-fi epic (okay I’m joking at that last bit– or am I?).
Last night I watched the film again for the first time in something like twenty years. Twenty years– and this is a film I really liked; its scary how the years sneak past you; indeed, I’m certain the last time I saw the film was on VHS. I did buy a copy of the film on DVD but somehow never got around to watching it. This time I watched it on Blu-ray, a German steelbook that I imported for the two cuts and substantial extras that are incredibly lacking on our theatrical-only UK disc.
What got me buying the Blu-ray and actually watching the film again was the release late last year of the complete John Barry soundtrack on a 2-CD edition from La La Land records. Listening to that gorgeous Barry music – better now than ever, and rarer now that Barry himself is long gone and film music has rather gone down the Zimmer toilet these past years- had me reminiscing about the film again. Similar to how listening to James Horner soundtracks following his death last year has me reaching for my Apollo 13 and Field of Dreams Blu-ray discs.
I’m pleased to report that Dances With Wolves holds up very well after what is now 25 years- it remains a lovely film. I don’t think it’s particularly dated at all (though some of the hair-styles betray a rather 1980s vibe that likely wasn’t intentional) and it’s a joyful reminder of Orion Pictures logos* and Costner as a young rising star (his career never maintained that 1980s-1990s trajectory of The Untouchables, Field of Dreams, No Way Out, Dances and The Bodyguard). And yes it’s a reminder of great John Barry music that graced so many other great films. Its warm and its funny and its thrilling and full of awe-inspiringly lovely landscapes.
Its got a genuinely wonderful script. The script just works, and is the great foundation of the whole film (reading the soundtrack CD liner-notes I sadly learned that Michael Blake, who wrote the screenplay from his own novel, died in May 2015 at the age of 69, another sign of all those years that have passed since the film was released). I wish every film these days had such finely judged scripts with great characters and character arcs and a message and everything. Yes the film was entertainment but it also had something to say about America and its past and the plight of Native Americans.
And the film had such time to breathe. It isn’t edited down to within an inch of its life to satisfy audiences with attention-deficiency disorders.
Maybe the 25 years have increased the nostalgia factor. It is a funny thing watching films that we grew up on, have strong memories of. Like music albums, songs bringing old times and memories rushing back, films can be such time machines too.
* same feeling I get watching the original Robocop and The Termnator. I wonder if we will one day get so warmly nostalgic about seeing Star Wars films with the 20th Century Fox fanfare after years of Disney Star Wars?