Year: 1990
Studio: Orion
Running Time: 181 minutes (Theatrical), 234 minutes (Director’s cut)
Process: Panavision / Dolby Stereo
Director: Kevin Costner
Stars: Kevin Costner as Lieutenant John Dunbar
Mary McDonnell as Stands With A Fist
Graham Greene as Kicking Bird
Rodney A. Grant as Wind In His Hair

By 1990 the Hollywood Western, like the Buffalo, was practically extinct. I remember yearning for a comeback of the good old-fashioned epic Western. And so I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Kevin Costner came through with a film that more than fit the bill.

Dances With Wolves is a literate Western, with sweeping vistas, gentle humor, and an immersive, intelligent story-line. It was directed with finesse by the star who really understood the Western motif.

Most impressive is the authenticity of the production. Costner showed us Native American life in a way that had never been done before. The children at play were no different than children of any other culture. The young warriors were proud and dedicated to protecting the welfare of the tribe. The families were all bound together with love. It was an idyllic way of life and I was drawn to these characters and really cared about what happened to them.

Throughout the 1980s several things had fallen out of fashion in the movie industry. Epic Godfather-style movies were relics of the past and theatergoers had been conditioned to like 90 minute action movies. And subtitles were considered to be box-office poison! Kevin Costner had to buck the studio system in order to get them to let him to make the kind of movie he wanted. A long running time was needed to allow the story to unfold at the proper pace, and it would be very wrong for the Sioux to speak anything but their native Lakota language.

The studio still forced Costner to cut the movie down to 3 hours and even at that length the movie managed to sweep the Academy Awards and reinvigorate interest in the Western. After Dances With Wolves was a bona fide hit, Costner was given permission to re-edit the movie without the time restriction and the nearly four-hour cut is what I would really recommend because it makes a great story even better.

While there have been many Westerns to follow, none have been better than Dances With Wolves.