Saturday, 8 March 2014

Film Review: Dances With Wolves

Way back in 1990 I was probably more interested in the latest Disney blockbuster and whether or not I was going to get to be milk monitor that week than anything starring Kevin Costner. Dances With Wolves is one of those films that I've heard about loads of times, I've laughed at jokes referencing it, and I clearly remember it getting a mention in an episode of Rugrats, but until last Saturday I'd never actually seen it.

Set during the American Civil War, it tells the story of John Dunbar who inadvertent heroism results in him getting to pick his next posting. He asks to be sent out west, only to arrive and find that Fort Sedgwick is deserted. Not one to let something like that get him down he sets about making it habitable and continues following his military orders, with his only companions being his horse, Cisco, and a lone wolf who comes to visit which he names Two Socks.

Eventually he makes friends with his neighbours, a Sioux camp which is also home to Stands With A Fist, a white woman who was adopted as a young girl. Gradually he earns the trust of the Sioux people and after helping them with their buffalo hunt is accepted as their guest. Meanwhile the war is moving in their direction and the Sioux are also under threat from a nearby Pawnee tribe, all the while Dunbar finds himself falling in love and questioning whether he really wants to return to the life he once knew.

As the film started both Mr Click and I were a little bit unsure what to make of it. We kind of have a bit of a Mystery Science Theatre thing going on whenever we watch a film and even if it's a film we love, we find some things to mock in it. We do it because we care. The more we have to say, chances are the more we're enjoying it, we found quite a bit to say about Dances With Wolves.

I'll admit, to start with I didn't have a clue what was going on. Mr Click had less of an idea about what was going on that I did; he said himself that his knowledge of the American Civil War is fairly limited and is largely based on films like Cold Mountain and Gone With the Wind. I know slightly more than him, I've seen those films and I've been to the Cyclorama in Atlanta, GA. Luckily although the film is set during the Civil War you don't actually need much understanding of it once you get past the first twenty minutes.

I've read online that the film is actually pretty accurate in terms of things like the Sioux culture (although a funny titbit that I found mentions the Lakota language coach was a woman and Lakota is a language that uses different pronunciations for men and women, as a result of this the warriors talk like women having afternoon tea). Kevin Costner was actually made an honorary member of the Sioux Nation as a result of this film. The fact that he's not been invited into the Pawnee Nation probably says something about their portrayal in the film.

A fair chunk of the film is actually subtitled because a large plot point is the fact that Dunbar doesn't speak Lakota and they rely on Stands With A Fist to remember English to help translate for him. It's really nicely done, although you can kind of see the romance coming a mile off.

To say the film is long is kind of an understatement. It's rather Peter Jackson-esque in that respect. We started watching it while we ate our breakfast at 9am, and considering we had bathroom breaks, Labrador bathroom breaks, a knitting needle disaster and the associated pause while I went in search of new yarn, needles and pattern, we didn't actually finish it until after 1pm!

It's a film which I really enjoyed though and both Mr Click and I have decided we need to get a copy of our own (as this was just borrowed from a friend)... well, Mr Click said we had to get War Horse but he meant Dances With Wolves (they both feature horses and take place during a war so you can see where there might be some confusion). This is definitely a film which I'll enjoy watching again, maybe on a Saturday afternoon so we avoid staying in bed until lunchtime in future.

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