A disillusioned military man finds himself embedded with a native indigenous tribe that his people have painted as savage hostiles and a threat to society. In time he learns that all of what has been said is untrue and so decides to side with the native people he has grown to see as his own. We could be talking about James Cameron’s first entry in the unnecessarily soon to be five film Avatar franchise, but due to the lack of Unobtainium in the above synopsis we must be instead talking about the 1990 western, Dances With Wolves – released 30 years ago this week. Directed, produced by, and starring Kevin Costner the flick would go on to be nominated for a phenomenal 12 Academy Awards, winning seven including Best Picture (beating out Goodfellas) and Best Director. The film started life as an unsold spec script by Michael Blake. Costner, who had worked on Blake’s previous film, Stacy’s Knights, convinced him to adapt the material into a novel which was eventually published and the rights purchased by… Kevin Costner, who hired Blake to adapt the novel into a screenplay (for which Blake won a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, not bad for an adaptation of an adaptation).
Did you know…
- Logistically the film was a nightmare. It involved 300 horses, 3,500 buffalo, 42 wagons, 500 extras, and even two wolves. A substantial amount of dialogue was spoken in the Lakota language, for this Costner found a North Dakota community college teacher who taught the language and culture. She was brought in to translate the script and work as the on-set language supervisor.
- The film had a troubled production, no major studio wanted to back it as they considered it to be a potential massive flop, with some calling it “Kevin’s Gate” in reference to the financial disaster that was Heaven’s Gate. Costner managed to secure funding from foreign investors and film studio Orion eventually ponied up the rest. When the film went over budget by $3 million Costner paid it out of his own pocket. It defied the negative predictions and went on to earn $424 million worldwide.
- The Sioux nation were so pleased with their representation in the film they actually granted Costner honorary membership status.