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'Dances With Wolves'--the Really Long Version : Movies: A four-hour cut of the film opens in London. It features 52 minutes of footage that did not appear in the original release. The extra scenes help spell out the film's themes more clearly.

December 20, 1991|DAVID GRITTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONDON — For those of you who thought that, at 181 minutes, this year's runaway Oscar winner "Dances With Wolves" wasn't quite long enough . . . here's the good news.

A four-hour cut of the movie, titled "Dances With Wolves--The Special Edition" has opened in one West End theater here. It features 52 minutes of footage that did not appear in the originally released movie.

But why? That is a question addressed in a letter to British film reviewers by the film's director and star Kevin Costner, and producer Jim Wilson. "Why add another hour to a film which by most standards pushes the time limit of conventional movie making?"

There were two main reasons, according to a statement from Costner and Wilson: "The 52 additional minutes that represent this 'new' version were difficult to cut in the first place, and . . . the opportunity to introduce them to an audience 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 . . . 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."

The film won seven Oscars, including best picture. Costner was named best director on his directing debut.

"Dances With Wolves" is the story of John Dunbar, an idealistic young Civil War officer played by Costner who befriends a tribe of Sioux Indians and becomes one of them.

The 52 minutes of extra scenes help spell out the film's themes more clearly. Included in the new footage is a trek undertaken by Dunbar and his best Indian friend, Kicking Bird, in which they come upon a forest despoiled by white hunters. A new sequence that depicts the slaughter by the Sioux of white buffalo hunters sheds new light on Dunbar's decision to return to white society. In general, the longer version portrays the Sioux more brutally and realistically.

Additional scenes also sharpen the courtship and marriage between Dunbar and a Sioux woman (played by Mary McDonnell). The personal and cultural gap between them is now emphasized more strongly.

London critics have mainly been supportive of the four-hour version. Those who liked the original film tended to like the longer film more, though dissenters have found the length of the special edition exasperating.

Christopher Tookey of the Sunday Telegraph wrote: "Now revealed on the scale intended by its director, 'Dances With Wolves' is much richer, more complex and sophisticated. It deserves to take its place among the classic Westerns."

Philip French of the Observer commented: "The picture now has greater depth, and the length contributes to our appreciation of Dunbar's isolation from the old world and of his absorption into a new culture." The Guardian's Derek Malcolm added: "Though four hours is the dickens of a long time in the cinema, this new 'edition' makes it seem like time well spent."

Among doubters was the Independent's Chris Peachment, who described the film as "crashing on to our screens with all the heat and speed of a legless sloth. I defy anyone who saw the original a year ago to give me chapter and verse on exactly what has been extended. There's an extra massacre in the middle, though not a very big one. Otherwise, it's just the same scenes extended way beyond the limits of endurance." Geoff Brown of the Times added: "An unnecessary revival."

The special edition is playing to two houses a day at the Odeon, Haymarket. Anne McAlpine of Guild, the film's British distributors, said it was "doing good business," though early box-office figures were not available. "It will definitely play into the New Year," she added. "We are still deciding whether to open it in other theaters."

Carol Baker at Majestic Films, the British production company that co-funded "Dances With Wolves," said that Orion Pictures had no contractual obligation to distribute the special edition. She knew of no plans to release it elsewhere.

To date, there is no four-hour release on video, and none has been announced, although there are rumors. Nor has a four-hour theatrical version for release in the U.S. been announced.

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