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Dances With Wolves
Album Cover Art
1990 Original
1995 Gold
Album 2 Cover Art
2004 Expanded
Album 3 Cover Art
2015 La-La Land
Album 4 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Greig McRitchie
Mark McKenzie
Labels Icon
(November 13th, 1990)

(February 2nd, 1995)

Epic/Sony Music
(May 18th, 2004)

La-La Land Records
(November 27th, 2015)
Availability Icon
The original 1990 album is a regular U.S. release. An SACD version of that album was released concurrently. The 1995 gold version was a "limited" U.S. release, selling originally for $25 to $30 and maintaining a value estimated between $35 and $40 ten years later.

The expanded album in 2004 is a regular U.S. release. The 2015 La-La Land album is limited to 5,000 copies and sold initially at soundtrack specialty outlets for a retail price of $30.
Winner of an Academy Award and a Grammy Award. Nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on the definitive 2015 2-CD set if you are one of the few in a generation to have never before owned the classic symphonic score, John Barry's triumphant crowning achievement while nearing the end of his career.

Avoid it... if you have grown tired of Barry's trademark stylistic simplicity of the 1980's and 1990's, because despite this score's perfect emotional tone for the film, its instrumentation and themes are extremely derivative of the composer's prior work.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 6/2/97, REVISED 3/11/16
Dances With Wolves: (John Barry) According to the studios during the production of Dances With Wolves, actor Kevin Costner did everything wrong for a first-time director. He sought to make a historical drama with expansive vistas, utilized various challenging animals in an era prior to special effects, insisted upon faithful interpretations of a dying language, and, most importantly, ran over budget. Costner's faith in the story, however, caused him to invest his own money in the 1990 production, and, against all odds, the movie not only proved to be an overwhelming critical and popular success (winning seven Academy Awards and earning over $400 million on a budget of roughly $20 million), but it revived Westerns in Hollywood and allowed other reinventions of the genre to gain similar notoriety soon after. With Costner in the lead role, Dances With Wolves tells of a disillusioned Union lieutenant during the American Civil War who is sent to man an abandoned fort in Colorado, only to become enamored with the local Sioux tribe, learning its language and marrying one of its members. When the American Army catches up with him, he is defended by his newly adopted community and seeks permanent seclusion in the West, completing an unlikely journey that includes much sorrow along its path. Costner knew from the start of production that he wanted a massive symphonic score for Dances With Wolves, the film's tribute to the disappearing Western plains requiring music of significant scope to accompany its striking scenery. The logical choice at the time was Basil Poledouris, whose "Lonesome Dove" television music was considered a standard for the genre at the time. After being contractually bound to the picture, however, Poledouris withdrew from Dances With Wolves because its recording schedule was set to overlap that of the ridiculous action flick Flight of the Intruder. Poledouris felt so strongly about his friendship to director John Milius that he abandoned Dances With Wolves only to discover, later, that the Milius film would be delayed by half a year, opening up the entire time in which Dances With Wolves was scored. Such was the inglorious end of Poledouris' best hope of ever capturing an Academy Award.

Into the equation stepped British veteran John Barry, who was in the latter stages of the prime of his career. In the late 1980's, the composer had already begun to experience a lengthy series of illnesses that would largely sideline him as the 1990's progressed. After winning an Academy Award for Out of Africa, he suffered a ruptured esophagus and later dedicated his score for Dances With Wolves to the doctors who saved his life. Artistically, Barry's shameless self-repetition in style was beginning to take a toll on his career, ultimately leading to several rejected scores in the 1990's. With everything from Somewhere in Time to Out of Africa all beginning to sound very alike in structure and instrumentation, Dances With Wolves really represented Barry's last attempt, whether he knew it at the time or not, to parade his broad string and simple melodic style at its best. If ever there was a perfect cinematic match for Barry's trademark symphonic romanticism of the 1980's, Dances With Wolves is that film. It's a blend of sound and sight that requires music critics to turn off the intellectual sides of their brains, because there is much in Barry's very simplistic approach to the movie that will frustrate any student of composition. His insistence upon repeating each phrase of a theme twice, utilizing static, slow tempos and instruments in the same roles in almost every circumstance, and rarely manipulating or layering his melodic ideas with any technical acuity all cause a score like Dances With Wolves to make cynics roll their eyes. Make no mistake about it, this is not a spectacularly complex score, despite the fact that Barry wrote more themes (and the most sheer quantity overall) for this assignment than he usually did for other productions. Each theme is applied like a mini-movement in a symphony, rarely interacting satisfactorily with other ideas or evolving in such a way, singularly or as a whole, to form a convincing narrative arc. The predictable progressions in those themes will remind you of half a dozen prior scores from Barry (including some of his later James Bond work, no less) and a few still set to come later in the 1990's. But if you're stuck lamenting the arguably problematic circumstances just described, then you're missing the point of Dances With Wolves.

It remains a classic score by nearly all definitions because of its perfectly tailored emotional appeal in the context of the film and its harmonic resonance on album, precisely the characteristics you hoped for when Barry was able to take this assignment. The instrumentation of the score included 95 orchestral players and a 12-member chorus for slight dissonant shades during moments of anxious nerves. Barry chose to score the film from the lead's (John Dunbar's) point of view, dismissing any idea of recording authentic Sioux music and instead sticking to his comfortably symphonic approach on a massive scale. The composer's only earlier attempt at Native American music, White Buffalo, was by no means a success (in fact, many would consider it a monumental failure in his career) and the truth remains that Barry probably would have been incapable of attempting any other style of score than the one he wrote. Despite the notoriety afforded to the full-blooded orchestral majesty of the score's largest themes, Dances With Wolves, like many Barry scores of the era, is best tempered when toning back the ensemble to simple woodwind melodies over strings and harp, the most intoxicating moments actually reflecting lovely solo flute performances of subthemes in this score, mixed at an echoing distance from the rest of the ensemble to convey the somewhat otherworldliness of the West for Dunbar. The many themes of the Dances With Wolves score are its greatest strength, regardless of their inability to mingle appropriately or evolve significantly. The primary identity, the John Dunbar theme, can reliably be heard in elevators or department store atriums, and anyone who watches American football on television will have immediately recognized it during the prolific United Way commercials in which it was featured for over ten years. It was even a favorite tune of Pope John Paul II. The score opens with an eerie trumpet performance of this theme, immediately associating with the character's disaffected relationship to the war. It later recurs with Costner's journal reflections and as the highlight of the end credits. A lonely arrangement for harmonica rather than violins is a nod to the Western genre's usual tones, and the album version of "The Buffalo Hunt" gives the prior trumpet performance a bold and victorious tone over lightly tapped snare rhythms.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.27 Stars
***** 4,793 5 Stars
**** 1,690 4 Stars
*** 896 3 Stars
** 366 2 Stars
* 306 1 Stars
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This score saved the movie
John - August 4, 2017, at 11:44 a.m.
1 comment  (607 views)
Acker Bilk Song
roybatty - April 6, 2007, at 11:58 a.m.
1 comment  (4170 views)
Classical Radio
kushner - November 30, 2006, at 11:46 a.m.
1 comment  (3742 views)
Different Versions of the Soundtrack   Expand >>
skywalka - November 9, 2006, at 7:14 p.m.
2 comments  (6126 views)
Newest: September 4, 2007, at 3:00 p.m. by
Emotionally charged soundtrack
Sheridan - June 15, 2006, at 1:12 p.m.
1 comment  (2539 views)
An Affective Score
Matt - February 2, 2006, at 10:56 a.m.
1 comment  (2696 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1990 Original Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 53:29
• 1. Main Title - Looks Like a Suicide (3:57)
• 2. The John Dunbar Theme (2:15)
• 3. Journey to Fort Sedgewick (3:22)
• 4. Ride to Fort Hays (2:00)
• 5. The Death of Timmons (2:25)
• 6. Two Socks - The Wolf Theme (1:28)
• 7. Pawnee Attack (3:45)
• 8. Kicking Bird's Gift (2:08)
• 9. Journey to the Buffalo Killing Ground (3:39)
• 10. The Buffalo Hunt (2:41)
• 11. Stands with a Fist Remembers (2:07)
• 12. The Love Theme (3:52)
• 13. The John Dunbar Theme (2:05)
• 14. Two Socks at Play (1:57)
• 15. The Death of Cisco (2:42)
• 16. Resuce of Dances With Wolves (2:07)
• 17. The Loss of the Journal and the Return to Winter Camp (2:07)
• 18. Farewell and End Title (8:40)
1995 Gold Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 64:12
2004 Expanded Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 75:46
2015 La-La Land Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 144:06

Notes Icon
The original pressing's insert contains minimal information about the film and score. The gold CD packaging features a slip cover and different artwork on the insert; the CD itself is 24-Karat Gold and the sound is a "20-Bit Digital Transfer using Sony's new 'Super Bit Mapping' (SBM) Process." The 2004 album contains expanded notes about the score, but a return to traditional packaging. The insert of the 2015 product contains extensive information about the score and film.
Copyright © 1997-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Dances With Wolves are Copyright © 1990, 1995, 2004, 2015, Sony/Epic/Legacy, Sony/Epic/Legacy, Epic/Sony Music, La-La Land Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 6/2/97 and last updated 3/11/16.
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