October 08, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

If I had to name a favorite contemporary composer of movie scores, it would likely be John Barry (although Jerry Goldsmith would make the decision difficult). Barry has composed some lasting and familiar music over the course of his long career. In fact, until Bond was re-invented in the '90s with Pierce Brosnan in the title role, Barry was the series' regular composer (scoring all but five movies). And, although Monty Norman was given official credit for composing the classic "James Bond Theme," it's known that Barry was responsible for a portion of that music, although how much is open to debate. (Norman claims that Barry's contribution was minimal; others say that little of what Norman originally wrote survived.)

Dances with Wolves represents Barry's best post-1980 work. It's a grand, epic score that matches the style of the movie for which it was made. And it's great to listen to on its own - whether in a car, on a plane, or at home. I believe one-quarter of my 1993 reviews were written with the Dances soundtrack playing on a CD player somewhere near the computer. (That was back in the day when no one had heard of an "mp3" file and few computers had CD-ROMs. Most computers still had 5 1/4" floppy drives.)

The CD is devoid of dud tracks or dull patches. "The John Dunbar Theme" and "Journey to Fort Sedgewick" are beautiful enough to bring tears to the eyes. "Pawnee Attack" is startling and cacaphonous. "The Buffalo Hunt" is rousing, and "Farewell and End Titles" is simultaneously poignant and triumphant. The album contains 19 tracks, many of which are perfect or nearly so.

The first time I saw Dances with Wolves, I knew I wanted to own the soundtrack. It wasn't out yet - I had to wait a couple of weeks before it reached my local Sam Goody's. (This was before Best Buy and Amazon.com.) I plunked down about $14 for the CD and could hardly wait to get it home to listen to it. (My car, like most models of the era, did not have a CD player.) 15 years later, I still have that CD, and still listen to it frequently. Technology may change, but this movie and its music will never go out of style.