Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Last of the Mohicans: Director's Definitive Cut

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Oct 5, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    The Last of the Mohicans: Director’s Definitive Cut (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Michael Mann

    Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
    Year: 1992
    Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 114 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround English
    Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French

    Region:  A
    MSRP:  $ 34.99


    Release Date: October 5, 2010

    Review Date: October 5, 2010



    The Film

    4/5



    For all their literary fame, James Fenimore Cooper's quintet of Leatherstocking Tales are somewhat plodding stories filled with interesting but melodramatic characters. Written between 1825 and 1841, the novels comprise the first internationally celebrated novels written by an American writer, but that doesn't make them automatically cinematic or historically accurate either. 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, the chronological second story of the group, is a revamp of the 1936 Randolph Scott-starring film version, and this newer incarnation constitutes a definite advance over the first attempt both in production values and in talent before and behind the camera. It’s a film with a definite 1990s sensibility about it, but while it veers away a bit from the original novel (as the earlier movie did) to tell its story, it does have a majestic grace and some fascinating looks at the pre-Revolutionary War period of America that aren’t often portrayed on the screen.


    Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a trapper who at a very young age was adopted by the Iroquois chieftan Chingachgook (Russell Means). He and his stepfather and stepbrother (Eric Schweig) are drawn in 1757 into the war between France and England for control of the new Americas never realizing that they're actually just pawns in a disgusting power play between two spoiled and ruthless crowns. The Huron Indians, already aware of the British treachery, have vowed revenge on the British and have allied with the French, and Hawkeye and family get sucked into fighting for their very lives in trying to stay loyal to their Indian friends  and yet not upset the British and French soldiers who also demand obedience. Along the way, Hawkeye falls for the elder daughter (Madeleine Stowe) of British Colonel Munro (Maurice Roeves), and he finds himself protecting her from the savage natures of all the war's participants. One Huron in particular, the malevolent Magua (Wes Studi), has made it his personal crusade to wipe Munro and his offspring off the face of the earth. His earnest vow to cut out and eat the heart of Munro is not to be taken lightly.


    Director Mann and his co-writer Christopher Crowe have chosen to retain from the 1936 film the love story angle in this movie setting up a triangle relationship between Hawkeye and Cora along with the British Major Heyward (Steven Waddington), but amid the fierce battles and treachery going on all around them, the love story never quite fits smoothly (possibly why Cooper never wrote it in the first place), and one never quite feels the passion that is being depicted on the screen. Much more involving are the wonderfully staged battle sequences. Mann brilliantly shoots an early siege on Fort William Henry in extreme long shot so that the gun and cannon fire lights up the night sky in amazing pyrotechnical splendor. A later ambush sequence is also superbly staged and shot with the growing menace palpable and sound used stupendously as the Indian war cries gain in volume and savagery. Unlike the 1936 version, this modern retelling allows for a great degree of violence to be shown, and sure enough, it’s there in all its abundant, visceral force. The period recreations of these French and Indian War skirmishes appear completely realistic and quite unforgettable down to a grandly reenacted surrender scene with all of the pomp and circumstance of such a formal ceremony of the time.


    Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays Hawkeye, and in this earlier part of his career, his attempting to hide his British accent caused some of his line readings to be a trifle stilted at times (he certainly had no problem hiding his ethnicity in Gangs of New York or another Oscar winner for him There Will Be Blood) though there is no denying his complete immersion into the role as a frontiersman of great expertise. Madeleine Stowe as the purposeful and businesslike Cora more than holds her own with Day-Lewis. One believes in the passion of both her beliefs and her emotions. Wes Studi as the embittered Magua conveys his hatred and contempt adroitly, but the character is conceived in cardboard with no other emotions. He's Simon Legree in a loincloth and Mohawk. Russell Means makes an earnest and touching Indian stepfather for Day-Lewis while Steven Waddington brings admirable shades of color to his pompous British cavalry officer with reason enough to be jealous and vengeful. Maurice Roeves does the starchy and unyielding Colonel Munro to a fare-thee-well, and his opposing French general Montcalm played by Patrice Chereau likewise brings a dignity and diplomacy to the part that is quite appealing.



    Video Quality

    4/5


    The Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is retained in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Most of the film takes place in low light or in shaded natural light, so it’s overall a dark transfer, and black levels, while admirably deep, sometimes crush detail out of the frame. Colors are nicely saturated, and flesh tones are accurately rendered while sharpness is well above average but not always optimum. The subtitles are an orange-yellow hue that make them very easy to read (though some of the Indian dialogue has not been subtitled). The film has been divided into 32 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    4/5


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix doesn’t have quite the flair or impact of a more modern action film soundtrack, but there’s still plenty of bang for the buck in the soundfield with nice use of the fronts and rears particularly during the battle sequences. The score by Trevor Jones, Randy Edelman, and Daniel Lanois also nicely threads through the available channels with force and power. The LFE channel doesn’t always extend to the lower depths of its capability, but it can still impress, especially during  the thunderous waterfall sequence.



    Special Features

    3/5


    The audio commentary is provided by writer-director Michael Mann. Part history lesson and part reminiscence about the production, it’s a track fans of the movie will enjoy listening to. Mann does take some pauses during the running time, however, so don’t expect continuous talking.


    “The Making of The Last of the Mohicans is a comprehensive 42 ¾-minute documentary that explores almost every conceivable aspect of the production from Day-Lewis’ weapon, survival, and combat training with rifles and edge weaponry to the development of the love story in the script, Mann’s work as a director, location scouting, the staging of the battle scenes, and the music used in the movie. Among the contributors remembering their work on the film are Michael Mann, Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Wes Studi, cameraman Dante Spinotti, casting director Bonnie Timmerman, and composer Trevor Jones. It’s presented in 1080i.


    A teaser trailer runs 1 ½ minutes. The theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes. Both are presented in 4:3 and 480i.



    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)


    The Last of the Mohicans is not everything it could have been as historical fiction, but it has enough moments of memorable sight and sound to be an entertaining period adventure film whose Blu-ray release is easily recommendable.




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Don't have time to say much more right now, but thanks much, Matt, for pushing this out quickly for those of us on the fence about grabbing it (especially w/ Amazon's current pricing).


    Very glad to hear that this has a solid transfer. I tried looking quickly, but did not see any mentions of differences from previous versions of the film (as that was something many of us wondered). Can you offer some details on that?


    Thanks again!


    _Man_
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I wish I could comment on differences between the theatrical, director's cut, and this new definitive cut, but the truth is that I had only seen the film once when it was first released in early 1992 and never since then (never owned it on any home video format), so I'm no expert on it. I'll have to defer to others to make detailed comparisons.
     
  4. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    I am curious to know what further changes/omissions/additions have been made to this supposedly definitive version, seeing as how it is now two minutes longer than the original theatrical but three minutes shorter than the "director's cut." How well does it flow? Are musical selections still altered? Is the ending still compromised?
     
  5. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    In one of the other Mohicans threads, Josh Katz linked to this review, which lists the major changes.
     
  6. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Thanks, Carl, for providing that link. I hope this will help those wanting to know details about changes from one version to the next.
     
  7. urbo73

    urbo73 Stunt Coordinator

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    OK, picked this up this morning and browsed it a bit. It does look darker than I recall with crushed blacks, etc. But it's very film-like too. I wonder if this was the intent of the cinematographer and Mann. Not sure.
     
  8. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    From that link:


    "- The Clannad song is back, but in…Gaelic rather than English

    - Chingachgook’s speech about the frontier life at the end is gone

    - The shot of the axe impaling Magua is back

    - Hawkeye’s “serious disagreement” line to Heyward is back

    - Hawkeye’s “breed apart” line and Cora’s response is back

    - Most of Hawkeye’s other lines that got cut from the director’s cut are still gone, but Mann seems to have restored some of the more controversial changes."


    Wow - this addresses EVERY major complaint I had about the Extended Cut. SOLD!
     
  9. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    I hate Clannad (in any language) and was more than happy to see the back of them in the last cut, but I'll be getting this. It's a gorgeous film.
     
  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I think it's great that the filmmaker and the studio listened to the complaints from fans of this great film. They compromised to give us not exactly the original film, but at least close enough to the original cut that many of us can enjoy and purchased it while the filmmaker was still able to exercise his right for artistic control over his work. Sure, the perfect solution would've been releasing both versions like "The Exorcist", but that didn't happen for whatever reason. Anyhow, receiving something is better than getting nothing at all.






    Crawdaddy
     
  11. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    hmm maybe I should get this afterall
     
  12. bosque

    bosque Agent

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    While Josh Katz in the Culture Mob (?) link provides a useful list of the main changes which Michael Mann has made in his definitive cut of LOTM, I was surprised he felt the need to take a few swipes at the director for how he handles the commentary. Far from Mann being wordy in his commentary, I felt he gets a heck of a lot of information across about the time the movie is set and does so in admirably succinct fashion. Other comments Mr Katz makes seem equally ill-advised. Anybody know if it is a habit of that website or the reviewer to add this style of comment to its or his reviews ?
     
  13. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    IMHO, it is too dark. Dunno if it was Mann's "vision", or if it is encoded wrong; but I cannot enjoy this disc without adjusting the brightness and contrast. Sure, the "dark" scenes are dark; but even non-dark scenes are dark.
     
  14. AaronMK

    AaronMK Supporting Actor

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    After watching this, I think Matt's assessment of the image is pretty spot on. Many of the scenes are dark, yet still convincing in the amount of light you would have in their setting. Others that appear to take place in broad daylight have a darkness that just does not appear natural, with the first couple of scenes with Duncan and Cora sticking out. I prefer the color timing of the DVD, but if this is what Mann envisioned, I have no major complaints.


    Otherwise, the level of detail in most scenes is incredible and appears completely natural. Nothing on that front appears digital to me, and you can see where the near constant 36 - 39 Mbps went. When detail suffers, it seems pretty clear that it is a result of the elements used, who's quality varies quite a bit. At one point, the whole frame seems to shift (except Hawkeye for some strange reason) as if there was a projector malfunction. Otherwise, this seems very film-like in the ways we want it to be.
     
  15. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    I'm not sure what "style" you mean. I haven't heard the Mohicans commentary track, but "the commentary frequently just describes what's happening on-screen" and "the commentary repeats of lot of information from the documentary" seem like perfectly legitimate complaints to me. The only other issue is see is the charge that Mann misuses a lot of big words--well, does he?
     
  16. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    My issues with the BD aren't related to the particular cut, but with the transfer. I didn't see the picture theatrically, but I can't imagine it having been this dark. I mean dark. Crushed blacks and scarce shadow detail might be stylistic choices or results for low-bidget indie films, but Mohicans, with its more epic intentions, seems highly unlikely.


    My only previous viewing was on DVD, with a much smaller display, but based on that viewing I was anticipating a much better experience in BD. I'm very much disappointed with the result, which actually took me out of the story; it's that distracting. While no expert, that's my two cents worth.
     
  17. urbo73

    urbo73 Stunt Coordinator

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    Yeah, I'm also curious if this was their intent or just a bad transfer. People are commenting more on the cut of the film rather than the transfer...
     
  18. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Hmmm... the overall dark quality of the transfer is making me hold off and just wait-and-see on this one now. Maybe it was an encoding/mastering error that somehow slipped pass Fox's QA (once again)? Wouldn't be surprising if so, considering Fox's occasionally spotty track record in the past.


    _Man_
     
  19. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    I watched the Blu-ray earlier today and found the presentation to be very faithful to my recollection of the film. It may be a shade darker, (and I'm not completely convinced that the presentation actually is darker) but not objectionably so and certainly not to a degree that impairs one's viewing. Many of the darker scenes in the wilderness at night, or at John Cameron's cabin - for instance, look just like I remember them. Overall, I am very pleased with both the cut and the transfer and would whole-heartedly recommend the disc. There are lot of dark scenes in this film, which is of course perfectly natural; since you know, they didn't have electricity back then.


    Seriously though, this fan of the film is very happy with the disc and I think the transfer has fine detail and looks very natural. (I've watched this film on VHS, LD, and DVD innumerable times over the years and the Blu-ray looks beautiful.)


    - Walter.
     
  20. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    They had electricity in the daytime.
     

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