The Last of the Mohicans: Director’s Definitive Cut (Blu-ray)
Directed by Michael Mann
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 114 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Review Date: October 5, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.