The Last of the Mohicans [DVD]
Screenplay : Written by Michael Mann and Christopher Crowe (based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper and the 1936 by Philip Dunne)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1992
Stars : Daniel Day-Lewis (Hawkeye), Madeleine Stowe (Cora Munro), Russell Means (Chingachgook), Eric Schweig (Uncas), Jodhi May (Alice), Steven Waddington (Major Duncan Heyward), Wes Studi (Magua), Maurice Roëves (Colonel Edmund Munro)
Director Michael Mann said that his first memory of going to the movies was the 1936 version of The Last of the Mohicans. It is fitting, then, that when he returned to the big screen after several years working in TV (he was the producer and creator of Miami Vice), he would tackle James Fenimore Cooper's overwritten classic about the rustic adventures of Natty Bumpo, also known as Hawkeye.
And tackle it he did. Mann and his star, Daniel Day-Lewis, literally threw themselves into the project. Mann scouted for months to find a small section of land in North Carolina that most closely resembled the colonial forests of upstate New York circa 1757. Desiring the ultimate in authenticity, Mann had all the props and costumes built from scratch, using real materials. He and Day-Lewis spent eight months learning the ways of the Indians--how to start a fire in 25 seconds and the proper way to use tomahawks and knives in hand-to-hand combat.
The result is a rousing, naturalistic war epic that is a welcome relief from all the car crashes and explosions that have become such tireless cycles in most action films. Mann's version of The Last of the Mohicans is brimming with intensity, the hard-edged violence of its battle scenes matched only by the grandeur of its sweeping pans of jagged mountains, thundering waterfalls, and sprawling forests. Everything is here: war, romance, brotherly love, family disputes, a blood vengeance, and lots of macho posturing, all bolstered by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones' majestic score.
The screenplay (by Mann and Christopher Crowe, borrowing liberally from Phillip Dunne's 1936 screenplay) changes a few things around from the novel. Hawkeye becomes the central romantic hero instead of his Mohican brother, Uuncas (newcomer Eric Schweig).
The story is set deep in the French and Indian War in 1757. Hawkeye is an adopted white son, and his noble father Chingachgook (Russell Means) is the last Mohican of the title. Along the way, romance develops between Hawkeye and Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), the daughter of the besieged Colonel Edmund Munro (Maurice Roëves), who is desperately trying to keep Fort William Henry from falling to the French army and their evil Huron Indian allies, led by the ruthless Magua (Wes Studi). Magua has reason to hate Colonel Munro, and even more reason to want both him and his two daughters, Cora and Alice (Jodhi May), dead.
The Last of the Mohicans achieves success as both a romance and an action piece. Day-Lewis and Stowe create the kind of stormy eroticism that seems to exist only during times of war. The romance between them grows slowly, with small statements and stolen looks. When they finally come together, the love scene is restrained in its unwillingness to show skin, but intensely erotic because of the acting. Everything is in the eyes, the quivering lips, and the way they grasp and hold onto each other as if they are afraid that any second the other one might disappear. Young filmmakers, take note: This is how a love scene should be shot.
As an action film, Mohicans is crafted with the same passion as its love scenes. The battles are exciting and well choreographed. The violence may too harsh for some, but it seethes with a fierce edge because you feel that the characters are actually fighting for something worth fighting for. Every character has reason behind his weapons, and the violence is a natural outgrowth of their desire to defend honor, country, or loved ones. One scene in particular still resonates in my mind, with Hawkeye running through a raging battle to Cora's rescue. When he dispatches the Huron Indian who is seconds from cutting Cora's throat, he does it with the kind of blistering aggression that can only be awakened by the most dire of circumstances. It makes your heart pound and sends shivers up your spine at the same time.
The performances are good all around, but as usual, Day-Lewis stands head and shoulders above the rest. Proving once again that he is one of the best actors working today, he brings freshness to a character that has been played a multitude of times over the last century. With his ragged shoulder-length hair, sunburned skin, square jaw, and fiery eyes, his simply exudes that kind of rough machismo this role demands. Some of the lines he delivers could have been pure hokum in lesser hands ("No matter where you go, no matter how far, I will find you!"), but he delivers them so confidently that you never doubt his sincerity for a second.
Both Russell Means and Eric Schweig hold their own with Day-Lewis. Schweig is unfortunately saddled with an unsatisfying and questionable romance with Cora's sister, Alice. She and Uuncas have no chemistry because they're never allowed to develop together. Separately, their characters are well formed, but together they have no spark. Their romance is formed by a few passing shots that seem to have been inserted as an afterthought. It's one of the film's few failings.
The only other standout in the film is Wes Studi. As the evil and twisted Magua, he is one of those rare villains who you can really hate. There's nothing charming or amusing about him--he's just mean. The film supplies a reason for his single-minded desire to destroy the Munro family, but even then it's hard to sympathize with him. Studi still manages to bring a hint of fallen nobility to this evil character, giving you the idea that, under different circumstances, he might have been a different person.
|The Last of the Mohicans: Director's Expanded Edition DVD|
|Audio|| DTS 5.1 Surround|
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (DTS, DD 5.1, 2.0)|
|Supplements||Four minutes of additional footage|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|For whatever reason, misinformation has been disseminated that this new DVD release of The Last of the Mohicans has been framed in an incorrect 1.85:1 aspect ratio (this is according to both Amazon.com and The Internet Movie Database). Let me set the record straight: It is framed correctly in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the same as the laser disc and earlier DVD, which was released in November 1999 and has since been discontinued. Of course, that earlier DVD release was rightly criticized for not being enhanced for widescreen TVs, so it is a great improvement that this new release features an anamorphic transfer. The THX-certified picture is sharper and clearer, with significantly improved detail that really brings Dante Spinotti's cinematography to life. Colors remain bright and well-saturated, and black levels are deep and true. Flesh tones appear natural throughout.|
|First off, I have to admit that the orchestral score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman is among my favorites of recent memory, so I was particularly attuned to how well the soundtrack handled it. I am happy to report that it sounds fantastic on both the new DTS 5.1 surround track and on the previously available Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. The score is nicely spaced out among the channels and given a deep, rich sound. The action sequences sometimes drown out the music with their hectic explosions, yelling, and gun fire, but that is the intended effect. The overall soundtrack is crystal clear, so clear that every sickening thwack of a hatchet going into someone's skull sounds like it's taking place two feet in front of you. Parts of the soundtrack are quite bass-heavy--almost too bass-heavy at times--especially the initial battle scene when Magua slaughters the British troops he is supposed to be leading to the fort and during the waterfall sequence. The siege on Fort William Henry is particularly well mixed, though, emphasizing the deep booms of the cannons and the power of the explosive rounds without being overbearing.|
| Although this disc doesn't carry any supplements, like the earlier release, it does add roughly four minutes of additional footage throughout the film at the insistence of director Michael Mann (the original theatrical running time was 113 minutes, while this version runs 117 minutes). For the most part, these additions are composed of brief insert shots, alternate takes, and slightly extended sequences. The only true addition is the depiction of Major Heyward's diversion that allows a courier to escape Fort William Henry. |
However, while the title "Director's Expanded Edition" suggests that only additions have been made, it should be noted that there are subtractions, as well. Most notably, the song "I Will Find You" by the Irish group Clannad, which had played over the sequence depicting Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas tracking Cora and her Huron kidnappers, has been completely excised from the soundtrack, replaced instead with a reprise of part of the orchestral score (the sequence itself is also largely altered and slightly extended with the inclusion of different shots).
A brief, but graphically violent shot of Chingachgook impaling Magua on his battle axe has been removed. However, Mann's intention does not seem to be an overall toning down of the film's violence, as there are actually additional scenes of violence in the earlier battle sequence.
Some of the dialogue is also missing, notable two lines spoken by Hawkeye in which he taunts his rival, Major Heyward. The first deletion occurs in the quarters of Colonel Munro at Fort William Henry. Heyward declares, "I'll have you beaten from this fort!" The new version only includes a stern reaction shot of Hawkeye, while in the theatrical version, he replies threateningly, "Some day I think you and I are going to have a serious disagreement." Later, when they are escaping from the battle in canoes and Heyward levels a pistol at Hawkeye, the line in which Hawkeye says sarcastically, "Do you have nothing better to do on the lake today, Major?" has been removed. I can think of no reason to remove these two lines other than Mann's desire to soften the machismo of Hawkeye's rival relationship with Heyward, whom Cora rejected in his favor.
Overall, I don't feel Mann has improved on the film in any way in this "expanded" edition. I prefer the original version better, but that is likely because it is the one with which I am more familiar. Mann's changes are, ultimately, so minimal that they do little to either enhance or detract from the film. It would be nice, though, if Fox could find a way to release the original theatrical version on DVD, as well.