Before Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, there was another film full of warriors running through the wilderness, accompanied by a majestic score. That film was The Last of the Mohicans, director Michael Mann’s remake of the 1936 film of the same name, which was a remake of the 1920 silent film. And all of these movies were based on the original novel by James Fennimore Cooper, a popular 18th Century American writer.
So there’s a lot of history to this story, which is set during the French and Indian War in the mid-18th Century. Our hero is Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York), the white adopted son of a Mohican father, Chingachgook (Russel Means, Natural Born Killers). Together with Chingachgook’s biological son, Uncas (Eric Schweig, Tom and Huck), they do their own thing in the wilderness, hunting and trapping and uninvolved in the ongoing war.
Uninvolved, that is, until they rescue a pair of English Colonel’s daughters and an English Major from an ambush by a Huron war party. The ladies and the gent were on their way to Fort William Henry, to where the Colonel is besieged by the French, so Hawkeye et al decide to escort them. On the way, Hawkeye and Cora (Madeline Stowe, We Were Soldiers), the eldest of the Colonel’s daughters, begin to fall in love. Before the epic tale is done, their love will bind them together in a struggle for life and death amidst the chaos of war.
This Awards Series DVD release is a repackaging of the 2001 Director’s Expanded Edition of the film, but I’m afraid I don’t know the original well enough to say what’s changed from the original theatrical release. My quick google search found that the biggest complaints about the director’s cut are Mann’s decision to omit a sequence that was originally accompanied by a beautiful vocal piece of music, and the addition of a monologue by Chingachgook just before the end credits. From the sound of it, I would have liked to have seen the vocal music sequence, and I must say that Chingachgook’s “I am the last of the Mohicans” monologue felt a little awkward.
Whether or not you agree with Mann’s choices for the director’s cut, I’m sure you’ll find The Last of the Mohicans to be a rousing adventure that weaves romance and action together in a highly entertaining fashion. The film offers impressive visuals, with large battles, small skirmishes and cross-country travels all set in gorgeous countryside complete with sweeping forests, roaring waterfalls and impressive rock formations. This film won awards for cinematography, and it’s easy to see why.
Mohicans also showcases some excellent performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Russel Means, Madeline Stowe and Wes Studi (The New World) as Magua, Huron war leader and the film’s chief villain. Many women will surely enjoy watching Day-Lewis charge his way through the scenery, bare-chested with his Fabio hair flowing in the wind. He handles the dynamic range from sensitive romance to competent warrior with aplomb. Together with his leading lady, Stowe, the pair has that great chemistry necessary to really sell the kind of love the characters share. Russel Means is perfect as the Mohican father, and viewers will surely share his sorrow and triumph as the plot unfolds. Finally, Studi is a superb antagonist, a character you love to hate: twisted, dangerous and dedicated to his treachery.
Virtually every other aspect of this production is top-notch. From set design to costumes to sound editing, The Last of the Mohicans is as technically impressive as it is entertaining.
So, how’s the DVD?
The Last of the Mohicans (Awards Series) is presented on a single disc, in 2.35:1 widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of the original theatrical release. The film is beautifully shot, and Mann took full advantage of the incredible surroundings to present a true visual epic. This DVD transfer does justice to Mann’s vision, but it could have been a bit better.
First, the good stuff. The colours are accurate and consistent; in fact, the entire presentation is consistent, which softens the blow of the minor technical issues. Contrast is also good, and the picture is quite clean overall. That said, the picture is generally a little too soft, and I noticed a few dropped frames and some minor film artifacts.
The main menu is animated, and scored.
The Last of the Mohicans won an Academy Award for sound, and with the available 5.1 DTS track, you’ll hear why. The orchestral score weaves its way through the action and romance, well defined and balanced with the dialogue and effects. The best aural experiences are of course the various battle scenes, with cannons and rifles firing in all directions, and the cringe-worthy, screaming sounds of heads being scalped. The array of battle effects blend well with the natural sounds of waterfalls, rapids and rustling trees, creating a fantastic listening experience.
Audio is also offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 for English, and 2.0 for French. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Unfortunately, The Last of the Mohicans (Awards Series) offers nothing in the way of bonus material. This is a film that truly deserves special treatment in the extra features department, so here’s hoping Fox can get it done in the future.
The Last of the Mohicans is an epic film that mixes action, romance and impressive visuals to create a truly entertaining experience. The DVD offers up solid video and impressive audio, but differs from the 2001 DVD release only with the Awards Series cardboard slip cover. In other words, nothing new to see here.