The Last of the Mohicans

 

The Last of the Mohicans

Based on the book by James  Fenimore Cooper

and the 1936 screenplay by Philip Dunne

Screenplay by Michael Mann & Christopher Crowe

Directed by Michael Mann

1992


Cast:

Daniel Day-Lewis

Madeleine Stowe

Russell Means

Wes Studi

Steven Waddington

Eric Schweig

Jodhi May


Studio:

Theatrical:  Morgan Creek Productions

Video: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 46.58 GB

Feature Size: 37.91 GB

Bit Rate: 37.62 Mbps

Runtime: 114 minutes

Chapters: 32

Region: A


Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles:

English, French & Spanish


Extras:

Audio Commentary by Director Michael Mann

The Making of The Last of the Mohicans (42:42)

Theatrical Trailer


Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Release Date: October 5, 2010



Introduction:

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this movie, even though it is shamefacedly rapturous matinee pulp fiction.  I have this soft spot courtesy of Madeleine Stowe, for whom it is not possible not to have a soft spot, and Wes Studi’s menacing Magua, about whom it is not possible not to have nightmares.  I like the film despite a few misgivings about character, screenplay, and the overuse of an otherwise wonderful main theme.


     


I respond to the movie’s authentic feel. Michael Mann, in his commentary, makes a point that a real log cabin was built for the Camerons and that real plants be planted in their field.  Fort William Henry was re-imagined following original drawings.  There is a great deal of running in his movie - to the point of its being emblematic - while horses and their riders are demoted to window dressing.  The Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina - while not upper New York, as noted in the script - make for a compelling wilderness.  The canoes are gorgeous pieces of workmanship, built according to the old ways, as are the bows, arrows and other weapons.  Yet Mann takes the low road when it comes to distant canon fire, and syncs the sound with the explosion as if they occurred within yards of the camera instead of the mile we see it must be.


     


I respond to its melodrama: to Nathaniel’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) free, yet moral spirit that owes more to the people of the land - native and settler - than to the British crown that wants to press all the frontiersmen into a militia to fight against the French; to Col. Munro’s daughter’s, Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice (Jodhi May), fresh from civilized England, confronting passion and brutality, respectively; and to the growing love between Cora and Nathaniel, spawned from shared ideals against all odds and traditions.  I respond to the quiet wisdom of the title character, Chingachgook (Russell Means) and the beauty of his son Uncas (Eric Schweig); and to its philosophical understanding of the future of America’s native peoples, as spoken by the Huron sachem: “The white man came, and night entered our future with him.”)


     


I feel that the writing and characterization of the Indian is in some ways more gratifying than for the whites.  The saddest casualty is Major Heyward (Steven Waddington, who speaks a lovely French when called upon.)  Heyward comes off more as a antagonistic tool for others than his own person.  Without doubt he is the very caricature of upper class English entitlement, expecting Cora to fall at his feet simply because he desires it, and, while being rescued a second time from certain death by Nathaniel, he has the chutzpa to shout “I’ll see you hanged”.  Later still, determined to come off as the ultimate gentleman, he offers himself to their Huron captors to be put to death in place of Cora - though it’s hard to tell if he’s not merely trying to one-up Nathaniel who has made the same offer.


     


The Movie: 8

The time is 1757, the third year of what we know as the French & Indian War.  Cora and Alice, along with Major Heyward and a small detachment of soldiers are ambushed by Magua and his Huron war party, but are rescued - all but the detachment - at the last moment by Nathaniel, Chingachgook and Uncas.  Cora and Alice were on their way to see their father who was in charge of the garrison at Fort William Henry.  Their rescuers agree to guide them to the fort and, along the way, discover evidence that the Huron are about to descend upon the outlying settlements.


     


This news is greeted with a not surprising lack of enthusiasm on the part of Col. Monro, who would much prefer not to part with what civilian militia he has left, especially considering the huge army of French and Huron who have his fort under their cannon.  Annihilation is expected in a matter of days.  When Nathaniel aids some of the frontiersman to escape the fort to protect their homes, he is found guilty of sedition.


     


Image: 6/8

Despite starting life in 70 mm and sporting one of the highest bit rates for a live action movie on Blu-ray, the image remains soft and grainy.  The grain is natural; the image is, rightfully, dark, as a good deal of it takes place in the forest or at night, or both.  Noise is kept at arm’s length, the print is clean and I observed no distracting transfer artifacts.  I might add that while the IMDB indicates an aspect ratio of 2.20:1, the Blu-ray image is set at 2.40:1.  I wasn’t aware of a loss of top or bottom while watching the movie.


     


Audio & Music: 6/7

As I read over a couple of the reviews of the DVD I realized that we once were satisfied to pick nits over DTS vs. Dolby Digital.  Now we have DTS-HD Master Audio vs. Dolby TrueHD and their various surrounding architecture.  I have the sneaking suspicion that Dolby TrueHD is the more faithful and that DTS-HD MA is boosted to compensate for the weaknesses of the vast majority of video surround processors, but I have not yet been able to test my hypothesis.


     


That said, the audio (which, by the way, won an Oscar for Best Sound) is helped considerably by its being uncompressed.  The benefits are felt not only in the bombastic siege of Fort William Henry (plenty of well-proportioned bass here) but in the near silence of the forest through which we can sense its unique noise of life and the rush of running water.  The more delicate shadings of the music score is more compelling as well.


     


The music, credited to both Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones, is a mix of Irish-derived melodies and rhythms and the big Hollywood themes of yesteryear.  That said, the main theme has a majesty that demands it be used sparingly.  Alas it is not. Certainly its use when Nathaniel’s party comes upon and steals into Fort William Henry is a mistake.  Worse yet is a case of occasional wow in the music track, speeding up and slowing down like and off-center LP - thus my score of “6” instead of “8”.


     


Extras: 7

It’s been over ten years since the DVD, which had no extra features to speak of, so both the new commentary and the Making-of piece are welcome indeed, the latter getting a very nice presentation in HD. (One wonders where they’ve been keeping this material, since, except for the interviews with Daniel Day-Lewis, wasn’t recorded yesterday?).  The making-of featurette pictorializes some of the points (inspiration, casting, locations, authenticity, action) made by Michael Mann in his excellent audio commentary.


     


Recommendation: 7

The Last of the Mohicans is rated “R” for violence - and for good reason.  Unhappily, Fox’s Blu-ray does not include the original theatrical cut of the movie, which some prefer, but in any case whose presence would have made for interesting comparison.  So, unless I am mistaken, this “Director’sDefinitive Cut” is the same as the “Director’s Expanded Edition” from the DVD.  This omission plus the problematic audio makes it difficult to get behind the new Blu-ray as I would have hoped.


Leonard Norwitz

LensViews

October 5, 2010


     




               
       
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