Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Last of the Mohicans: Director's Expanded Edition (1992)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox

An epic adventure and passionate romance unfold against the panorama of a frontier wilderness ravaged by war. Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor in 1989 for My Left Foot) stars as Hawkeye, rugged frontiersman and adopted son of the Mohicans, and Madeleine Stowe is Cora Munro, aristocratic daughter of a proud British Colonel. Their love, tested by fate, blazes amidst a brutal conflict between the British, the French and Native American allies that engulfs the Majestic mountains and cathedral-like forests of Colonial America.

Based on the American literary classic by James Fenimore Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans is a "spellbindingly beautiful old-fashioned epic." (Joel Siegel, Good Morning America)

Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Jodhi May, Steven Waddington, Wes Studi
Academy Awards: Won for Best Sound, 1993.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital & DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 32 chapters; rated R; 117 min.; $29.98; street date 1/23/01.
Supplements: Cast Listing; THX Optimode.
Purchase: DVD | Novel - James Fenimore Cooper | Score soundtrack - Trevor Jones, Randy Edelman

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/D-

Even a stubborn old jerk like myself can change his opinions on occasion, and I must admit that I’m starting to reassess my thoughts about director Michael Mann. Most of his work seems to get strong reviews, but I’d never found much of it to be engaging. Something about his films left me cold, and I always thought he was distinctly overrated.

The first sign that a reappraisal may be in order came when I screened the DVD of Heat. I didn’t much care for the movie when I saw it during its theatrical run, but my viewing of the DVD showed that it had more to offer than I’d originally anticipated. That led me to believe that maybe I’d been wrong about some of Mann’s other works.

Foremost of the list of Mann movies I disliked was 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans. I remember that this flick also received high praise but I thought it was essentially a disaster, mainly due to the shallow nature of its emotions. I found it to substitute broad hysterics for true depth and that the film lacked any heart that wasn’t artificial.

Eight years later, I tried again, this time through the “Director’s Expanded Edition”. I’d love to be able to directly enumerate the differences between the DVD’s 117 minute cut and the original US version that ran 114 minutes, but I’m afraid my familiarity with the movie is not great enough to do so. Happily, IMDB can take up the slack; details of the alterations can be found here.

Personally, I didn’t see much difference between the two, and the intervening years have not made me better appreciate Mann’s telling of this epic tale. Admittedly, I didn’t dislike TLOTM as much in 2000 as I did in 1992, but I still didn’t care for the movie; it continued to feature all of the weaknesses I saw eight years earlier.

Probably my greatest complain concerns the characters. Frankly, they seemed awfully thin and poorly-drawn. Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), our protagonist, came across as little more than a stereotypical quiet and strong frontier he-man. Day-Lewis appeared to be channeling John Wayne for much of his performance, as he delivered many of his lines with a Duke-esque drawl. It doesn’t work, and I thought his acting lacked depth or subtlety.

However, other than Day-Lewis, we barely get a chance to learn much about any of the characters. Probably the most compelling of the lot is the film’s nominal villain Magua (Wes Studi). His character actually showed some nuance and Studi made him seem alive and compelling. He may be the bad guy, but at least he showed some spark; all of the others seemed dead in the water.

That covers virtually the remainder of the cast. Madeleine Stowe looked lovely as ever as forced love interest Cora but her personality never comes through at all; she’s just a pretty presence with little to distinguish her. That still betters secondary characters Alice (Jodhi May) and Uncas (Eric Schweig). They barely register in their roles; I think they were onscreen for much of the film but they did so little to distinguish themselves that it’s hard for me to say.

TLOTM also suffers from Artificial Romance Syndrome. Movies like this just love to follow the old Harlequin romance novel concept in which a woman meets a hunky larger-than-life wildman who sweeps her off her feet and is the love of her life. Generally these guys are jerks - ala Brad Pitt’s Tristan in Legends of the Fall - but some are true heroes. Hawkeye falls into that category, and that aspect makes the movie even less palatable.

Frankly, I can’t stand that “deep, everlasting love at first sight” nonsense. Obviously a lot of people enjoy the fantasy aspects, but they turn me off every time. I don’t insist that movies remain perfectly logical and true to life, but I simply intensely dislike this form of fake tripe. Romance movies don’t do much for me in most cases, and the forced and phony nature of this one’s love affairs puts it even more firmly into the “yuck” camp.

The Last of the Mohicans has some moments, most of which concern its battle sequences. Mann is a good action director and he shows strong handling of these visceral and well-staged scenes. Unfortunately, they’re too few and far between, as most of the movie seems devoted to exposition and alleged character development. Despite those attempts, the participants remain thin and fake, and I found TLOTM to offer only sporadic enjoyment at best.

Trivia moment: If you blink you’ll miss him, but Pete Postlethwaite plays British Captain Beams in TLOTM. He and Day-Lewis would enjoy a more substantial partnership in 1993 with In the Name of the Father. Apparently the two will be reunited in 2001 through Scorsese’s Gangs of New York if IMDB are correct.

The DVD:

The Last of the Mohicans appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the movie had a few small problems, as a whole it offered a nice picture that ably presented the material.

Sharpness appeared nicely crisp and well-defined. Even under the most difficult situations, I saw no signs of soft or fuzzy images. The picture stayed detailed and accurate from start to finish. More effects and jagged edges caused few concerns, and I witnessed few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws also seemed minor. I detected some light grain at times plus a few speckles, but that was about it. The movie lacked any significant defects like scratches, tears, blotches, hairs or other problems; it was a fresh and clean print.

TLOTM stuck to rather natural palette, and these tones looked well-rendered. Colors were very true and realistic as they presented nicely lush and lovely hues throughout the film. I found the warmth of the colors to seem impressive.

To view the problems I witnessed during TLOTM, one needs to remember one phrase: “day for night” photography. That technique uses filters to make material shot in daylight look like it took place at night, and the results often are not pretty. That was the case during TLOTM. There’s not a ton of DFN in the movie, but I saw enough to cause some concerns. These scenes seemed overly dark and opaque and I often had trouble making out details. Otherwise, black levels appeared acceptably deep and dark, and shadow detail was clear and easily visible in non-DFN segments; even during low-light interiors, the image looked nicely-rendered. Lost the damned DFN and we have an “A”-level picture; as it stands, TLOTM earned a still-strong “B+”.

This new DVD of The Last of the Mohicans includes two 5.1 soundtracks: we can hear the film with either DTS or Dolby Digital mixes. I found virtually no qualitative difference between the two. As usual, the DTS track seemed somewhat louder, but I couldn’t hear any other aspects that distinguished the two; when I adjusted for the volume differences, they appeared virtually identical.

The soundfield to TLOTM seemed mainly oriented toward the front of the spectrum but it provided a fairly engaging experience. The spread across the forward speakers was nicely-defined and accurate, and the mix placed sounds neatly within their appropriate locations. Audio also blended together smoothly and effectively for most scenes. The surrounds kicked in some general reinforcement of the music and effects, but they weren’t as active as we’d expect from a more recent film. Nonetheless, I thought the soundfield provided a solidly involving experience.

Audio quality seemed more mixed. Dialogue generally appeared distinct and crisp, but definite signs of edginess crept in at times. The speech remained consistently intelligible, but I thought it displayed too much roughness. Effects also showed some problems related to distortion. During most of the movie, they appeared clean and accurate, but in some battle sequences gunfire and explosions were unnaturally crackly. Music stayed clear and dynamic at all times, however, as the score offered nice range and positive depth. Despite some problems, the soundtrack worked well enough to merit a solid “B”.

Less exciting are the DVD’s extras. In addition to the roughly three minutes of footage edited back into the movie, we only get a “Cast” listing. This simply shows the names and roles of the actors; there are no biographies or other details available.

Although I saw no THX markings on the DVD’s case, it indeed was a THX-mastered production, which means that we get the THX Optimode feature. As also found on other Fox DVDs like Fight Club and X-Men, this is supposed to be used to set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials; the Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.

While I definitely enjoyed The Last of the Mohicans more during my second viewing, I still don’t think much of the film. It’s a superficial and overwrought package of romantic nonsense that featured a series of dull and drab characters. Some good action sequences help redeem it somewhat, but I continue to dislike the movie. The DVD offers generally positive picture and sound but provides virtually no extras. If you’re stoked about the subject, you may want to give it a look, but it’s not something I can recommend.

As for current owners of the original DVD release of TLOTM, should you “upgrade” to this new one? As usual, that depends on a few different factors. The new DVD offers DTS sound and an anamorphic transfer. Frankly, I heard virtually no differences between the DTS and Dolby Digital mixes, so I don’t consider that factor to merit a repurchase. The remastered picture may be more compelling, however. If you can take advantage of anamorphic material, the new DVD may be worth your while.

Menu: DVD Movie Guide | Archive | Top