The Last Of The Mohicans

The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Wes Studi

Based on James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novels from the "Leatherstocking" series, director Michael Mann took the second book in the quintology as the source for his epic adventure movie, "The Last Of The Mohicans". It is a great frontier adventure during the Colonial Wars where not only French and British were fighting each other over territory, but also were Indians try to find their place in this rapidly changing world of white man politics and rifles. After a few expository minutes, the film dives right into the events when the British Army recruits colonial trappers for their purpose and sends them North to defend their forts against the French troops. Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his brothers from the Mohicans are mostly unattached to the warfare, but become entangled in the politics when a group of travelers is attacked and slaughtered by Huron Indians. Only three people survive the bloody massacre thanks to Hawkeye’s intervention, Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), her sister and Duncan Heyward, a coward and arrogant major of the army.

Hawkeye takes them safely North through war-ridden territory, constantly avoiding French scouts and Huron war parties, to meet the girls’ father in the safety of a British fort. During their strenuous travel through the forests, Cora learns much about Hawkeye and life on the frontier. Slowly she understands what it must be like to live in unison with nature, apart from the supposed civilization the British upper class is trying to oppress on them. But upon their arrival at the fort, they quickly realize it is doomed. Besieged by the French, the men in the fort are waiting for reinforcement that will never come, and soon the British have to give up the Fort and surrender to the French soldiers. Upon their retreat from the battlefield, the Hurons are already waiting for their victims in the shadow of the thick forests, ready to kill and plunder everyone alive.

Considering how well told the novel of the same name is, it is hard to create a fully satisfactory film version of "The Last Of The Mohicans" that pays proper tribute to the literary background as well as the cinematic demands of movie dramaturgy. Fortunately director Michael Mann managed to translate Cooper’s rich language into images and characters that are just as rich and captivating. With beautiful landscapes, a heartfelt dramatic storyline and well-written dialogues, the movie feels authentic, despite the fact that it is somewhat romanticized to increase its overall mainstream appeal.

"The Last Of The Mohicans" features a great cast with Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead as Hawkeye, the rugged frontiersman adopted by the Mohicans. But also Madeleine Stowe convinces as the daughter of aristocratic British upbringing who slowly learns the different values and interests of the different people in the New World. Wes Studi as Magua, the dark Huron warrior is oozing menace every second he is on the screen, and even his invisible presence in many scenes casts a phenomenally ominous shadow over the story.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is delivering "The Last Of The Mohicans" in a <$THX,THX> certified <$PS,widescreen> presentation, restoring the film’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Unfortunately the transfer is not <$16x9,16x9 enhanced>, which could have made this great outdoors film an absolutely stunning experience. Fox is using a new cut of the film that has been recently extended under the supervision of director Michael Mann himself, and adds about 15 new scenes to the original film. Some things about the transfer immediately caught my attention however. In a number of scenes, it seems as if heavy restoration was required to achieve the image quality we ultimately see on the screen. As a result certain parts of the image appear to be ‘swimming’ and ‘ghosting’ were the computer has tried to restore missing picture information and where heavy noise reduction had been applied. I am not sure why a film from 1992 would require such dramatic restoration that would result in such noticeable artifacts, but the effect was very visible in a good number of scenes. It may be, that it was applied mostly to the newly added scenes to achieve the same level of quality as the rest of the transfer, but about that I can’t be entirely sure.

The transfer itself is very clean and without defects. The compression on the disc is without visible artifacts. The level of detail is good, finely restoring every bit of information from the film, although the transfer appears a little soft. Colors are strong and very natural throughout, rendering fleshtones very faithfully, and giving a very balanced look to the image. Shadows are deep and solid with good definition and highlights are also well-balanced, creating a good looking presentation. The disc contains three audio tracks, an English language <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is very dynamic and creates a very lively atmosphere for the film, with good ambient sound effects in the surrounds to enhance the outdoor feel. Then there are <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks in English and French, which are also very good, but don’t have the spatial integration and wide dimension that the <$5.1,5.1 mix> creates. Subtitles are also available on this disc in English, French and Spanish.

Sadly the DVD of "The Last Of The Mohicans" does not contain any extras, not even the film’s trailer. This was done upon request by director Michael Mann himself, so don’t blame Fox for the lack of supplements, who otherwise might have added additional content. I respect the director’s decision because I feel that ultimately it has to be his decision whether he wants material publicized or not. But given the slim content, Fox’s price tag of $34.99 for this disc is a little hefty in a market where full-blown special editions with two times the content already retail for $10 less.

I greatly enjoyed "The Last Of The Mohicans". The disc brings us a great presentation of the film that makes this passionate film all the more enjoyable. If you don’t mind the high price tag that graces this release, give this DVD a look. It is certainly the best home video incarnation of it so far, and the newly done extended cut adds some additional appeal to the release.