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The Last of the Mohicans: Director's Expanded Edition

Fox Home Entertainment

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, and Russell Means

Written by Michael Mann and Cameron Crowe
Directed by Michael Mann

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Review by Kerry Fall                    

Imagine what it must have been like years ago when people went to the movies on a Saturday afternoon to see their favorite stars. I'm talking about the time before television — before the media overloaded us with a plethora of excruciating personal details about actors and actresses. Back when people went to the movies to be swept up into a world full of adventure and romance — where stars were bigger than life and the guy always got the girl he thought was unattainable. Well, I'm not much of a romantic — I like the fast pace and cleverness of a modern-day shoot-'em-up as much as the next person — but I have to admit that Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans recreates a sense of romance and wonder that I imagine is like the experience of those long-ago Saturday matinees. This is a modern film with old-fashion epic flavor.

The screenplay by Michael Mann, with the help of Cameron Crowe, is loosely based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel of the same name and closely resembles the story told in the George B. Seitz-directed 1936 film version of The Last of the Mohicans starring Randolph Scott. The setting is 1797 New York during the French and Indian Wars. (Mann originally wanted to shoot in New York but opted for North Carolina when he realized that upstate New York no longer looked like the world Cooper described.) Although this was a complicated time in American history and politics, Mann and Crowe have done a relatively good job of imparting enough historical information to explain the different characters' particular loyalties. Context is given to the motives of the French, the English, the emerging American patriots, and the various Native American tribes. But a history lesson is obviously not the point here, and Mann never lets the history get in the way of the action and the romance.

As was the case with Scott's 1936 film, the focus here is less on the actual two remaining members of the Mohican tribe — Chingachgook (Russell Means) and his natural son Uncas (Eric Schweig) — and more directly on Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), the white adopted son of Chingachgook. While heading to Kentucky for hunting, the three come upon a party of English soldiers under attack by the Huron. Hawkeye and the two Mohicans save the lives of the English officer Heyward (Steven Waddington) and the two women Cora and Alice (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May). As they help escort these English to Fort Henry, sparks fly between Hawkeye and Cora. Hawkeye may be a macho outdoorsman and Cora the epitome of the refined Englishwoman, but their love knows no cultural or class barriers. The smoldering glances, passing touches, and acts of heroism between the two generate more heat than most overt on-screen sex scenes.

Day-Lewis is an excellent choice for Hawkeye, although his movies before this (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, My Left Foot, A Room With a View) would not necessarily have suggested that he would make a great action hero. But give the guy some hair extensions, put him through rigorous physical training, and open his shirt to the navel and you've got a matinee idol. It helps that Day-Lewis is a consummate actor. From a lessor talent, lines like, "You be strong, you survive. You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!" would just be pure corn. But from Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, you know he means it and you are on the edge of your seat waiting for him to fulfill his promise and get the girl.

One of my pet peeves about big Hollywood films is a soundtrack that drowns the action and dialogue while being inappropriately used to manipulate the feelings of the viewer. Fortunately, the soundtrack for The Last of the Mohicans is a great example of a score that perfectly fits the action and enhances the atmosphere of the film. Yes, it's big and sweeping and full of violins, but it's just right for this passionate and fiery adventure tale. The score, originally written by Trevor Jones, who left the project before finishing it, was completed by Randy Edelman and eventually received a Golden Globe nomination.

In the end, The Last of the Mohicans is a perfect blend of action and romance. For those who like action scenes, there are plenty of realistic and hair-raising fighting sequences, exploding cannons, and human carnage. And if you love a love story, this is one of the best. Stowe and Day-Lewis have a palpable chemistry, and their "love at all costs" attitude gives Rhett and Scarlet a run for their money. The two remaining Mohicans symbolize the beginning of the end of the Native Americans' power over their land, while Hawkeye and Cora symbolize the blending of lives, classes, and cultures that will change the frontier landscape forever. As they gaze out over the vast wilderness you can almost see the urban sprawl and smell the Starbucks.

When The Last of the Mohicans was released on DVD in November 1999 by Fox, it was presented with a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer. The second edition, released in January of 2001, is now in glorious anamorphic widescreen and presented in the original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. (For some reason, it is incorrectly noted at imdb.com as having a 1.85:1 ratio.) DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 give the spectacular soundtrack the clarity it richly deserves — the audio mix is dynamic, putting the viewer right in the middle of the action. Sound effects also can be a little disturbing, such as when someone is getting scalped or whacked with a tomahawk. Called the "Director's Expanded Edition," the DVD runs four minutes longer than the theatrical release and includes both additional footage that Mann specifically wanted to include as well as some deletions. Of note, additional shots that show the Huron preparing to attack the British helps add tension and suspense to this scene, and there are new shots of Hawkeye, the Mohicans, and the small British party rowing in long boats. However, I'm not convinced that the longer version is really better. The movie's sprawling feel requires that the editing be tight, and that was aptly achieved in the theatrical version. Sadly, there are no other supplements here. I was particularly disappointed that Mann did not do an audio commentary.

— Kerry Fall

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