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)
'The Last of the Mohicans' is very loosely based on the early 19th Century novel by James Fenimore Cooper. And I mean loosely. It's not much of an adaptation at all and would hardly be thought of as such if not for the title, some character names, and a few plot points. Director Michael Mann, who co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Crowe, has admitted as much — that his film is more along the lines of a remake of George B. Seitz's 1936 version. What makes this interesting is that the movie is a vast improvement over the original. And I believe it is due to Mann providing the film and its sweeping story with a semblance of the art movement that created the novel in the first place, allowing for that influence to drive this historical epic.
Mann accomplishes a rather beautiful and extraordinary film by placing emphasis on two particular elements: the first being the narrative structure, and the second being the visual experience. 'The Last of the Mohicans (1992)' is an adventure romance in the classical sense, not in the modern view of emotional attachment, although the film clearly has that aspect involved as well. It's just not the central focus of the plot. The novel was written in 1826 at the height of the Romantic period, a cultural movement about epic adventures and self-discovery through the beauty of unspoiled nature — art and literature that extolled the abandonment of social order for complete independence. The concern was to openly favor instinctive feelings and emotions over reason and rationalism. Romanticism looked to the lessons of the past, which provided inspiration for individual freedom and self-reliance, of living — or more like roughing it — off the land and becoming one with nature.
Cooper is a Romantic novelist who situated his plots in the American frontier of his past, the untouched wilderness in a period when the spirit of revolution was just starting to intensify. In the case of 'Mohicans,' this is during the French and Indian War, when many of the original colonists and settlers felt forced to abandon their homes and fight on the behalf of Great Britain. Mann observably gives the impression this is where he wants his adaptation to go. We move from one scene to the next with conversations that in one way or another allude — or better yet, prefigure — those principles which eventually led to the War of Independence. The director, who is often seen as an unconventional stylist, smartly allows for these moments to speak for themselves, without the need for any heavy guidance. They appear to celebrate, maybe even inspire, those values and ethics of liberty and freedom, and the hero of the story serves as our archetype.
Natty Bumppo, renamed Nathaniel Poe in the film, is the first fictional hero of American literature. He essentially personifies and epitomizes the ideals of Romanticism, a white male who shows a clear distrust with European autocratic powers and lives as one with the natural world. And Daniel Day-Lewis is astounding in the role, portraying the character with such incredible resolve and determination that it never feels overtly macho or cartoonish, but genuine and manly nonetheless. He is a man of action and true to his word, a quick thinker who makes his decisions based on raw emotion, not for his benefit, but for the good of those around him. We learn about him not by what others say of him, or what he says of himself, but by his deeds. We don't know the reasons behind his name Hawkeye or Long Rifle until we see what an amazing sharp-shooter he is at Fort William Henry, an almost superhuman-like skill because it's practically pitch black outside.
To further the point, Nathaniel is the adopted son of a people with a deep emotional connection with Mother Nature. His Native American father, Chingachgook (Russell Means), and brother, Uncas (Eric Schweig), raised Hawkeye with that same level of appreciation and admiration. They stay out of the war and make no secret of their misgivings for the British Empire. Magua (Wes Studi), a Huron guide to both sides of the battle, also possesses a disdain of the military, but his reasons are never disclosed until much later in the film, which is how the narrative of 'Mohicans' works. Character motivation is realized when the scene requires it, and the film is all the better for it because it creates an unusual sense of discovery, to form an opinion based on what is seen on-screen. And this element works in conjunction with another aspect of the drama, which plays a significant role in the enjoyment of this beautiful motion picture: the visuals.
Working with long-time collaborator and cinematographer Dante Spinotti, Mann, it seems, is intimating, and likely imitating, the paintings of Romantic artists. The imagery appears evocative of a Copley, Leutze, or Stuart with dark, oppressive shadows in the interiors, like the confrontation at Fort William Henry between Hawkeye and the militia against Colonel Munro (Maurice Roëves) and Major Heyward (Steven Waddington). In sunny outdoor sequences, we can almost imagine the gorgeous landscape paintings of Cole, Durand, and Church, or any in the Hudson River School. Spinotti's photography is truly remarkable and shows a kind of naturalness in its style and depiction. We are no longer watching actors in an artificial space, but people living in a real-world environment of untamed beauty and contrasted by fierce, detailed scenes of battle.
The result is a stunning and elaborately picturesque film at the dawn of revolutionary sentiment and fervor. Michael Mann's 'The Last of the Mohicans' is a marvelous motion picture portraying Romantic ideals to move the narrative forward, thanks largely to the elegant photography of Dante Spinotti. Since its release, the film has garnered a well-deserved following and respect, with many even considering it a modern classic. This new "Director's Definitive Cut" brings the story closer to what was seen in theaters and it has a much smoother flow than the DVD release. If this truly is a remake of Seitz's 1936 version as Mann has stated, then it's a marvelous and splendid reimagining of the adventure romance.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings Michael Mann's 'The Last of the Mohicans' to Blu-ray in a blue eco-case and new cover art that prominently features Daniel Day-Lewis as Nathaniel/Hawkeye. The Region A-locked, BD50 disc goes straight to the main menu upon startup.
Michael Mann's 'The Last of the Mohicans' arrives on Blu-ray with a very satisfying and picturesque 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1). As mentioned above, Mann worked carefully with cinematographer Dante Spinotti ('L.A. Confidential,' 'Heat,' 'The Insider') in recreating the fantastical beauty and ideals seen in Romantic art. The characteristics of the movement are with attention towards the boundaries of civil, social order versus the chaotic, passionate natural world, which is often reflected by the way artists captured and employed natural light. When we look at the works of John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, and Thomas Cole's landscape paintings, we can see what a significant role natural light plays in the style of the period. A great deal of their imagery is covered in deep, murky shadows except where the sun shines brightest.
Understood from this perspective, the high-def transfer is arguably an accurate representation of what Mann and Spinotti were trying to achieve, even if that look doesn't result in a top tier presentation. Intentionally photographed with the use of natural light to imitate American Romantic art, 'Last of the Mohicans' is a dark, murky film where shadows plays a prominent role. Obviously, this affects delineation in dimly-lit interiors and nighttime scenes because much of the background info is practically obscured. During the many firelight scenes, the image is awash in rich yellow-amber hues, and the thinly-veiled grain structure is made more apparent. Except for a few indoor instances where they lose some of their luster, blacks can be quite deep and striking, just not very consistent from beginning to end.
Naturally, bright daylight sequences outdoor look best, with nicely balanced contrast levels although they can appear somewhat muted. All the same, these moments allow viewers to take in and really appreciate the amazing photography of wild, lush scenery surrounding the characters, most of which were captured at the Blue Ridge Mountains and various other forest parks in North Carolina. The color palette displays vibrant and energetic renderings, especially in the primaries, giving the video a lively and active quality. Details aren't overly impressive — we've seen better in other catalog titles — but the picture shows strong, clear definition in random objects, revealing plenty of fine lines and textures in clothing, foliage and facial complexions. Granted, darker scenes are problematic in this area, and there are quite a few shots of noticeable softness and weak resolution. But all in all, 'The Last of the Mohicans' looks beautiful on Blu-ray and is faithful to the intentions of the filmmakers.
The epic historical romance also arrives with a sweeping and graceful DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that nicely complements the film. 'Last of the Mohicans' has always been a front-heavy presentation, with particular attention given to the dialogue and character interaction.
Although there are a few times when it's difficult to make out what is being said amidst the action, vocals are for the most part clear and discernible. The rest of the soundstage displays excellent channel separation and convincing movement, creating an attractive spacious soundscape. The rears are generally reserved for battle scenes, as are the low-frequency effects, and some minor ambience, but they nicely open up the soundfield and can be quite engaging. The score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman is without a doubt the real showstopper in this area, and it doesn't disappoint. The stirring music spreads evenly across the mains with terrific clarity and a sharp mid-range while lightly bleeding into the back. The "Promontory" sequence towards the end has always been a personal favorite, and on Blu-ray, it sounds beautiful.
As those who purchased DVD versions of 'The Last of the Mohicans' already know, the film was previously released without much of a supplemental package. For this Blu-ray edition, the studio and Michael Mann have decided to give fans at least a little something, and the material is exclusive to the high-def format.
Michael Mann's 'The Last of the Mohicans' is a sweeping war epic with a sense of adventure and romance at its core, set during pre-revolutionary America. With remarkable cinematography by Dante Spinotti, the film is a stunningly gorgeous experience that almost achieves the spectacle of a living portrait and offers an incredible tour through the untouched wilderness of colonial America. Despite being a dark and murky film, the Blu-ray is a beautiful presentation of the intentional photography by filmmakers, a visual feast influenced by Romantic artists. Audio is also quite impressive and engaging, even if it's not the sort of immersive quality some would have expected. The bonus features are exclusive to the Blu-ray format and a much appreciated addition to the package. Fans should not hesitate to purchase as it's a worthy upgrade from previous editions, others may want to rent it first.