Last of the Mohicans, The: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 25, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Last of the Mohicans, The: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Michael Mann

Release Date(s)

1992 (September 4, 2019)

Studio(s)

Morgan Creek/20th Century Fox (Via Vision Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: B+
  • Overall Grade: A

Review

[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Blu-ray release.]

The Last of the Mohicans is one of director Michael Mann’s most widely admired films, and understandably so. It’s a sweepingly epic romantic adventure that’s exquisitely photographed, perfectly cast, and has one of the most memorable scores in modern cinematic history. It’s a film with truly universal appeal. Yet for fans of Mann, there’s far more going on in The Last of the Mohicans than just those beautiful sights and sounds. Many other filmmakers have been influenced by director Howard Hawks, but Michael Mann is the one true heir to the throne of Hawksian professionalism. Like Hawks, Mann’s films cover a variety of settings and genres, but they all deal with people who are consummate professionals in whatever their chosen fields may be. The Last of the Mohicans is no exception, and it found one of the ultimate expressions of that professionalism in the form of Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis).

Mann and his co-screenwriter Cameron based their script partly on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper, but also on the screenplay for the 1936 Randolph Scott adaptation. Mann had seen that film when he was a child, and it left a deep impression on him—Hawkeye may well have been ground zero for Mann’s own interest in professionalism. His version of the story is more historically accurate than either the book or the 1936 film, and even though it’s not quite the last word in veracity, it still connects audiences to a historical era in a way that few films can match. Mann’s singular attention to detail makes the American frontier of The Last of the Mohicans perfectly believable, regardless of any minor historical revisions that it may contain.

The truly impressive thing is that everything works despite massive behind-the-scenes chaos during filming. The original cinematographer, costume designer, editor, and composer were all replaced at various points during the production (some of them still receive credit in the final film, but others do not). Yet it all coheres into a seamless whole; the cinematography, costumes, editing, and score all work together perfectly despite the myriad cooks who stirred the pot. Full credit for that must go to Mann himself; his obsessiveness was responsible for much of the disarray, but he still held the entire production together through the sheer force of his will.

In terms of obsessive-compulsive behavior, Mann met his muse on the set of The Last of the Mohicans in the form of the ne plus ultra of method actors, Daniel Day-Lewis. Mann usually has his actors undergo extensive training to make sure that they know how to use the tools of their screen trade in a professional manner, but Day-Lewis took that to the next level, actually spending time in the wilderness prior to production and learning how to live off the land. His devotion to his craft pays dividends in the final film, as it helps to bring the character of Hawkeye to life. Regardless of whether the actors in Mann’s films are playing thieves, police officers, federal agents, contract killers, or frontiersman, the comfort that they display using their props adds verisimilitude that couldn’t be gained in any other fashion.

As fascinating as all of the attention to detail may be in The Last of the Mohicans, the film would be beautiful but empty if not for the way that all of the actors bring the characters and their relationships to life. The main roles are perfectly cast: Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, Madeleine Stowe as Cora, Russell Means as Chingachgook, Eric Schweig as Uncas, Jodhi May as Alice, and Wes Studi as Magua. Supporting actors like Steven Waddington, Maurice Roeves, and actor/director Patrice Chereau are equally well-cast.

Thanks to the chemistry between all of these actors, especially the relationship between Hawkeye and Cora that drives the main narrative, The Last of the Mohicans is an emotionally devastating experience. That’s most notable during the extended wordless chase scene at the end of the film. There’s no dialogue, but there doesn’t need to be any, as the momentum is driven by the extraordinary score and the determination of the pursuers. Even after dozens of viewings, the whole sequence never loses any its power. From the remarkable close-up of Jodhi May as she makes a momentous decision, to the final face-off between Wes Studi and Russell Means, the entire finale puts viewers through an emotional wringer. Yet it’s that face-off that really brings Mann’s thematic concerns full circle. The fight is set up carefully to make audiences fear for the worst, but the actual results should never have been in doubt; when it comes to professionalism, youth is no substitute for experience. The Last of the Mohicans remains one of Mann’s most commercially successful efforts, but it’s still pure Michael Mann from the first frame to the last.

Mann’s relentless pursuit of perfection has its downsides, and one of them is that he rivals George Lucas in the way that he repeatedly tinkers with his films. The Last of the Mohicans exists in three different versions: the 112-minute Theatrical Cut, the 117-minute Director’s Expanded Version, and the 114-minute Director’s Definitive Cut. Further complicating things for North American audiences is that each of those versions has only been available in different formats: the Theatrical Cut has only been released on VHS and LaserDisc; the Director’s Expanded Version on DVD; and the Director’s Definitive Cut on Blu-ray. There are many small changes between all of the cuts, but the primary difference is that the Expanded Version adds more material while deleting some key dialogue, and the Definitive Cut trims back the added material while restoring some (but not all) of the missing dialogue. (The vocals for the Clannad song I Will Find You also disappeared in the Expanded Version, only to reappear in slightly altered form for the Definitive Cut.)

Via Vision’s Region-Free Blu-ray release of The Last of the Mohicans is branded as an “Ultimate Edition” that includes both the Definitive Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut on two separate Blu-rays, with the extras from the 2010 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release spread between both discs. It’s not really “Ultimate”, since the Director’s Expanded Version isn’t included here, but more about that later.

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (and an uncredited Douglas Milsome) shot The Last of the Mohicans on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex Gold II and Platinum cameras, with Panavision Primo lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release (70 mm blowups were framed at 2.20:1). There’s no information regarding the elements that were used for either of the cuts on this Via Vision release, but the Director’s Definitive Cut appears to use the same master as the 2010 Blu-ray, and the Theatrical Cut clearly uses later-generation elements of some kind. The Director’s Cut looks cleaner, with no noteworthy damage, and it also displays more fine detail. Opticals such as the opening titles are understandably softer, and the subtitles are also burned-in, so any shots featuring them are softer as well. The color grade is gorgeous, but it’s noticeably darker than in previous versions. Not too much so, but it needs to be viewed in a completely darkened environment in order to appreciate the strengths of the transfer. The blacks are deep and there isn’t a lot of detail in the shadows, but that seems accurate to the theatrical prints, and it also reflects Spinotti’s preference for natural lighting. In comparison, the Theatrical Cut is slightly less detailed, with more damage such as speckling visible, and the original Morgan Creek title sequence displays some instability. It’s much brighter overall, matching the look of older home video versions of the film, but there’s no extra detail hidden in those shadows—in fact, the blacks look a little washed out in this version compared to the Director’s Cut.

Audio for the Definitive Director’s Cut is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 Dolby Digital, with optional English SDH subtitles. Audio for the Theatrical Cut is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 LPCM, with no subtitles of any kind. The Last of the Mohicans was released theatrically in Dolby Stereo, though there was a 6-track mix for 70 mm prints. The 2.0 tracks here are encoded for Dolby Stereo, and it’s always been a great matrixed mix. However, since the 2.0 for the Definitive Director’s Cut is in encoded in lossy Dolby Digital, the lossless 5.1 track is preferable in that case. The surrounds are active either way, especially during the battle scenes, and there’s plenty of dynamic impact as well, with thundering bass from the cannon fire. However, it’s the score from Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman that’s the real star of the mix, and it sounds superb in either matrixed 2.0 or discrete 5.1.

DIRECTOR’S DEFINITIVE CUT (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): A/A-/B+
THEATRICAL CUT (FILM/AUDIO/VIDEO) A-/B/B+

The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE: DEFINITIVE DIRECTOR’S CUT

  • Audio Commentary by Michael Mann

Mann gives out abundant information regarding the historical setting, the national conflicts at play, and many details regarding frontier life. He has nothing but praise for the commitment to the process that Daniel Day-Lewis brings to his performances, noting that the way that Day-Lewis immerses himself into characters helps to bring them to life. Mann also covers technical details such as the construction of the fort, and the fact that he they had to make the costumes on location in the Carolinas, since the lighting made the colors look different than they did in California. Mann’s commentaries are always dense and filled with valuable information, as he never runs out of things to say, but it’s interesting that he never makes any references here to the variant cuts of the film. It’s still a great track, even if Mann isn’t always candid about his incessant tinkering.

DISC TWO: THEATRICAL CUT

  • Making of The Last of the Mohicans (HD – 42:41)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled HD – 1:57)

Making of The Last of the Mohicans features interviews with Mann, as well as Day-Lewis, Stowe, Roeves, and Studi. It also includes interviews with Spinotti, Jones, casting director Bonnie Timmerman, technical advisors Col. David Webster and Capt. Dale Dye, effects coordinator Tommy Fisher, production designer Wolf Kroeger, and Native American historian Oren Lyons. Refreshingly, this isn’t just a collection of talking-head interviews, but is instead a real making-of documentary, with an impressive quantity of behind-the-scenes footage, including the training sessions for Day-Lewis. It does a pretty thorough job of covering the entire production, including the casting, training, set construction, cinematography, and music, though it glosses over anything negative. It also makes no reference to the variant cuts.

There are multiple Blu-ray releases of The Last of the Mohicans available worldwide, though they generally contain the same basic extras. Only the French Region B release from ESC Editions offers additional interviews with Michael Mann, Trevor Jones, Christophe Gans, and Francois Guerif. (There’s also a second ESC release that includes the 1936 version of the film on a separate Blu-ray.) The German Region B release from NSM Records is the only one that offers the Director’s Expanded Version, as well as an alternate version of the Director’s Definitive Cut that duplicates the color timing of the Theatrical Cut. However, the Director’s Expanded Version appears to be upscaled from an SD master, and it’s arguably the weakest of the three cuts anyway. Also, both sets of color timing for the Director’s Definitive Cut are squeezed onto a single disc, so there’s more compression issues.

Given all of that, this Via Vision release of The Last of the Mohicans is “Ultimate” enough, and the fact that it’s Region-Free gives it the edge over all of the rest.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

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