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review added: 1/18/01



The Last of the Mohicans

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

THX-certified

The Last of the Mohicans (DD & DTS)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Last of the Mohicans
Enhanced Widescreen/Director's Expanded Edition - 1992 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/F

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A-

Specs and Features

117 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 58:54, at the start of chapter 18), Amaray keep case packaging, cast listing, THX Optimode test signals, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, 2.0 & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned



The Last of the Mohicans The Last of the Mohicans
Director's Expanded Edition - 1992 (1992) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/F

Specs and Features

117 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 55:55, in chapter 17), Amaray keep case packaging, cast listing, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned



Director Michael Mann - known for his moody and modernistic films like Manhunter, Heat and The Insider - tried something different with The Last of the Mohicans. Instead of a flashy Los Angeles crime story, Mann delved into colonial America during the French and Indian War, circa 1757. I was skeptical that the man that brought the world Miami Vice wouldn't be completely out of his element with this project. I don't mind admitting when I'm wrong.

Based on the classic novel by James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans tells the tale of Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), a white frontiersman close-knit with the Indian people who raised him from a baby. As the French and Indian War escalates, both frontiersmen and the Native Americans are taking sides (either British or French) to fight in the war. But, Hawkeye and his friends refuse to join either side, as their only concern is the defense of their families, friends and homes. Hawkeye and his father and brother are inadvertently forced into the war after they save the lives of a British officer, and the two daughters of a British Colonel. When a romance blossoms between Hawkeye and one of the daughters, Cora (Madeleine Stowe), it becomes clear to our hero that love is more important than the bloody conflict of two nations. Hawkeye makes it his mission to protect Cora and his friends from a war they never wanted.

Admittedly, this film did not completely hold my interest through much of its first two acts, but it did keep me intrigued enough to continue watching. I really didn't empathize with any of the characters, and the romance that blooms between the leads seems to develop unnaturally fast (which isn't exactly convincing). However, if one remembers that a certain suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy most any movie, the third act of this film is almost as exciting and dramatic as films can get.

Michael Mann's traditional, steely aesthetic style (which I love) is thankfully absent from this film (try to mix Heat's aesthetic style with The Last of the Mohicans… it really wouldn't work). However, what remains is Mann's ability to sell the drama. As in most of his other films, the intensity of Mann's storytelling is a slow build to a grand climax. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (a Michael Mann staple) is perhaps the director's best weapon here. The sweeping camerawork beautifully captures America's wilderness, and the framing of Spinotti's shots - especially during the more passionate scenes - are a wonderful complement to Mann's equally passionate brand of storytelling.

The Last of the Mohicans has been presented on DVD in two versions. Both feature the expanded director's cut, with new footage and additions/deletions of dialog. It's been years since I've seen this film, so I'm not really versed as to everything that's been added or changed. However, nothing in this expanded director's cut seems out of place with the overall tone of the story. There might have been a few obvious edit points where new footage appears, or unnatural sounding ADR for new dialog, but these instances were few and far between. When all is said and done, while this expanded version might not be terribly different to casual viewers, it's good to know that your are seeing the director's original vision.

In terms of image quality between the first DVD version and this new DTS release, forget about it. The original transfer was subpar, and thankful it's gone the way of the dodo. This new release features an anamorphic widescreen transfer (framed at 2.35:1), which is very good for brighter, outdoor scenes. It still runs into some trouble spots in darker areas, however. In brighter scenes, and during close-up shots, the image quality is nice and smooth, with solid clarity and detail. The earthy color palette is accurately reproduced. Compression artifacting and edge enhancement is never a problem. But during darker scenes, the picture becomes murky and lacks fine definition. Since the majority of the disc really looks great, don't worry too much about the darker scenes - they're less frequent in the film. The new transfer is much improved, so if you have the first edition, definitely chuck it and get the new one.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on both discs excels in a couple of areas, but none more so than with the majestic score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. The music is rich and bold and floods the listening space, adding to the drama of the story. Battle scenes contain nifty directional effects, and the low end is punctuated with frequent cannon fire. Dialog is usually smooth and intelligible, however there were several brief instances where it became a bit muddy and hard to understand. The soundtrack level is not always consistent throughout the film, and several times I was scrambling for the volume control to lower the crack of loud musket blasts after quietly recorded dialog. This is not a prevalent problem, but does happen from time to time. The new DVD version also includes a DTS 5.1 soundtrack. As much as I'd like to say that the DTS version is better, after many listening comparisons, I couldn't find any discernible differences between it and its Dolby Digital counterpart. Both tracks sound great, but they also sound identical to me. Go figure…

Extras on both discs are limited to a one-page, on-screen listing of the main cast. I don't know if you can even call that a legitimate extra feature, but there it is. Also, the new disc features THX Optimode video and audio test signals (although both discs are THX-certified). It's my understanding that Michael Mann belongs to that small group of directors who don't like extra features detracting attention away from the film. Hey - it's his baby, so I'm not one to question his decision.

The Last of the Mohicans is a sweeping tale, part action movie and part romance. While lack of strong character development is an issue, the film still manages to pack a wallop in the third act. The audio/video quality of this new DVD release is generally pleasing all around - the new anamorphic transfer does make a difference. If you're a fan of the film, the new disc is definitely worth your wampum.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com


The Last of the Mohicans (new DTS & DD)


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