The final 10-minutes of Last of the Mohicans is overloaded with content, from a breathtaking viewpoint of a mountain range, to major character deaths, and not a word is spoken through all of the action. It is all but silent save for some grunting as hand-to-hand battles rage on and the majestic score reaches its climax. Any necessary story lines are culminated here, beautifully in fact thanks to the photography (despite the violence), an emotional cap to this tale of unrest.
What the final 10-minutes do right, the opening 10-minutes do wrong. It tries much the same, introducing a flurry of characters, fighting on both sides of a conflict between the British and the French, and all in mere minutes. Much of this is rarely discussed American history, mostly told in fantastical means, so getting an early grip on the film, along with any motivations, proves difficult.
Michael Mann directs with a natural style, the battle scenes never given a frenzied intensity, just a slow-paced brutality which suits this material better than a Hollywood gloss. From all-out wars to surprise attacks, Mohicans feel natural, aided by the gorgeous landscapes provided by North Carolina.
What does not come off as realistic is the romance, adopted Mohican son Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis) taking notice of Cora (Madeline Stowe), the backdrop for the film’s wide-ranging adventure. Hawkeye’s line, “No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you,” seemingly pulled from a Harlequin guidebook. That line is not proceeded with enough development to be honest, forced into the script to portray a sense of true love that really isn’t there at that juncture of the film, if ever.
Last of the Mohicans has aged well, Mann’s style working well for a period piece, the only time the director has ventured this far back. The moving (if overused) musical themes resonate, and not much can take away from the cinematography, age or not. Despite the missteps and misguided (in terms of pace) romance, Mohicans is the type of film that sticks with you. It’s the ending that becomes unforgettable, raising the quality of the content before it on multiple levels.
Much of the film seems to have been shot using natural lighting and not much else. This includes indoor scenes, where oil lamps are used and outdoors, sun or moon doesn’t matter. This leads to extensive and hefty black crush, at times the frame becoming so dark little or nothing seems to be clearly visible. Inside and outside cabins, especially early, it’s difficult to see certain shots. This is no fault of the Blu-ray. In fact, the black levels are outstanding most of the time, the rare instance such as the 35-minute mark the exception to the rule.
The lack of light of course causes detail to appear faded or washed out in spots. Within the shadows, just about everything is lost. Daylight scenes are of course the best, the bright coloration, the red suits of the British and the greens of the forest, standing out. Fine detail, such as the gold trim on the uniforms of the British (despite some flicker early), is well defined. Any fault of the mid-range, from a slightly processed look in spots to apparent softness, looks to be a mixture of low light and some light over processing.
Grain is evident, although light and rarely notable. Regardless, when seen it is perfectly resolved without any artifacting. Environmental shots, of which there are many, are truly stunning. Long grass, thick tree lines, stunning rock formations, and any number of actors are staggeringly well rendered. These shots are flawless, that aside from the black crush.
Flesh tones carry a distinct warm tint, as does the majority of the film. There is however a weird switch in coloration at 1:36:14 as the Huron chief is on screen. The sky takes on a natural, cloudy look, and shifts suddenly to a pink hue that is quite the distraction for a second or two. Encode or source error? Who knows.
Much like the video, the dialogue seems to have been recorded under natural conditions as well, or this is the nature of director’s cuts (this Blu-ray labeled the “Definitive Edition). There are a number of scenes where the environment overwhelms the speaking parts, a scene near the river at 23:19 overwhelmed by the rushing water. As such, the dialogue sounds coarse, rough, and faded. The same thing occurs at 1:23:00 under the waterfall, the echo further complicating things. Oddly, some lines sound fine, others with those listed problems during back-and-forth chats.
Of bigger concern is the volume, the action scenes significantly louder than the dimmer dialogue, the scenes at the fort a concern. Sure, the cannons sound great, a mix of deep, rich bass and balanced thuds when one fires at a distance. However, trying to make out what is said while having the action at a typical volume (or vice versa) is an issue.
Balance is otherwise fine, the sweeping score playing well with the other elements, hefty action or dialogue-driven scenes do not matter. Shoot-outs push audio through all channels including the aggressive stereos. As the Hudson Indians assault the retreating troops at 1:15:00, their attack comes from the sides, right where the audio is placed. Shots fired carry a natural high-end, and distinct echo through the air. A fine level of surround use likewise places gunfire in the rears as well, although not as aggressively as you might expect. The scenery-filling score benefits from a fine bleed into the surrounds, and powerful low-end, not to mention a boost in fidelity thanks to this DTS-HD effort.
A solo commentary from Michael Mann is joined by a 45-minute making-of in HD. It’s a great piece on the filming process. The only other extra is a trailer and BD-Live support. It is a shame the original theatrical version is so elusive though.