Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray / DVD Combo Review: The Last of the Mohicans

October 3rd, 2010

The Last of the Mohicans - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Michael Mann has quite a reputation as a director with only one of his films, The Keep, earning bad reviews. And in his defense, that was a low-budget horror film that he made very early in his career. (I vaguely remember seeing that movie, but I might have it confused with another Nazi / Demon / Castle movie.) The Last of the Mohicans was his first big film, and any doubt about his talent was erased when it earned 97% positive reviews. In fact, with those reviews, I'm a little surprised it wasn't a bigger player during awards season. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Movie

The film takes place in 1757 during the French and Indian War, which was a war the British fought against the French, while the French were allied with the Indians. The British forced their colonist to join the militias to fight for their side, although many were afraid that by doing so they would be leaving their homes and families unprotected.

It is in this historical context we meet Hawkeye, a European that was adopted by Chingachgook, the chief of the Mohican tribe, which was one of the few Indian tribes that had allied themselves with the British instead of the French. Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Chingachgook's son, Uncas, are visiting the Cameron homestead when they meet Jack Winthrop. Jack is there to raise troops for the British militia, but first requires assurances from the local general, General Webb, will grant the men leave, should their homes be attacked. They travel to Albany to negotiate with General Webb. His subordinate thinks the men should join simply out of patriotism, but General Webb agrees that protecting one's wife and children should be a priority. Under these conditions Jack Winthrop and the men join Fort William Henry.

Meanwhile while in Albany we are introduced to Cora and Alice Munro, the daughters of Colonel Edward Munro, who is stationed in Fort William Henry. They are to be escorted to the fort by Major Duncan Heyward, under the direction of a Mohawk Indian guide, Magua. However, it's a trap and a band of Huron Indians attack, and Magua turns on the British and tries to kill Cora. Fortunately, Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and the other Mohicans were tracking the Hurons and chase off the attacking war party.

They agree to escort the survivors, which consist of just Cora, Alice, and Major Heyward, up to Fort William Henry. Along the way, they come across the Cameron farmstead, which has been attacked by a war party and razed. It is the first time Cora has seen war at such a close distance, and Hawkeye's seemingly indifferent nature to the deaths. But when she learns his reasons, and the fact that the dead were his friends, she realizes it wasn't a callous choice made out of indifference, but a difficult choice made to protect her and the others from being tracked.

When they finally get to Fort William Henry, they find it under siege from French forces and the group must sneak their way in. Cora and Alice reunite with their father. They learn that Colonel Munro didn't send for his daughters, but that he sent three messengers to Albany to keep his daughters away and to request reinforcements. However, of the three messengers, only Magua arrived, and he's clearly not on their side. It is also clear that getting Cora and Alice here had little military significance for the French, so the reasons must be a lot more personal than that.

It is about this point where unacceptable spoilers become unavoidable, so I'm going to end the plot summary there. Although reading it, it almost feels like I'm trying to make the movie into a War movie. And while yes, war does play an important part in the film, to call it just a war movie is like saying Titanic is just about a big boat that sinks in the end. (Spoiler warning... In Titanic, the big boat sinks in the end.) The The Last of the Mohicans is more about a changing world than the war. Of course, this war led to the change in the balance of power in the New World with the British on the rise and France's defeat, which in turn led to the rise of the United States. But there were also smaller scale changes, like the end of the Mohicans as a tribe in particular, which was a symptom of the changing relationship between the Native Americans and the European colonialists. Finally, there's Cora's story, which illustrates the changing role women had in society.

But mostly, this is a movie about the passions between two people from different cultures: Cora, raised the British way with emphasis on expectations, and Hawkeye, a European that was raised as a Mohican Indian. In that way, it is like Titanic, which also uses a massive historical event as the backdrop for a good, old-fashioned romance. Granted, at times the romance is a little overdone, but it is engrossing nonetheless.

On a side note, I'm very surprised this film wasn't a major player during Awards Season. Granted, it did win an Oscar for Best Sound, but it was mostly shut out at the major awards. It could have earned Oscar nominations for cinematography, costumes and production design at the very least. Picking up nominations for of the more prestigious awards would not have been unjustified. As it is, Under Siege, a Stephen Segal movie, earned more Oscar nominations than this film.

The Extras

Extras on the Blu-ray include an audio commentary track with the director, Michael Mann, who seems to spend more time talking about the history of the era the movie depicts than the making of the movie itself. As a Canadian, I knew quite a bit about the war, as it was the period of history where Quebec fell and occasionally there are still flair ups in French / English animosity in Canada to this day. (Although it is really cooled down since the 1995 referendum. ... I know, you don't give a damn about Canadian politics. I fully understand; Canadian politics is incredibly boring, even for Canadians.)

The only other extra is a 43-minute making of featurette. It includes the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. It starts right at Michael Mann's initial inspiration to make the movie (seeing the 1936 version as a kid). They talk about casting, as well as filming, which had a very strong emphasis on authenticity in the look. Absolutely worth checking out.

As far as the technical presentation of the film, it looks awesome, for the most part. A lot of scenes are very dark, and the shadows sometimes swallow the details. I'm not too sure there's any way to avoid that, given the nature of the film. Also, I should emphasize that there are many, many scenes where this is not an issue. As for the sound, it is very close to reference material. Great use of surround sound speakers, solid base, clear dialogue. Everything you could want.

As for the price, it is low enough to be acceptable, not so low that it feels like a true bargain. Neither a major selling point, nor a reason not to buy the film.

The Verdict

For a lot people, The Last of the Mohicans is a film that has been on their wish list since Blu-ray won the Format War, if not sooner. I'm happy to say the Blu-ray doesn't disappoint, for the most part. The movie is great, if a little over-dramatic at times; the extras are intriguing, if not exactly numerous; while the technically presentation is not without its issues, it is still impressive. Absolutely worth picking up.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, The Last of the Mohicans