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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

DVD Geek: The Last Of The Mohicans, The Director’s Definitive Cut

Called the Director’s Definitive Cut, the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray release of Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans runs 114 minutes, a little longer than the 113-minute original 1992 theatrical release and a little shorter than Mann’s previously tweaked 117-minute DVD.  The thrilling historical adventure and romance, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is so good that the changes are generally irrelevant to its overall impact.  Of more importance is the significant difference in the color transfer when compared to the DVD.  The DVD looked terrific, while the BD has a riskier, more organic color scheme.  Had that color scheme been used on the DVD, it probably would have looked awful, but the BD has such solidity and assurance that it can get away with the warmer and more atmospheric tones.  In comparison, the DVD image looks too bright and, in a way, too phony.  Some viewers will prefer the DVD image, since it strives for crowd-pleasing clarity, but there is a poetic strength to the BD.  For one thing, what light there is in a scene always feels like it is coming only from the natural available sources, and for another, the humans tend to blend in more with their surroundings.  You feel more like they are part of the environment they inhabit, and not interlopers, the way they seem on the DVD. 

The DTS sound on the BD matches the DTS sound on the LD, but does not surpass it.  It does, however, vastly supersede what the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound on the DVD could accomplish.  The rear channel presence on the 1992 film’s audio mix is relatively limited.  The quality of the front separations is lovely, and some sequences, such as the waterfall cave segment, are magnificent.  Overall, however, the mix is a little timid and weighted a little too heavily to the Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman musical score.  The presentation is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  The BD has English, French and Spanish subtitles, and two trailers, along with an excellent 2010 retrospective documentary running 43 minutes.  Mann also supplies a superb commentary track with very little redundancy to the documentary.  While he never addresses the changes he has made to the various post-theatrical versions of the film, he does talk about the shooting logistics and the various artistic contributions of his collaborators, as well as speaking extensively about the film’s historical sources (and the naiveté of the James Fennimore Cooper novel).

“Either the real uniforms didn’t exist and we had to make them our­selves, but they came out better than if they had existed and we rented them, or it was actually both cost effective and vastly superior to simply do it our­selves, so we had an entire factory in Ashland, North Carolina.  The wool of the red coat uniforms was dyed in North Carolina because we discovered that the color of light was so different than in California that what would look like the correct red in California didn’t look correct in the sun in North Carolina.

“Very early on I learned when you work with brilliant heads of department, such as [the costume designer], it becomes an education.  Initially I thought the way the British uniforms fit was very unappealing.  It made men’s shoulders seem small, the coats were too short, and [the designer] explained that if [the actor] held himself—British officers held themselves in a correct posture, which would have been the posture they would have held themselves in 1757, which had a lot to do with training—they would look right, and I trusted him on this, and he was absolutely correct.  So the cut, the design, the shoulders, everything about the pattern with the uniform is dead accurate, and the actors trained to hold themselves and carry themselves as they would have.  The net effect is that there is a verisimilitude and you believe these characters, and when your eye takes in things and your brain processes them, and they have a certain kind of unconscious truth telling style.  To me, it opens a channel and I’m drawn deeper into the emotions that are there.”  All the more so when that verisimilitude is supported by the perfections of Blu-ray.

Mann exhibits a dazzling command of the knowledge he gained while preparing the film and shares many historical insights, from esoteric trivia to far-reaching explanations of the political conflicts both among the Europeans and the indigenous Americans.  And his sense of perspective is always exceptional.  “The past is a lot closer than we think.  Eight or nine generations is all there are between when I made the film in 1990 and when these events occurred in 1757.”  But as the characters trudge past rushing whitewater in one of the film’s many shots of the pristine natural environment that was once America, Mann also explains how much has changed over time, “This is called the DuPont Triple Falls and there was some kind of DuPont chemical plant on the top of this mountain and there was a certain odor around this water that smelled like kind of film developer, so we were all a little suspect of getting too wet.”

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon