Last of the Mohicans (1992 Film): A Visual Review

 

Landscape Scene from 'The Last of the Mohicans' by Thomas Cole - 1827.
Landscape Scene from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ by Thomas Cole – 1827.

The challenge for Hollywood movie studios with historical drama is to make it appealing to a mass audience. Too much historical accuracy and it becomes more or less a documentary. Too little and it becomes a joke.

Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theatre) is a better medium for faithful storytelling of historical dramas. The 2006 Masterpiece production of Jane Eyre for example, won 4 awards with 14 nominations.

And documentaries can be truly absorbing with the right combination of CG, on-location filming, and engaging narrative. Simon Schama and Lucy Worsley have me enraptured every time.

But this was no long-form TV or documentary.

This was a well-crafted marriage of cinematography and soundtrack. A sweeping romantic epic, with Homeric sadness to rival a Greek tragedy.

 When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed is wiped out forever.

If there is one moment in the entire film that captures the genius of director Michael Mann, it is the split second Alice Munro looks directly into the camera before jumping to her death. Tragedy, despair, hopelessness … all in that one fleeting moment. That’s powerful. That’s movie making.

Alice jumps to her death.

The hauntingly beautiful score of Trevor Jones won the movie an academy award for best sound. Clannad’s romantic ballad “I Will Find You” is like a Celtic promise of undying love.

Spectacular scenery from the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains and mesmerizing sounds combined harmoniously to create an atmosphere that could have been crafted by English romantic poets Byron or Shelley.

The action scenes were extraordinary — enough to satisfy even the most die-hard fight-scene aficionado. In the final confrontation Chingachgook, the Last of the Mohicans, smashes Magua’s arms, rendering him useless, unable to do anything but stand there and wait for the final death blow.

Preparing for the kill. The spectacular setting for the final confrontation between Chingachgook and Magua.

Michael Mann’s attention to detail is second to none. The whole production team hiked their equipment 45 minutes each day into the Appalachian wilderness to reach the breathtaking locations that make this movie special.

The tension Mann creates as the British travel across exposed terrain surrounded by Hurons — hidden in thick woodland … silent … waiting to attack — is extraordinary. And the ensuing battle is something only Hollywood budgets can depict effectively.

ambush

The movie deserves praise for renewing interest in Native American culture and helping break the stereotype of the gunslinging cowboys and Indians westerns.

The set of Fort William Henry and the costumes were painstakingly researched for accuracy.

Daniel Day Lewis trained for six months to add weight and acquire the skills that a frontiersman like Daniel Boone would have learned from the Iroquois.

Actor Daniel Day-Lewis trained hard to learn frontiersman skills like those of Daniel Boone.

Madeleine Stowe has the timeless, delicate beauty that made her so perfect for the role of Cora.

Wes Studi was simply superb. From his scarred, weather-beaten face, to his evil stare and authentic Native American roots, he epitomized the hate and vengeance that was Magua.

Steven Waddington is a fine British actor with the wonderful clarity of diction that comes with a Royal Shakespeare Company tenure. His role as Maj. Duncan Heyward captured the obsessive sense of honor and duty that was so important to British culture of the time.

Cora Munro, Magua and Maj. Duncan Heyward

Last of the Mohicans was the No.1 movie on its opening weekend, was the 17th highest-grossing film of 1992 and won an academy award for best sound. Here’s why:

Last of the Mohicans Official Trailer:

 

2 thoughts on “Last of the Mohicans (1992 Film): A Visual Review

  • June 5, 2015 at 10:08 am
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    I enjoyed this brief, yet thorough, examination of “The Last of the Mohicans”, written by David James. This movie review is concise with attention to detail. I am drawn into the depths of the film enticed by the sultry musical score.

    Reply
    • June 5, 2015 at 10:43 am
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      Phillip, thank you very much!
      My intention was to create a quick read with plenty of multimedia to give a flavor of the movie. Glad you liked it. Have an excellent day!

      Reply

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