Rated: 4 / 5
I wish I could make a review where I go satisfactorily in-depth with discussing the themes and such, and be intelligent about drawing parallels to today’s society with what this film has to offer beyond just surface level entertainment (of which there is plenty). But I don’t currently have it in me. Because there’s something else taking priority in my mind with what I want to discuss about this film. How the director somehow manages to sabotage this flick from being the best it can be with every single fucking iteration of it ever done in physical format. It irritates me enough to where I just went into “fuck it” mode and made my own personal fan edit of the movie.
In order for you to appreciate what is required to make this film the best it can be, you need to appreciate just how much of a goddamn god-tier mastermind of film-editing and film criticism I am, because I’m fucking awesome and better than everyone. That, and you need to be aware of the three main versions of the film that exist.
* Theatrical Edition (TE). The version that originally came to theaters. It basically gives the character Hawkeye the most character compared to the other versions due to just how much of a smartass he can be. And the other editions took away that characteristic to varying degrees.
* Expanded Edition (EE). Removes 80% of Hawkeye’s smartassery, tones down a bit of the violence, but also expands the film with additional scenes. Makes Duncan a more significant and multi-dimensional character, adds in more subtle scenes that greatly expand the film in all the right ways, and adds in this epilogue speech which completely solidifies the film as an epic masterpiece. That epilogue speech alone justifies the existence of this version, even with those other caveats.
* Director’s Definitive Edition (DDE). Sort of a mish-mash between the two versions. Adds back in more of Hawkeye’s smartassery, but not all of it. Adds the violence back in. Removes the additional Duncan stuff. Replaces certain camera angles with others. Incorporates new original footage in a couple spots. Changes the color tone of the entire movie, making it less bright and more of a murky green (I can’t for the life of me figure out why they thought that would be a good idea). And removes the epilogue speech (motherfuckers).
So, the film is great, but it’s maximum potential, outside of a potential workprint cut that allegedly exists that makes the film 3-5 hours long or something, is hindered because of the faults in all 3 versions, which can be easily rectified by just making a cut that combines the best of all 3 worlds (which Mann should’ve been able to do with the Definitive edition, but doesn’t). This is just my opinion of course, but my opinion is right and everyone else’s is wrong. And I’m going to go into detail explaining just why that is.
First significant edit is when Hawkeye and his Mohican family travel to this house in the wilderness. Now, in just about every version except the Expanded edition, there isn’t that much tension. The family inside hear Hawkeye shouting greetings to them, and they welcome him and his Mohican brother and father in, and that’s it. In the EE, they hear the dogs barking amidst the silence, and are put on guard and grab up their weapons. For a few seconds, you wonder if they are being ambushed or attacked or something. The idea being this lets the viewer know that the family is aware they are in a dangerous environment, susceptible to attack from various indian tribes, and are thus on guard. It’s not until those few seconds pass that the shouts of greeting from Hawkeye is heard that they are put at ease. Without that tension, there is less emphasis on the perceived dangers of the wilderness. Something there’s more of a payoff to later on in the film when the family meets a tragic fate. Point to the EE for doing this more effectively than the others.
The sequence where Duncan meets with Cora. There’s one bit of dialogue exclusive to the EE that gives more backstory and dimensions to Duncan, where Cora says:
“Alice and I have depended upon you and respected you since we were all children.“
Entirely absent in the other versions. It’s like they want Duncan to be more of an asshole who just wants to marry Cora because he feels entitled to her. Without this line of dialogue, there isn’t much indication for their relationship going as far back as childhood. For all we know, they could’ve just known each other for several months or just a couple years. It makes his character all the more significant. Plus without that line, the scene is a little too awkward. It’s also worth considering the way the camera portrays this scene between the various editions. The TE and EE are basically the same, just that the expanded edition has the added dialogue. The DDE, however, does something that’s one step forward and two steps back. It has a camera angle showing Duncan and Cora sitting in the field, allowing the scenery they are in to breath and be established as opposed to just a quick transition to them sitting across from each other at a separate location without an establishing shot. But it removes the more close-up shot of Duncan looking at Cora. Because we aren’t to see how he looks at her, how he has sincerely optimistic and innocent intentions when he does so. The DDE chips away at Duncan more than the TE did.
While on the topic of Duncan, mine as well as jump ahead to further the point. Exclusive to the EE, there’s a sequence where we see Duncan leading an organized defense of the fort, successfully fending off attacks from both indians and French with skillful and organized maneuvers and top-tier discipline. This accomplishes two things. One, Duncan is shown to be a capable leader who isn’t just an oaf bumbling his way through the military as the ambush in the forest would have us believe. Second, that the standard British method of combat, while horrendous in forest skirmishes, is very effective in more open fields where they have time to see and react to approaching enemies. Thus showcasing the pros and cons to Indian and English attack styles. How they each can benefit greatly in one environment, but suffer helplessly in another. It ties in to the theme regarding how one should try to adapt to the changing of the times, the changing of ways. Or how some are unable to change (quickly enough) and are thus at their end. This sequence, and thus this aspect of the entire story’s theme, is absent in both the TE and DDE.
In regards to Hawkeye himself, he is a major smartass in the TE. For example, Duncan keeps questioning Hawkeye, asking what he’s doing in the area, not even considering the possibility that he isn’t working for the British in any capacity. Because he can’t fathom one working independent of the crown, aside from an enemy. So after Hawkeye makes a statement very bluntly making the point across that he’s not with the militia, he says afterwards, “Clear it up any?” A line absent in both the EE and DDE. Additionally, when they arrive at the fort, the local militia asks Hawkeye what he’s doing there if he didn’t want to join? To which he responds (only in the TE), “Just dropped in to see how you boys are doing.” Friendly bit of sarcasm that’s absent in the other versions, making Hawkeye more serious, and with less of a sense of humor; which doesn’t seem to match well with how he acts in other situations. That seems to be a problem with Michael Mann and his protagonists, he always wants them to be as dry as possible, with little to no humor about them, and always being so serious. This is further compounded when Duncan threatens Hawkeye at the fort, and Hawkeye responds, “Someday you and me are going to have a serious disagreement.” To be fair, the DDE does actually restore this line, while it’s entirely absent in the EE. The point being that his dialogue makes him appear less angry about the situation compared to the EE version where it looks like he’s about to lose his cool. It shows him to still be in control of himself, and still carry a sense of humor amidst such stressful situations.
Which brings me to the one instance where I believe it was actually the right decision to remove a bit of Hawkeye’s smartassery. There’s this sequence where everyone is ambushed by this indian tribe, Hawkeye rescues Cora a second before she gets her throat slit, and manages a desperate escape on these canoes. And while they’re paddling for their lives, and he sees Duncan out on the river on his own canoe, Hawkeye says, with a smirk on his face, “Got nothing better to do on the lake today, Major?” This is one instance where I thinking taking a situation more seriously and not having a sense of humor works more to the film’s benefit. That’s one case where the TE made him too much of a smartass. That’s the one and only time where I’ll side with the EE and DDE taking away that part of his sense of humor. It takes away from the desperation of their situation. It’s like a minuscule version of what’s wrong with Marvel films ever since Thor: Ragnarock. “But this situation calls for some humor to make everyone less stressed out,” some may argue. To which I’d reply, “Oh yeah? To whose benefit? Hawkeye seems to be the only one enjoying himself there. No one else is in on the joke. For all I know, everyone else is probably like, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you? SAVAGES ARE TRYING TO KILL US!!!'”
Which brings me to an instance where the smartassery doesn’t just make Hawkeye’s character more well-rounded, it also adds to the general theme of the film. Hawkeye and Cora are having a conversation while in hiding. Just casual talk. When Hawkeye mentions that his father warned him about “people like you.”
“He said: ‘Do not try to understand them.’“
“Yes and: ‘Not try to make them understand you.’ That is because they are a breed apart and make no sense.“
“A breed apart, we make no sense?“
“In your particular case, miss, I’d make allowance.“
*sarcastically* “Thank you so much.“
It ties in to how the British view themselves as a breed apart from those in North America who left England to get away from the English laws, let alone above the native tribes in the land. Or how the native tribes view themselves compared to the frontiersmen, or even other tribes. Because it is shown that various members of each of those groups are either unwilling or incapable of understanding and/or sympathizing with others who are not of their own tribe/nation. Such as Magua seeking only vengeance upon the English. Or of a native tribe who doesn’t wish to understand others but is willing to negotiate with them for survival. The English who pretend to sympathize with the local militia but don’t care at all and only wish to use them as a means to an end. How the French commander does the same to Magua, but is much better at acting sincere about it (the DDE adds in a line for the French commander making his intentions more pronounced that he wishes to use Magua as a tool against the English, even if that means this would cause an English bloodline to become erased in the process). Because there are those who don’t wish to understand, those who only pretend to sympathize for the sake of using them as a means to an end, and those who may sympathize but not enough to not use them as a means to an end.
This is in contrast to Hawkeye and Cora, who “make allowance” and become inseparable as a result (aside from those times where antagonists to actually physically separate them; I’m talking about being in love!). As this ties into the theme of bloodlines, expanding one’s bloodline just as others are expanding into the frontier. And there are those who wish to wipe out bloodlines of families, and even of an entire tribe/race. Magua wanting to wipe an an entire English family line, the Mohicans themselves on the brink of becoming extinct, a frontier family being killed. Those who are beginning a new life for themselves, those whose lives are ending, and everyone in-between trying to make a life for themselves by finding a companion. This also ties in to how the British view themselves as honorable and a step above all other nations/races, only to learn that sometimes a British officer can act dishonorably, which brings into question just how strong they and their ways are. A line of dialogue exclusive to the TE, when the British officer realizes reinforcements aren’t coming because the other British officer with his army 12 miles away decided not to help primarily out of cowardice or inconvenience.
“I’ve lived to see something which I’ve never expected. A British officer afraid to support another.“
Back to the romance angle. The whole thing of falling in love and carrying on a bloodline. Even if they weren’t to have children, their love for one another made a mark upon each other as deep as the soul. Their love would last even if one dies. This is exemplified in this one line of dialogue that has been either cut or shortened in any edition outside of the TE:
“You’ve done everything you can do. Save yourself! If the worst happens and only one of us survives, something of the other does, too!”
God that’s a good line. And the other editions butcher it. This ties in to something that is exclusive to the EE, the epilogue speech. In the other editions, the film ends on the line, “for they are all there but one — I, Chingachgook — Last of the Mohicans.” Nice line to close the film on. It’s a personal line, about the sorrow, the knowledge, of him being the last of his tribe, of his race, and it will die with him when the time comes. If one analyzes the film hard enough, one could take that line to extend it to much of the other aspects previously discussed. How the British are approaching the last of their ways, the last of their rule over the Americas. How the native tribes have their end coming with the colonizers spreading to the west. How even the frontier itself is going to change and no longer be what it once was when enough have settled and built upon its land. But the message becomes to much clearer, and much more impactful, with this speech that, to this day, only exists in the EE version:
“The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us.”
“That is my father’s sadness talking.”
“No, it is true. The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here.”
That elevates this film from trying to have a more personal scope that can become epic when analyzed enough, to becoming something both epic and personal all at once. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that epilogue speech MAKES the film. It brings more weight to the significance of bloodlines, how finding love and being able to produce more sons and daughters to create more people so that their kind can survive, how that itself is a constant struggle for generations, or day to day depending on how many are left in a nation, in a race, in a tribe, in a family. It makes the love story epic by necessity, because finding love is so important and significant for the sake of survival, for being able to withstand the trials and tribulations that inevitably come on both a personal and impersonal level (assuming one doesn’t consider them one and the same).
Which ties in to the more subdued and subtle love story between Uncas and Alice. At the beginning of the film, it is revealed that Uncas will be looking for a wife soon (and is encouraged to do so), and he finds an unexpected attraction to Alice. And Alice loses more and more of her sanity with each massacre she sees. From soldiers getting butchered, to her father getting killed. She feels as if she has nothing left to live for, with no hope. And Uncas is the only one there to give her the comfort she needs to keep on living, just as Hawkeye and Cora give each other strength to continue on amidst hopeless situations. But when one loses the other, then their reason to continue living on dies. To continue living with that “something of the other?” Or is that “something” not enough when the “other” is gone?
And for those who think this makes the theme needlessly spelled out, that it should remain a subtle thing, let me remind you that this is a film where Cora says, “The worlds on fires,” right before the French bombard the hell out of the fort. Your argument is null and void when a scene like that remains in ALL versions of the film.
This is the only film where Michael Mann actually makes the love story element work, because it’s so integral to the overall theme of the film. More’s the pity then when he decides to take away aspects of it from the various cuts made to each edition of the movie. No official version entirely complete, each of them suffering to a different degree from potential needlessly hindered. Which is why I made my own damn version of the film that I’m happy with which combines the best elements from each version covered above (and those that I haven’t covered) into one package, thank you very much. Regardless, whichever version you end up seeing, the film is still a masterpiece worth watching.
PS: This film also has one of the greatest music scores of all time.
PPS: If you’re curious about the various cuts/alterations made to the film, this website goes more in-depth with them (though I do believe they missed one little detail on a difference between two versions):