Michael Mann wasn’t entirely happy with the speedy theatrical cut of The Last Of The Mohicans – and a few different variants have been released since.
Back when he started casting for the film that would become Bram Stoker’s Dracula, director Francis Ford Coppola had in mind Daniel Day Lewis to take the title role in the film. He reasoned that he wanted the best actor he could possibly get, and Day Lewis was thus a fairly logical name on the shortlist.
Gary Oldman, another name on said list, would end up playing Dracula. But for Day Lewis, the discussion was a non-starter, due to his commitment to another project: the terrific The Last Of The Mohicans.
This was director Michael Mann’s take on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, that had previously been adapted for the screen in 1936. Mann penned the screenplay along with Christopher Crowe for the historical action drama, and the film was put together by Morgan Creek Productions. It in turn inked a deal for 20th Century Fox to distribute the movie in the US, and Warner Bros elsewhere.
It was that deal that led to a disparity for a little while too. That Michael Mann would go back and re-edit his film more than once, and for a while, the version of the movie you could buy on DVD was dependent on where you lived. In the UK, until fairly recently, it was the Warner Bros-released original cut (that many who fell in love with the film in that form, in truth, prefer), whereas Fox updated its releases with each altered version Michael Mann put out. Only more recently is it the Mann final cuts that have become the de facto versions across the world.
Thus, the original theatrical version of the movie weighs in at 112 minutes. That’s the version that was released on video too back in 1993, and on DVD in the UK at the end of the decade.
It should be noted that Mann’s original cut of the film apparently came in at nearly three hours, and Fox wanted it shorter. A lot shorter. He was facing a tight deadline, and got the movie down to under two hours, although he was said never to have been happy with that version of the film. The added post-production time delayed the release, incidentally, and it raised eyebrows when its off-peak autumn release slot played to its favour, and the film became a sleeper hit. Mann thus got agreement that he could have a version closer to his own for a home release.
As such, in the US, a Director’s Expanded Edition was put on sale in 1999, that lengthened the film to 117 minutes.
Interestingly, Mann wasn’t just putting material into the film, he was taking a few bits out too. This breakdown goes through the 44 changes between the two cuts of the film. Mann also rearranged the order of certain scenes, but many fans complained it was to the detriment of the movie. A new, explain-y monologue at the end in particular was a cause for grumbling.
Then, in 2010, the film landed on Blu-ray in America, and it got another re-edit. This time, the film was notably darker in certain moments, apparently as per Mann’s instructions. That monologue disappeared too, and he replaced certain shots and re-edited individual scenes.
Finally, Mann found a cut he settled on with what was billed as the Director’s Definitive Cut. This arrived in 2010, and was his third cut of the movie. It’s one that, as many have observed, straddles both the Expanded Edition and the original theatrical version. Mann reverses some of the decisions he made with his first recut, and takes the running time down to 114 minutes. Again, here’s the full list of changes.
As he explained to Collider a few years back, Mann regards the Director’s Definitive Cut as “the best version”. He explained that “there was a speech by Chingachgook at the end, I may have felt ‘I really have to make these themes land, so I’ll speechify them’. They don’t need to be speechified, it’s implicit, so I took that out. It was never in, it used to be out in the first theatrical version of the movie, it should’ve stayed out. That’s a film that’s a successful film and I like a lot, and I’ve changed it a number of times”.
It should be noted he’s tinkered with most of his other movies too, making minor changes to Heat and a more substantive new version of Ali, for instance.
Interestingly in Australia at least, there’s now a newly-released Ultimate Edition Blu-ray set of the film, that include both the theatrical version of the Definitive Director’s Cut. In the case of the former, it’s the first time that version has been available on Blu-ray. You can read more on it here.
Which leads us to a point where everybody wins. The film remains excellent, with an outstanding score too. Mann has his version out there, whilst fans tied to the theatrical version now have an option too. Plus, you’d have to say that Gary Oldman did a pretty decent job in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well…
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