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THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS – Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman

September 8, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans is a classic of early American literature. It was published as part of his ‘Leatherstocking Tales’ series and chronicles a set of highly romanticized adventures set in pre-independence America about the life of frontiersman Nathaniel ‘Hawkeye’ Bumppo, a fictional character based on real-life contemporaries like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. The Last of the Mohicans is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, when France and Great Britain were battling for control of North America, and sees Hawkeye becoming embroiled in the conflict when he is tasked with safely transporting Alice and Cora Munro, the two daughters of a British colonel, away from Fort William Henry, which us under siege by the French. Hawkeye enlists the help of his friend Chingachgook and Chingachgook’s son Uncas – the Mohicans of the title – and together they embark on a thrilling adventure which sees them getting involved in the political and social issues of the day, trekking across the inhospitable and rugged countryside, and clashing with the Huron, deadly rivals of the Mohicans.

Director Michael Mann had wanted to make a film based on The Last of the Mohicans for many years, and was greenlit to start production following the success of his prior film, Manhunter, in 1986. Mann spent a great deal of time striving for authenticity, hiring Native American actors like Russell Means, Eric Schweig, and Wes Studi in key roles, and using correct period-specific methods to make costumes and props. Lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis – who had won the Best Actor Oscar for playing a man with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot just two years previously – completely reinvented his image to play Hawkeye, learning real tracking, hunting, and other wilderness survival skills, while also growing his hair out into a flowing mane and packing on pounds of lean, ripped muscle. I personally like the film very much; it’s a rip-roaring adventure and a swooning love story, but it also takes time to explore the politics of the era, showing not only the conflicts between the French, the British, and the American colonial settlers, but also the different native tribes that got caught in the crossfire.

When it came to the music for The Last of the Mohicans director Mann originally turned to South African composer Trevor Jones, who had made his name scoring popular and critically acclaimed hits such as Excalibur, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Mississippi Burning, and Arachnophobia. Jones was inspired to write a classic, thematic, sweeping orchestral score, built around a rousing main theme, but also augmented with some intense action and a lush, romantic theme for the relationship between Hawkeye and Madeleine Stowe’s character Cora Munro. However, Michael Mann is notorious for messing about with his film’s scores in post-production; he has wildly eclectic taste, and on several of his pre-Mohicans films he chopped and changed his originally commissioned works to the point that the finished cut often featured music cobbled together from various sources: for example, Thief had half a score by orchestral composer Craig Safan and half a score by synth group Tangerine Dream, while Manhunter was a Frankenstein that included original songs by rock bands The Reds and Shriekback, and a moody electronic score by composer Michel Rubini.

Almost inevitably, the same thing happened on The Last of the Mohicans. Originally Mann asked Jones to write an electronic score for the film, but late in production (likely as a result of the Mann’s ‘authenticity’ drive) they changed direction, and asked Jones to re-fashion what he had written to be more orchestral. Jones did this, but Mann’s constant re-cutting of the film meant that numerous cues had to be rewritten several times to keep up with the new edit, and eventually Jones ran out of time, so Randy Edelman – who had recently scored Come See the Paradise and My Cousin Vinny for Fox, as well as hits like Ghostbusters II and Kindergarten Cop – was asked to come in and write additional music.

Mann also specifically asked for two pieces of existing folk music, “The Gael” by Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean, and “Orchestral Mohican” by Canadian guitarist and composer Daniel Lanois, to be incorporated into the score, and also commissioned an original song called “I Will Find You” from Irish new age folk group Clannad and their famous vocalist Enya. Jones and Edelman both received full screen credit for the score, but this resulted in the score being ineligible for Oscar consideration, as it fell foul of the rule about scores being ‘assembled from the music of more than one composer,’ with ‘assembled’ being the key word in this instance – Jones and Edelman never directly worked together on the score, and in fact never actually met at any point during production. Had this rule not been in effect, it likely that Jones would have been a strong contender for the Oscar that year.

Considering all this tinkering and messing around, and all this sourcing of music from different composers and different pre-existing albums, you might expect The Last of the Mohicans to be a musical fiasco, but it’s not, at all. It’s actually one of the outstanding scores of 1992, which successfully enhances the narrative, underscores the film’s themes of heroism and self-sacrifice, conveys some period specificity, and adds a sweeping grandeur to the location via its outstanding main theme. Even the fact that Jones and Edelman are such vastly different composers with such clearly divergent sounds doesn’t matter that much; the two sides of the score actually complement each other perfectly, to the point where if you didn’t know otherwise you would think their music was a jointly conceived and cohesive whole.

The first nine cues on the album are Jones’s, and are built almost entirely around his outstanding main theme. After some tense, rumbling, percussive buildup the theme emerges into its first grand performance 40 seconds into the “Main Title,” a huge and resonant explosion of grandeur, horns and strings in unison. The main theme’s B-Phrase that is heard at the 1:20 mark is more lyrical and romantic, and goes on to become a secondary idea related to Hawkeye and Cora and their relationship, but it never really establishes itself to the same degree, although it does receive some pretty prominence later, especially towards the end of “Munro’s Office/Stockade” when it is carried by oboes.

It’s the main theme that is the focus, though. In many ways this is the prototypical Jones theme; it informed so much of the thematic material he wrote during his mainstream Hollywood years in the 1990s and early 2000s, from movies like Cliffhanger and Loch Ness to mini-series like Cleopatra and Dinotopia. Those big, open chords and major key crescendos are quintessential Jones, and although their lineage can be traced further back to scores like The Dark Crystal, as well as deep-cut entries like The Last Place on Earth, Mohicans quickly established itself as the most mainstream iteration of that sound to that point.

The main theme receives several outstanding statements as the score develops. “Elk Hunt,” which underscores Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas tracking an animal through the woods, enhances the theme with a frantic, energetic string ostinato, as well as some rapid electronic pulses that recall Basil Poledouris’s sound of the period, and is likely a perfect representation of the style that Mann had in mind when he initially asked Jones to concentrate mostly on synths.

Both “The Kiss” and “Promontory” incorporate Dougie MacLean’s folk composition ‘The Gael’ to excellent effect; the fiddle motif that runs through both cues has an almost hypnotic quality that is very effective, and goes a little way to capturing the essence of the actual period music of colonial-era America. As both cues develop Jones counterpoints MacLean’s melody against his own main theme; its use in “Promontory,” as Uncas tracks his nemesis Magua up the side of a mountain in order to rescue Alice, is especially excellent at conveying his initial determination, and then the tragedy of everyone’s ultimate demise. Similarly, “The Glade Part II” is the cue which incorporates elements of Lanois’s ‘Orchestral Mohican,’ and it initially has a soothing, gentle, slightly mystical sound carried by pennywhistles and deep, wet synths, before eventually joining again with Jones’s lush main theme.

“Fort Battle” and “Massacre/Canoes” are powerful, intense sequences of action music for roaring brass overlaid with different layers of varied percussion, ranging from tapped snares to more meaty timpani and kettle drums. A new thematic idea runs through both these cues, a sort of militaristic ‘conflict motif,’ which comes to represent not only the battles between the French and the British, but also between the Mohicans and the Huron, the latter of which is less about political gain and more about tribal survival. Elements of both the main theme and the love theme B-phrase run through the cues too, representing both Hawkeye’s fighting prowess, and the new romantic relationship that gives him reason to do so. Long-time fans of Jones’s music will also enjoy the allusions to the rhythmic underbelly of Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ in “Massacre,” considering that Jones incorporated that classical masterpiece into his score for Excalibur in 1981.

Everything climaxes in the wonderful “Top of the World,” which is actually the film’s finale, as Hawkeye and Chingachgook call to the gods in prayer and remembrance from the summit of a mountain, and Chingachgook laments the fact that, with the death of his son, he is indeed the last of the Mohicans. Jones’s main theme soars majestically as the camera swoops around the actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Russell Means; this is the film’s hero scene, capturing both the noble dignity of the characters and the majestic vistas of an unspoiled America, and Jones rises to the occasion with one of his career-best film music moments.

The last six cues on the album are Edelman’s, and are mostly written for quieter scenes of dialogue and light romance. The most recognizable element in Edelman’s score is the theme that runs through “The Courier,” which underscores the scene where Hawkeye and Chingachgook aid in the escape of a soldier carrying a request for reinforcements for Fort William Henry from a nearby British garrison. Edelman uses a soft, urgently plucked guitar motif underpinned with deep synth chords, which eventually gives way to an optimistic and lively folk-like string theme that is really excellent at accompanying the titular letter-carrier as he scampers away into the night, carrying all the hopes for survival in his knapsack.

Edelman’s other main theme is the one for Steven Waddington’s character Duncan Heyward, a British officer who also carries a torch for the lovely Cora. His theme is unexpectedly pretty and warm, and is very much typical of Edelman’s romantic themes of the time – it wouldn’t sound out of place in Kindergarten Cop, or something similar. Heyward’s hesitant courtship of Cora is captured in cues such as “Cora,” “River Walk,” and the slightly more dour “The British Arrival,” and in different scenes the melodies are carried either by strings, guitars, woodwinds, and dreamy synths, or some combination thereof. Interestingly, Edelman gives this part of the story a tone that has a sweetness and an innocence that borders on the naïve, and by doing so he makes Heyward’s ultimate sacrifice later in the film all the more poignant.

Cues like “Discovery,” and “Parlay” are less interesting, comprising mostly shifting textures and moody tones for strings and electronics that are intended to play under conversations of political and dramatic intrigue, but they do what they need to do in context. One thing I will mention in “Parlay” are the almost subliminal references to Duncan’s theme in the chord progressions, especially in the final moments of the cue, when his aforementioned honorable self-sacrifice occurs, and Hawkeye eventually puts him out of his fiery misery with a well-timed flintlock shot to the head.

The conclusive “Pieces of a Story” switches between being gentle and beguiling, and dark and pensive, and has a sequence towards the end of the piece that features an unusual huffing synth pan flute, before finishing with an imposing flourish. The album then ends with the original Clannad song “I Will Find You,” which is inspired by the famous line that Hawkeye says to Cora immediately before he leaps down a raging waterfall (“You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!”), and is generally enjoyable in their usual ethereal, mist-shrouded way. Interestingly, Mann eventually grew to dislike the Clannad song, and removed it from the 2000 DVD director’s cut version of the film.

The only negative element of the soundtrack album is its sequencing, which separates each composer’s contributions, and in doing so sacrifices the film’s dramatic narrative – the finale of the film, Jones’s “Top of the World,” is track nine, whereas the album concludes with something of a whimper with an atmospheric Edelman cue from the middle of the movie. In the year 2000 producer Robert Townson of Varese Sarabande records commissioned conductor Joel McNeely to re-record the entire score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The resultant album is sequenced in a more logical film order which presents a better dramatic listening experience, but despite the music being performed impeccably, it doesn’t quite get the electronic tonalities right, resulting in an album which just feels too different from the actual in-context score. As such, an expanded and correctly sequenced album of the original film tracks is badly needed, and I hope that one of the specialty labels can fix this soon.

Whatever issues exist with the album situation, The Last of the Mohicans is still an outstanding film score. The stirring main theme from Trevor Jones remains one of his career best, the use of Dougie MacLean’s ‘The Gael’ has become something of a cultural touchstone, Randy Edelman’s contributions are different but effective, and the whole thing has a wonderfully epic quality in film context . It’s such a shame that Mann’s tinkering with the music effectively resulted in Jones missing out on a much-deserved Oscar nomination, because it really is one of that year’s finest film music efforts.

Buy the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:44)
  • Elk Hunt (1:49)
  • The Kiss (2:47)
  • The Glade Part II (2:34)
  • Fort Battle (4:20)
  • Promontory (6:13)
  • Munro’s Office/Stockade (2:30)
  • Massacre/Canoes (6:52)
  • Top of the World (2:44)
  • The Courier (2:27)
  • Cora (2:30)
  • River Walk and Discovery (5:30)
  • Parlay (3:46)
  • The British Arrival (2:00)
  • Pieces of a Story (4:58)
  • I Will Find You (written by Ciaran Brennan, performed by Clannad) (1:42)
  • Main Title (01:52)
  • Hunt (01:50)
  • Bridge at Lacrosse (01:23)
  • Garden Scene (03:20)
  • Ambush (02:35)
  • The Glade (03:16)
  • Fort Battle (04:18)
  • The Courier (02:30)
  • The Kiss (02:49)
  • Stockade (02:47)
  • Massacre (06:54)
  • Ascent/Pursuit (03:06)
  • Promontory (05:38)
  • Top of the World (03:01)

Running Time: 54 minutes 26 seconds – Original
Running Time: 45 minutes 19 seconds – Re-Recording

Morgan Creek/Polydor 517-497-2 (1992) – Original
Varese Sarabande VSD-6161 (1992/2000) – Re-Recording

TREVOR JONES SCORE composed by Trevor Jones. Conducted by Daniel A. Carlin. Orchestrations by Guy Dagul, Brad Dechter, Jack Smalley and Bobby Muzingo. Additional music by Dougie MacLean and Daniel Lanois. Recorded and mixed by John Richards, John Whynot and Dennis Sands. RANDY EDELMAN SCORE composed and conducted by Randy Edelman. Orchestrations by Grieg McRitchie. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Album edited by Kathy Durning, Michael T. Ryan and Jim Weidman. Album produced by Michael Mann, Elliot Lurie, Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman.

2000 Varese Sarabande re-recording conducted by Joel McNeely. Performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Recorded and mixed by Jonathan Allen. Album produced by Robert Townson.

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