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This review is for people like me who've seen this and are wondering which version ...
on January 16, 2017
This review is for people like me who've seen this and are wondering which version to buy.
I grew up watching the Theatrical Release; by now the VHS is worn to shreds and I don't even have a VHS player anymore. A few years ago, hoping to replace it, I bought the Director's Expanded Edition. It feels like a different movie: the pacing, flow between scenes, even character development - they're all different from what I'd loved for years.
In the Expanded Edition, key dialogue is missing between nearly all the characters, muddying their motivations. Magua's motivations are also muddier, the actions of the French are less clear, and the over-all thread of the politically-charged situation between the French, British, and the Indian peoples who sided with either of them feels disjointed. It's a choppy cut. It takes out vital moments between Nathaniel and Cora, and it feels to me like it further pushes Uncas and Chingachgook back as supporting characters by reducing little moments with both of them, when honestly they should have more screen time than they do in any version. It seems like most of the added time was for the fort fight scenes. Yes, they built an actual fort and probably used actual canons to blow it up, but it feels like filler in any other typical Hollywood action movie. That's the greatest insult I can give to it. This edition made it mundane. tl;dr - don't buy the DVD.
The Definitive Cut on Blu-ray is a different matter. While it isn't quite the same as the Theatrical, it's so, so much closer. The storyline isn't disjointed anymore, and they've cut back on the ridiculously long fort siege scenes in favor of adding dialogue back in. The sound quality is also stellar in comparison to the Expanded Edition (and my highly degraded VHS, ha). It's beautifully crisp and nicely color-balanced, to boot.
My advice? Get the blu-ray. The only thing the Expanded Edition has that I miss is a gorgeous capstone speech at the end by Chingachgook (Russell Means), which is greatly reduced in the Definitive, but you can probably see that on Youtube.