Monday, June 23, 2008

Classics on Film: Last of the Mohicans

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

When watching film versions of great books I am reminded of the old "classic comics"—those illustrated presentations of famous literature that were put out in the '50s and '60s. I managed to get hold of one or two ragged copies of them as a kid in the '70s. Of course, there is always the danger that popular presentations of classic stories, abridged in print or film, can result in the dumbing-down of great literature. The Veggie Tales series, for example, goes too far in that direction, turning stories of the Bible and famous novels into silly preschool caricatures. It reveals the tendency of adults to underestimate children. But if done right, movies can give young people a taste for good books, and they can be enjoyable in their own right.

This past week my kids and I watched the 1971 BBC miniseries of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Like a lot of British productions from the period it is low budget and you can see them recycling some of the same actors as both British soldiers and Indians. Yet they really did the most with what they had. There are memorable characters and good dialogue. Cooper has Indians declaiming like Shakespearean actors. But that is no more anachronistic than having ancient Romans talking like Elizabethan Englishmen. What matters is the story. That is probably why my kids also liked the 1953 version of Julius Caesar. And there's plenty of well choreographed action in Last of the Mohicans—realistic but not too violent for younger viewers. No doubt because it was a British non-Hollywood production it was true to the original story, more accurate (and I would say probably more enjoyable) than the 1992 version.