1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
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So fast-forward a decade and a half at least... 1492 was massive in Europe when it came out. Ridley Scott, director of Alien, Legend and Blade Runner, was telling the story of Christopher Columbus, starring the venerable Gerard Depardieu, all to a score by Vangelis which flew off the shelves faster than any film score since, well, Blade Runner. What did they have to show for it.
We know the story, or we think we do: Columbus, an Italian immigrant, gets a grant from Queen Isabella of Spain to map a shorter route to India, sailing West. What he discovers is a whole new world, the Caribbean islands. But the "new world" experiment fails badly and before long utopia becomes a stage for jealousy, manipulation, superstition and even genocide.
It took several studios to co-finance this massive undertaking, based on a screenplay by journalist Rose Bosch. Supposedly, Scott immediately had his sights set on Depardieu, which paradoxically leads us to both the film's greatest asset and liability.
Depardieu exudes a very un-Hollywood brand of charisma: grounded, vulnerable, but also prone to hardness and anger. His Columbus is a tragic idealist, likable even when carried away by his own arrogance. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. It is a pity then that his English was nowhere near good enough to carry the film.
For many years, I had been warned and had only seen the film dubbed in my native French (it did help that Depardieu dubbed himself, as did supporting actor Tcheky Karyo), but upon seeing the film "as intended" I was simply baffled. This, coupled with a script that leaves a few motivations unexplained and sometimes gets bogged down, severely undermines a film that is otherwise brimming with first-rate craftsmanship.
Despite the odd heavy-handed use of orange gradient filters recalling the younger Scott brother's feature-length Air Force commercial, the film is littered with unforgettable imagery. Vangelis' music, though even more effective listened to on its own, plunges you headfirst into another world, one of infinite possibilities.
The net result is a very imperfect film, but as an exercise in world-creation, an admitted Ridley Scott hobby, you'l be hard pressed to find its equal.
It seems as though the makers considered Chris to be some kind of hero and visionary. In fact, at one point, he actually compares himself to the son of God. At one point, I couldn't help but burst out laughing at the sheer idiocy of the script. After that, I just couldn't take it seriously. Comparing himself to Jesus? Honestly.
I'll tell you what this movie is, and what it is not. It is a completely Hollywood-ized version of the events that really took place, so if you're into the falsehood factor, go for it. It is not a movie one should see if one has read up on some of the things in which Columbus was involved - enslaving and killing thousands, I mean.
It's only strong point is Gerard Depardieu's accent. That alone is almost worth watching it. The poor man speaks French very well, but his English comes out with a strong accent. In this movie, he plays Columbus - a man from Spain. So combine the French-ified English with an attempt at a Spanish accent, and there you go.
All in all? Please, don't waste your time. But if you like Gerard Depardieu a whole lot, by all means, take this opportunity to giggle at his expense.
Plus, he gets punched out by a monk.
Rather than seeing the Columbus of history plundering other lands in search of gold while brutally enslaving and mass murdering the natives, we are presented with a kind, gentle, benign Columbus (portrayed by the surrealistically cast Gérard Depardieu) who's surrounded by unscrupulous characters. Scott's Columbus is an idealistic visionary who only wants "a new world," yet is a pawn caught between bad people doing bad things. Poor Columbus ... all he wants to do is explore.
Of course, this calls for *a lot* of historical revisionism for the screenplay, which re-arranges events and the instigators of them (atrocities are shifted to the work of others rather than Columbus, and for different reasons; otherwise, it's omitted from the story).
But why fictionalize history (reality is always more interesting) with this pabulum, and then pass it off as "history"? Either no research was done, or they intentionally fabricated the story; there is no other option.
"Life has more imagination than we carry in our dreams," we are told just before the closing credits. Indeed. Too bad the writer didn't follow this advice. The truth would have made far better drama.
Every single scene in this film is loaded with symbolism. Behind the dialog and interaction of characters, there is an abundant subtext that just craves to be explored. It is a film that you come to appreciate the more times you see it and come to understand better, the older you grow. Critics have been unenthusiastic and even dismissive of it. Don't dare listen to them until you have watched it at least three times yourself. It would also be careless of me to comment on this film without mentioning the brilliant score by Vangellis. Hovering between the atmospheric and the pure scary, it blends with the general aura of the film brilliantly. Pure magic.
"500 years ago, Spain was a nation gripped by fear and superstition, ruled by the crown and a ruthless inquisition that persecuted men for daring to dream. One man challenged this power. Driven by his sense of destiny he crossed the sea of darkness in search of honour, gold and the greater glory of God."
It barely made a dent at the box office, but neither did the other big Columbus release in 1992, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. Meaning what? Both films are bad? Or that many went to see one that was bad and thought better than going to sit through another Columbus epic? Or maybe the topic, the anniversary of Columbus' voyage to the New World, just hadn't got the appeal that studios hoped for? All possible, but in the case of Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise, the lukewarm response is probably born out of it being a different kind of movie than that which was expected.
This is no rousing epic that's full of derring do and swagger, it's over talky for the non historical movie loving crowd, and crucially it goes against the grain of what Columbus, we are now led to believe, was like. It seems that Scott and Bosch were more happy to paint the famed explorer as a noble man of the people, a man of science, keeping his motives vague and his actions as dignified. With hindsight, it surely would have been more interesting to have had a Columbus picture portraying him as the self driven bastard he's been accused of being! I wonder how many more people would have paid to see that?
Film is not helped by Depardieu's performance as Columbus. Acting on direction of course, the restrained portrayal leaves the film without an heroic, passion fuelled edge, something that is badly needed in a film about such a momentous historical occasion. His fluctuating accent is also a nuisance. There's no doubting the professional performance the Frenchman gives, it's just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other cast members jostle for screen time with mixed results, but Assante, Karyo and Wincott are good value for money. But they, like Depardieu, pale in the shadow of Scott's aesthetics.
This is where the film is a real winner. From the medieval make over for a moody Spain; to the capturing of ships setting sail from Port of Palos under an orange sky; to the wide angled shooting of Costa Rica, Scott and Biddle delight the eyes. When Bosch's screenplay allows, Scott is able to construct some truly indelible sequences, with garrotings, flaming pyres and a village assault serving notice that all is not lost here. But these, along with an extended sequence of men in unison trying to erect a giant bell, only make us notice just how much of a wasted opportunity this was. While Vangelis' stirring score also has one hankering after a narrative with more momentum.
Big flaws and frustrating, but not a complete disaster for those armed with the knowledge that this is no rousing and devilish experience. 6/10
I could go on, but there are dozens of points of historical discussion that this film prompts, including a thorough study of the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformation, the history of "Witch Trials" anti-Semitism in Europe, The Thirty Year War and the Wars of Religion, The Age of Reason, the rise of Science, etc., etc., etc! What a film packed with potential historical departures this is!! I pity those who miss all this richness.
When I read such negative reviews by those who claim the history is all wrong, I wonder what stereotype of history they think they were taught. It is no surprise to me that they seem to think the scene with the orange was about an orange! They didn't pay attention to this film long enough to understand the simplest scene! I gather they don't really pay much attention to history either, but have popular historical assumptions that they have been fed or imagined. This is a film that ought to be shown in every classroom in the New World as well as Europe, if nowhere else. And for those who claim they were bored - rent an Arnold shoot-em up and stay home during elections, your opinion is just that valuable.
Unlike other film which are simply based on history, Conquest was more realistic than others. In most aspects anyway. I will discuss to some degree where I feel that "artistic license" was used.
The scene where victims of the inquisition, were executed many of them Jews was quite accurate. Contrary to popular belief, most were strangled before set on fire. The film showed that in detail.
The encounter with the natives took place on the beach according to most accounts, not inland as in the film , This is one of the first inaccuracies.
Another inaccuracy was that Sanchez , brilliantly portrayed by Armand Assante. According to histirical texts went on the voyage. His assignment to safeguard th e Spanish crown's share of any riches seized. another historical inaccuracy.
Later came the Moxica character portrays by Michael Wincott. He cut of the arm of a native who hadn't found any gold. This was very accurate the natives were given quotas of gold the had to find and give to the Spaniards as tribute. Those who didn't comply were often mutilated. Also many of the early colonists rose in rebellion against Columbus.
But the most profound dialogue in the entire movie was when Friar Rojas mentioned to Sanchez, referring to Columbus " what a waste of a life" Sanchez replies " If either of our names are ever remembered it will only be because of his" A must see for anyone who appreciates history.
The film tells a wonderful story, intriguing and engaging, with great performances, great custom designs, perfect art direction, and editing, the soundtrack is completely awesome.
With the film we understand how fragile was the relationship of the Europeans and its interests with the wild natives, and how these interests led to destruction of a local culture and introduced a new millennium to the American continent. With the great performance of Gérard Depardieu, Sigourney Weaver, and Armand Assante also with the fantastic direction of Ridley Scott, we also realize how sad was the story of Christopher Columbus that after discovering the new world, had its failure to colonize it efficiently in the eyes of the Spanish crown, and had his belated recognition out of its time, this recognition that ended up to Americo Vespucci.
In the film we make a trip back in time, the scenes, the costumes, all landscapes, are extremely realistic and true to reality of the time, I guarantee to all that didn't watched this movie, after you do it will be one of your favorites. And I ask those who judge the film as bad or average, to revise their concepts immediately because I guarantee you that they are wrong.
If there is any message the director of the movie wanted us to remember, it probably is that the late 15-century was a violent time. This message is brought not too-subtle, with graphic violent scenes of stranglings, people burning at the stake, mutilation and other means of maiming or killing people, earning the movie a rare "16" rating in Holland normally reserved for horror or adult movies.
Apart from the violence, the lack of depth in character in the movie, which has a long 2.5 hours of time to bring any development in the characters, makes it an experience enjoyable only to the absolute fan of the genre, comparable perhaps to movies like "Flesh and blood".
Columbus is naive, Moxica is evil, Sanchez is scheming, etc. etc.
A plus side of the movies is found sometimes by the way the landscape is filmed, both in Spain as in the New World. It would have been a nice movie perhaps, if it would have been cut back to 90 minutes, deleting most of the excessive violence.
This is a historical biography of the 15th discoverer made for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage . It deals about his discovery of America , his fighting against enemies (Michael Wincott , Mark Margolis) and the fame that first greeted him . The man who explored the New World is shown in all his flawed complexity in this film . Colombus is well portrayed in a good acting by Gerard Depardieu who takes a contemporary approach as an ambitious adventurer who finally gets the Queen of Spain (Sigourney Weaver) along with a banker (Frank Langella) to agree to finance his voyage . Shot on location Salamanca (Spain) and Caribbean islands glamorously photographed by Adrian Biddle . Stirring and emotive musical score by Vangelis (chariots of fire) . The motion picture packed with pomp and pageantry is lavishly produced by the prestigious Garth Thomas and Iain Smith ; being spectacular and brilliantly directed by Ridley Scott at his best and as stylish as ever . Ridley is an expert on super-productions and a successful filmmaker as proved in ¨Someone to watch over me¨ , ¨Blade runner¨, ¨Black rain¨ , ¨Legend¨ in which his visual style is impressive . The picture belongs to his speciality , the historical genre , as ¨Robin Hood¨ , ¨Black Hawk down¨ , ¨Kingdom of heaven¨ , ¨Gladiator¨ and ¨Duelists¨ . Rating : Above average . Essential and indispensable watching for Ridley Scott followers and historical cinema lovers .
Other adaptations about this historic character are the following : Christopher Columbus (1949) with Fredric March , Florence Eldridge and directed by David McDonald ; Columbus(1985) with Gabriel Byrne, Faye Dunaway and directed by Alberto Lattuada ; The Discovery (1992) by John Glenn with George Corraface and Marlon Brando ; and Spanish/Italian TV version by Vittorio Cottafavi with Francisco Rabal as Colombus considered one of the best renditions about this immortal personage .
I'll keep this brief. This movie is DISGUSTING!!! It's plagued with inaccuracies, exaggerations, and down right lies! This movie makes Christopher Columbus out to be some sort of visionary, a man who tries his best to keep peace. When in actual fact he sold off native women as sex toys, employed punishments of dismemberment, enslaved the native population, and exploited them to no end.
This movie frames his men as the true villains. And trust me they were horrible people. Doing such awful things as having bets about who could decapitate a man with one swipe first, and even throwing babies into rivers as the laugh. (I am seriously not joking there is actual accounts of this)
But this was all whole hardheartedly supported by Columbus himself. Now there are a lot of minor inaccuracies plaguing this movie as well, but the review I mentioned goes into detail about this.
So in short. This movie is a disgusting cowardly mockery of a real genocide. It frames a man on par with Hitler as a brave kind hearted visionary. Whilst pathetically covering up the real horrors this inhuman monster committed. And for those of you who claim hes just a victim of his time. You should know one of his men became a monk after witnessing what Columbus did. And that he was imprisoned in his own time.