1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
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.
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.
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.
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.