1492: Conquest of Paradise

Produced and released in 1992 by Touchstone Pictures, budget of $47 million, gross of $7 million, Panavision color 35mm negative, 2.35 : 1 screen ratio, Dolby SR sound, 154 mins., Laserdisc released 1994, DVD released 2001.




A film review by Scott J. Gorcey:

Christopher Columbus did not discover America.

He discovered the Bahamas, built the first Club Med there, extended his hand
in greeting to the Natives, and proceeded to kill every last one of them.

At least--that's the quarrel.

Was Columbus the romantic visionary, who struck a deal with Queen Isabella
to sail beyond the sunset--and return with a secret shortcut to Asia? Or was
Columbus the vicious technocrat, who chanced upon Eden in the 15th Century,
bled it dry and razed it to the ground?

"For a long time, there was the cliche of the hero," says Roselyne Bosch,
the French journalist who wrote 1492. "Now I'm afraid there is the cliche of
the genocide. The truth is in between."

Director Ridley Scott seems to think the two are not mutually exclusive--and
it's a good thing. In all the controversy surrounding the 500th anniversary
of his Landfall, what people arguing on both sides of the issue have
forgotten is this: Columbus was a man.

1492 is a remarkable two-and-a-half hour epic character study examining that
"in between."

Perhaps for the first time, Columbus is put in his place: Inquisition-Era
Spain, a place where people were burned as heretics for eating meat on Good
Friday. A place where Moors and Jews were being slaughtered or deported in
Christ's Name.

A place, Columbus says, where hope is dead.

"He was a Renaissance Man looking for a renaissance," says Scott. He found
one across the sea, and planned to built Utopia as envisioned by Leonardo da
Vinci there.

But Columbus' Paradise became his Hell.

Ridley Scott brings both the Paradise and the Hell--and the environs of 15th
Century Spain, from monasteries to cathedrals to royal palaces--to gorgeous,
captivating life on the screen. But visual ecstasy is just par for the
course from the director of ALIEN and BLADERUNNER. It's expected.

Here's the unexpected: 1492 is Scott's most beautiful film to date. Perhaps
this is only because these locations are real--as opposed to the gothic
corridors of the space freighter Nostromo, or a hundred-mile high Los
Angeles "twenty minutes into the future"--but to think so undercuts the
director's greatest achievement: the portrait of the man.

Ranging from culture clash to class conflict, to the political climate that
both forced Columbus to make the voyage and ensured its failure, Scott has
brought a substance and complexity to 1492 that is notably absent from most
of his previous films.

As on his last project, THELMA & LOUISE, Scott seems to have become as
obsessed with painting a picture of the person, and his personal voyage, as
he is with painting a picture of the world that person lived in.

Bringing that painting to life is Gerard Depardieu, who took the Best Actor
prize at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival for CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Depardieu can
summon fire to his eyes and ice water to his veins; he can age twenty years
in two hours without the benefit of prosthetic makeup. He makes us feel as
if we know Columbus without making us choose which Columbus to know.

If Depardieu doesn't present a definitive Columbus--how could anyone even
try?--1492 does present a man who fits Columbus' description--all the
descriptions. 1492 does carry us to the heights of his hope and inspiration,
and it does drop us into the puts of his tragedy and genocide.

It's a memorable voyage.

Published in GENERATION MAGAZINE on October 19, 1992. Copyright 1992 Scott J. Gorcey

revised 9/1/03 by Schoenherr | Filmnotes