Returning home after having a blast on the Canary islands again, it was the visit to Casa de Colon which was one of the absolute highlights of this trip. So much so that I couldn´t resist but to check amazon prime Video for the one movie that suddenly came into my mind when thinking of Christopher Columbus: The Ridley Scott interpretation “1492 – Conquest of Paradise”, a movie done back in 1992, right to the 500th anniversary of the fateful voyage of the Spaniard.
Most of you younger readers may not be familiar with that film, even my girlfriend who is just 10 years younger than me has never watched this movie so it might be a new one for you. I for myself haven´t watched this piece for more than 10 years and so it was also quite unknow for me when I paid the 4.99, made myself cozy in the sofa and opened a cold beer to enjoy a nice movie-evening.
New perspectives and insights
So, first, what do you expect when watching a movie like this? I suppose it´s the voyage itself, you should say. Well, not quite so with this one. Scott´s film starts long before Columbus set sails and shows the struggle of him to get approval and funding by the Spanish crown for his undertaking. The movie shows the background of the long hard way before he could even cast off.
Surely, we don´t know for sure if Christopher Columbus was that brittle, church-criticizing, insisting and a bit arrogant pal but I guess Scott just assumed that in a world ruled under the brutal paradigms of the church, executed by the aristocratic upper crust a guy like Columbus must have shaken the foundations of the almighty at least a bit. Anyways, the portrayal of the different factions, different motives and the plots and schemes is nonetheless interesting and sheds a light on what a man like him must have endured to finally getting a go and a blessing.
The passage of Columbus´ fleet
The very passage, I must say, is just a very short period of the film. Ridley Scott clearly does not focus on telling the story too much of how awe inspiring and ground shaking it must have been for those medieval people to sail “over the edge of the world”, not knowing what comes and fearing the wrath of their God. The ever looming mutiny and the desperation is handled in just a few minutes.
This is a bit disappointing since so much effort went into production design: The sail ships, the costumes. This all would have made a great drama to show, the fear of the ordinary, the strong belief of Columbus who knew by calculation that eventually due to the spherical shape of the Earth that they must meet the promised land on the other side. No, this movie has a different focus.
What this movie does good. And what not.
Ridley Scott shows the hope, the shattered hope and the new plans of Columbus after he seemingly did not land in India. The denial of the fact and his – historically correct – strive for being the Vice King of the new colonies, the hunt for precious metal and the meeting with the indigenous people. In this, the movie is much criticized and I think this is right so.
The portrayal of the Indios is a bit over the edge. There have been allegations that the Indio actors had been mistreated. I found it a bit too romantic and cliché, also, the strict black/white and good/evil shown in his counterpart characters. I would guess in reality it was much more grey. But “1492 – Conquest of Paradise” is a Hollywood Blockbuster and not a documentary so maybe the colorful, masterly arranged and breathtakingly beautiful shots are okay under this premise. Ridley Scott packs the tragic story of Columbus, his achievements, his downsides and the start of the genocide of indigenous Americans into one giant movie.
The acting performance of Gerard Depardieu is marvelous, also his counterpart Moxica, played by Michael Wincott. It is a big drama, especially the last minutes, back home, old, beaten, put aside and denied his place. I like the re-watch although “my” 1492 would have set a different tone, but maybe you ought to look at this 30 year old movie in a different context. I don´t agree to the mostly negative reviews, I find it´s a solid drama, not Scott´s best but definitely not the worst.
My assessment of this movie is 6 out of 10 points
You may also like to check out these reviews:
The amazing story of KON-TIKI
Franklin´s ill-fated expedition in “The Terror”
What a great sailing book: “A Voyage for Madmen”