In 1992, America celebrated 500 years from the time it was “discovered”. Five centuries ago Christopher Columbus’ three ships sailed towards the West and brought to light the most promising land in history. The anniversary earned important commemoration and of course Hollywood couldn’t leave this great opportunity go to waste. Many filmmakers had their saying, but no doubt the more distinguished attribution came from Ridley Scott and 1492: Conquest of Paradise. A strange choice of words for a title, as one would expect a more glorifying verb to be used, however it very effectively lets its audience know that it’s going to deal with much more than just Columbus’ adventures.
The story has been told by many and in many different ways, which is exactly why Ridley Scott tries to do something entirely different here. The filmmaker goes all European and reminds everyone that not only American culture and American people didn’t until that time “exist” — so a story told in an American way would come across inconsistent — but also that if the same old story is told in a different way, it can become interesting to a much broader audience and help viewers gain a different perspective. For this reason the film doesn’t focus so much on Columbus’ personality and doesn’t elaborate on his brilliance, courage and stamina, like other films do. No, Ridley Scott does something new, as he examines the aftermath of this famous discovery.
The film shows the famous three ships arriving in — what we know today as — The Bahamas, and Columbus discovering a paradise. However, this astonishing piece of land also comes with its inhabitants, a population with their own language, their customs and their very special way of living. This is what makes the movie different and very interesting to watch — the fact that it examines the almost inexplicable superiority with which Columbus and his crew handle the natives and shows never to be a moment during which the Europeans consider themselves less powerful or in the wrong, but rather, conquistadors all the way. They are heavily armed and most certain that they know better than the people already living there, having been born and raised there. They know better and more, so the time has come to impose their own language, religion and customs, regardless of how the indigenous feel about it.
Gérard Depardieu takes on the role of Columbus — a very appealing choice, in my opinion. The actor offers the notorious navigator a dynamic appearance as well as a kind face, and gives a highly credible performance. However, what raises this movie on to an epic level is the soundtrack, composed and performed by Vangelis. A musical theme that even today sends off a glorifying vibe, hard to miss, even harder to be left unimpressed by.
1492: Conquest of Paradise is one of those movies reminding us that every story has two sides. America was discovered by a man who was convinced that the earth was round. He never doubted himself, even when it was obvious that he had miscalculated. Of course the only reason why he was sponsored in his quest, was because the Crown wanted a safer way to get to India and find more gold. Regardless of why and how this new paradise was discovered, it was indeed discovered. On the other hand, this promised land came with a culture as well as its own history. Ridley Scott takes a look at what this discovery meant to the natives, the people already having “found” the place and having lived there their entire lives — a very interesting other side, that is definitely worth a watch.
1492: Conquest of Paradise at IMDb
1492: Conquest of Paradise at Wikipedia
1492: Conquest of Paradise at Rotten Tomatoe
1492: Conquest of Paradise (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
Christopher Columbus at Wikipedia