In 1992 it was the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's journey and discovering the New World. Everyone should know the basics of his story in that Columbus. With the Ottoman Empire cutting off the land route to Asia, European traders had only one route to reach Asia and that was the long and time consuming way of traveling down the coast of Africa and around the horn of Africa into the India Ocean. Columbus wasn't the first to say the world was round he was ambitious, motivated and a dreamer of navigating the un-navigated Atlantic Ocean to find Japan, China and the rest of Asia. The journey was daring and dangerous. Though he underestimated the distance to Asia he did discover the New World (Vikings found it first, but no one knew about it at the time.) and ushered in the age of imperialism as European countries would rush to grab up territories in the North America, Africa, South America and the rest of the World. It's a great story and of course Hollywood would anticipate the event and make some films to be released just in time for the anniversary. Two in fact were made in John Glen's Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
Glen's film was a complete disaster being poorly written, miscast and poorly written, while on the other hand Scott's Conquest of Paradise is almost the complete opposite. The story focuses heavily on events leading up to Columbus's journey dealing in politics, his struggles to gain support for his crossing of the Atlantic and his family life. The film only gives us a glimpse of his dangerous crossing of the Atlantic. The final act of the film takes place in the New World and Columbus's downfall. The story isn't perfect as it glosses over Columbus's journey and cast's him in a very good light. Was what he did amazing? Yes he was a dreamer, explorer most of us wish we could dream of or accomplish, but he certainly wasn't the first person to say that the world was round or mount a journey like that as the Chinese had made long distance trips to Africa and throughout the Pacific Islands as did the Norse Vikings. Also Scott and the writers have erased Columbus's treatment toward the natives. Other than those complaints the film is well written. I think the writers and Scott wanted to embrace Columbus's vision and dream along with celebrating other explores as the exchange below between Columbus and Gabriel Sanchez and it shows in the film.
"You're a dreamer." Sanchez says after Columbus stops him after he leaves an audience with the Queen.
"Tell me, what do you see?" Columbus asks glancing out a window overlooking the city.
"I see rooftops, I see palaces, I see towers, I see spires that reach... to the sky! I see civilization!" Sanchez says after he pauses to look.
"All of them built by people like me." Columbus tells the man: All of them built by people like me. Sanchez doesn't respond as he is shocked.
"No matter how long you live, Sanchez, there is something that will never change between us. I did it. You didn't." Columbus tells the Sanchez before he leaves.
What makes this film truly shine was the great casting and the acting. The great French actor Gérard Depardieu plays Christopher Columbus. The actor was the perfect choice for the role and played the explorer perfectly displaying all his emotions from his passion and believe in his voyage to loss, sadness and yet hope and happiness when he hears that someone else has discovered the North American continent. Sigourney Weaver in what I think is one of her best acting performances did a splendid job playing Queen Isabella I of Spain. In perhaps his best acting job Armand Assante did an outstanding job playing Gabriel Sanchez an advisor to the Queen. The supporting cast includes Kevin Dunn, Steven Waddington and Frank Langella along with others who all do a really good job. That cast and acting is what helps make 1492: Conquest of Paradise a good film.
Ridley Scott has directed some great films in Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Blade Runner among others, and while 1492: Conquest of Paradise isn't one of his best films it is just drop down from his best films. While the story isn't the best Scott did a great job bring to live late 15th century Spain and the New World as well as bringing out the best in his cast. Scott proves he can lift virtually any film to another level. Scott had worked with Vangelis on his film Blade Runner and they were brought back together for this film. Vangelis composed the score bringing to life the film with such pieces as "Conquest of Paradise" and "Hispaniola". His music fit perfectly with the scenes of the film.
While neither Christopher Columbus: The Discovery or 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a perfect exploration of the famous explorer Scott's Conquest of Paradise is a far better film. The story glosses over certain facts and casts Columbus far better light than the man probably should have been, but is still pretty well written and along with a great cast, acting, good directing, great music and cinematography. That combined makes 1492: Conquest of Paradise a 4 star film. I highly recommend the film if you want to see Columbus's world brought to life and one of Ridley Scott's overlooked and unappreciated films.