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Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look: 15.38%
Pretty Bad: 5.13%
Total Crap: 10.26%

1 review, 33 user ratings

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1492: Conquest of Paradise
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by Andrew Howe

"A slow boat to nowhere"
3 stars

If you believe everything you read in the history books, 1485 wasn’t the best year for an Italian Renaissance man to pitch his tent in Spain. The Inquisition was in full swing, the throne was occupied with a war against the Muslims, and local scholars viewed the notion of a westward sea route to Asia with contempt. However, after seven long years Christopher Columbus convinced the queen to underwrite an expedition to the uncharted west, and what he found there forms the basis for the old-school celluloid epic 1492: Conquest of Paradise.

Columbus (Gérard Depardieu) spent many years developing a theory that a journey to Asia’s eastern seaboard was theoretically possible, and with the assistance of maverick mariner Martin Pinzón (Tchéky Karyo) and the sympathetic Queen Isabel (Sigourney Weaver) he boarded the slow boat to China in 1492. Modern geographical data tells us his beliefs were unfounded (he would have died long before he ever tasted any of that fine Chinese tea), but before he earned the title of one of history’s well-intentioned idiots he ran into the West Indies and claimed an untouched island in the name of Spain. The bulk of the film chronicles the journey and its aftermath, with Columbus’s general mismanagement leading to spiritual stagnation, the inadvertent desecration of paradise, and a short-lived mutiny by a noble named Adrián Moxica (Michael Wincott).

Historians Carla and William Phillips have taken the film to task for its crimes against historical fact, but most of the changes are minor alterations to chronology and the historical importance of supporting characters which are designed to improve the translation to the screen. However, Columbus’s personality does appear to have undergone a significant makeover – the man who was, from all accounts, “… brilliant, pious, cranky, self-assured, single-minded, irascible, rigid and thoroughly irritating” exhibits few of these characteristics, with Depardieu providing an unusually subdued portrayal. It’s unfortunate that an actor of Depardieu’s calibre is overshadowed by everything from the scenery to a comparatively vibrant supporting cast (a situation not helped by his occasionally impenetrable French accent), and while he provides a touching reading of Columbus’s final years the script’s refusal to allow him to exercise his renowned passion robs the film of the rock-solid foundation the subject matter required.

It’s left to the supporting players to pick up the slack, and they meet with limited success. Wincott has a fine old time playing a decadent but charismatic villain (a role he later reprised in The Crow, Strange Days, and The Count of Monte Cristo), Armand Assante brings his particular brand of scheming suaveness to bear on a minor but important role, and Weaver is enjoyable, if never entirely convincing, as Columbus’s major patron. Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly well-developed – the script is intent on devoting ninety percent of its page count to Columbus, which is a dubious decision given the 154 minute running time.

The script was penned by Roselyne Bosch, who emerged from oblivion for the undertaking and promptly returned from whence she came. She seems to be under the impression that she’s writing a textbook, which is why we’re over ninety minutes into the film before we see any action. Boredom is not an emotion you’d expect to experience in a film that was marketed as a rousing adventure, and while a slow pace is not a capital crime (as opposed to being tedious, which is) Bosch seems hell-bent on avoiding every opportunity to enliven the proceedings. The massacre of thirty-nine colonists, the fall of Granada, a near-mutiny on the high seas – any one of these events could have made for riveting viewing, but Bosch discards them in favour of politics, philosophy and the minutiae of running a Spanish colony.

Which is not to say the film is entirely unworthy of our attention. Ridley Scott and cinematographer Adrian Biddle (The Princess Bride, Thelma & Louise) take their wide-angle lenses out of storage to present us with a series of breathtaking postcards from the edge of civilisation – comparisons with Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God certainly aren’t out of line, and a scene where the explorers set sail from the Port of Palos is absolutely stunning. The costumes and production design defy attempts to view the on-screen action as a mere recreation, and Vangelis contributes a stirring score that ranks amongst his finest compositions (it’s also the last time he worked on a major motion picture, which is inexplicable given the questionable abilities of some of the composers who still find work in Hollywood).

When Bosch finally remembers that she’s meant to be entertaining an audience we’re treated to some memorable movie moments – a brutal village assault, victims of the Inquisition lighting up the night sky atop flaming pyres, garrottings galore, every able-bodied man in the colony straining to raise a massive bell, the inevitable “Land ho!” sequence – but moments they remain, adrift in a narrative that lacks the momentum it needed to raise the film above the level of a gorgeous but ultimately empty vessel.

1492 is not a failure, but if you’re in the mood for a rousing tale of intrepid exploration you’d be better served by the infinitely superior Mountains of the Moon. It’s a wasted opportunity on a grand scale, and the moments when it approaches greatness only make its shortcomings that much more transparent. See it for the efforts of Scott, Vangelis and the production designers - your eyes and ears will thank you for the experience, but don’t expect your heart to do the same.

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originally posted: 06/18/02 16:26:34
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User Comments

12/14/11 Deborah I can't believe I had to sit through all that twice! How incredibly dull! 2 stars
5/22/11 33zpix grt visuals & mood foreboding -we know how it went from 1492 on- Ddu great as conflicted 4 stars
9/16/08 Filet Mignon I do not reccomend, unless you are into the costumes, scenery or Native Americans' part. 3 stars
3/22/08 Francisca Excelente, fotografia linda e trilha sonora maravilhosa 5 stars
11/09/07 Stan For true movielovers 4 stars
4/26/07 Michael Historically incorrect? Come on, it's not a document. 5 stars
3/13/07 Bud Fox what a pity 5 stars
10/13/06 Anno Szillinsky -above review sums it up perfectly Spectacular musical score and truly unique look, but historically inaccurate and tedious. 3 stars
6/04/06 Jaque S hit Atmosheric but without plot 3 stars
2/22/06 lil' buddy wow! really exciting has action, romance, drama it has it all. 5 stars
7/21/04 Patjng the actors/story/music/looks and everything else JUST REALLY GREAT 5 stars
5/12/04 John very uninvolving - looks great but never comes together into a coherent story 3 stars
2/11/04 Amanda McElrath I thought that the film could have definitely been more acurate as for historical facts 3 stars
9/29/03 Mark Jobson Awesome - a lost epic from Ridley Scott - bring on the DVD with commentary please!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/25/03 Bunny This was actually an okay movie...if you ignore all of history, that is. 2 stars
6/13/03 Vernon the Vendor Amazing, Depardieu's scope and range were incredible 5 stars
4/19/03 Sarah LeBaron von Baeyer This is historical fluff, an insult to anyone who knows the first real thing about Colombus 1 stars
3/25/03 Melissa Not bad but definately could have been better. very dry and slow moving 3 stars
11/08/02 micole i have not saw it but my friends has and she thinks that it's great 3 stars
11/04/02 javier rodriguez the movie is hisoraclly incorrect 1 stars
6/20/02 the Grinch Good, but 'Black Robe' and 'Cabeza de Vaca' are superior films of the same vein... 4 stars
6/19/02 Danielle Ophelia I wasn't moved, but it had a vast scope and real promise in there somewhere. 3 stars
6/18/02 Charles Tatum Very underrated, and better than the other Columbus film 4 stars
3/19/02 Elyse what was it about.... i fell asleep 1 stars
2/19/02 Ray Fantastic and underrated; a great costumed period piece. 5 stars
9/12/01 jon sones stinking good 4 stars
10/27/00 alex ravenswood great movie,but hugely underrated.message for rewiers:shut up and watch it 5 stars
8/04/00 A. Ioshpe a beautiful history lesson from a great director. 4 stars
5/08/00 GBock The most underrated movie of the 1990s. One of the most visually stunning movies ever filme 5 stars
3/31/00 Hartford underrated 5 stars
1/31/00 A. Jones No way worse than Christopher Columbus: The Discovery! This one is thoughtful 5 stars
1/31/00 Edward Turner An intelligent haunting and beautiful film. Clearly too deep for the teen movie critic. 5 stars
4/11/99 Michael Grimm Excellent, at sucking 1 stars
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  02-Oct-1992 (PG-13)


  02-Feb-1993 (PG)

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