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Films >> 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) >>

Most reviews on 1492: Conquest of Paradise considered the film as a mediocre endeavor. Although almost all the reviewers considered Ridley Scott's direction superb, many reviewers had problems with the film's slow moving plot and clichéd writing. Vincent Canby of The New York Times sums up many reviewers' attitudes towards the movie, "'1492' is not a terrible film. Yet because it is without any guiding point of view, it is a lot less interesting than the elaborate physical production that has been given it." The film's score by Vangelis was equally criticized as being emotionally manipulative and obnoxious by not allowing the viewer any silence to read his/her own emotions into the scenes presented. Gerard Depardieu's performance of Columbus was mixed. Some reviewers thought that Depardieu's physical size and movement were complementary to the characterization of Columbus, whereas other reviewers thought that Depardieu's French accent and mispronunciation of English made the film into an unintentional comedy skit reminiscent of Monty Python. About half the reviewers faulted the movie for its overly simplistic view of history by portraying Columbus as an overall good guy. Strangely enough, most reviewers ignored Scott's and Roselyne Bosch's, the scriptwriter, monolithic portrayal of the natives. 1492: Conquest of Paradise, for the most part, was considered a film with some visually stunning scenes that failed in terms of plot, characterization, music, and historical accuracy.

Alleva, Richard. "Good bye, Columbus: Ridley Scott's '1492.'" Commonweal 20 November 1992: 20-21.
Roselyne Bosch's script is full of so many historical errors that it makes Alleva wonder, "Is Bosch relying on the well known fact that Americans don't read history?" (21). Scott's directing is "clotted" and "confused" by not allowing the viewer to know where to focus his/her attention. Sometimes the time elapsed between scenes is unclear, making it confusing how events in the film fit together. Furthermore, Depardieu's acting is full of clichés and does not offer any insight into the character of Columbus.
Bowater, Ian. "'1492' Writer's Dramatic Feast Starved By Final Editing." Los Angeles Times 2 November 1992: F3.
Bowater was asked to read the original script by screenwriter Roselyne Bosch. According to Bowater, Bosch's script was excellent. The script "encompassed the conflicting views of Columbus, the man, seen through the sibling rivalry of his two illegitimate sons. The courageous and imaginative explorer's decline into a failed and inept administrator was translated in strong dramatic scenes. His life and legacy were encapsulated by his final voyage" (F3). But the film needed to be edited down in order to fit in a two-and-a-half-hour time constraint. Director Ridley Scott, through his editing, "chose the visual over the dramatic" (F3). As a result, the film's dialogue and characterization suffer, despite the film's extremely captivating cinematography. At best, one can hope for a director's cut of the movie to be released soon in which Bosch's script is restored.
Bushman, Claudia L. Review of Three Columbus Films. Public Historian 15.3 (1993): 112-15.
"This film dismisses the idea of a glamorous Columbus. He is an ordinary man, driven by relatively good motives, forced into bad circumstances by his evil men and his failure to find gold. He is like us, but a man of vision. . . . These three films continue an older tradition, taking their cues from published romance, showing a grim heroic figure overcoming insurmountable odds, only to be brought down at last. For good or for ill, this great dramatic story, seen through the heroic lens of the cinema camera, is part of our American heritage. It has survived years of revisionist effort. The story may not be exactly accurate, but apparently real history does not make good movies."
Canby, Vincent. Rev. of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The New York Times 9 October 1992: C21.
The movie's special effects are amazing, but because of the weak characterization and plot, the film suffers. "'1492' is not a terrible film. Yet because it is without any guiding point of view, it is a lot less interesting than the elaborate physical production that has been given it." It would take a superb writer to combine all the themes that the movie wants to address into a well organized plot. "Ms. Bosch may be a very good researcher, but she's not a very great writer" (C21). Furthermore, Columbus's complicity in the genocide of the Tainos is almost completely ignored throughout the movie. Because of such oversimplifications of Columbus as good character, rather than investigating his mixed motives and desires, the film's plot and characterization drag.
Carr, Jay. "Ridley Scott's Beautiful but Shallow '1492.'" The Boston Globe 9 October 1992: 85.
Although the film contains some great special effects, the characters and plot are weak because of Ridley Scott's politically correct portrayal of the Conquest: the natives are innocent, yet so is Columbus. It is Columbus's men and Spain itself that deserve the blame for the genocide that took place in the New World. But by simplifying the film's characters into good and bad groups, the film also simplifies Columbus's character into a caricature. "About the best that can be said for Ridley Scott's flat, dull, turgid '1492: Conquest of Paradise' is that it's a better bad movie than John Glen's flop, 'Christopher Columbus: The Discovery'" (85). At least 1492 possesses captivating visuals and Gerard Depardieu brings a presence to the screen that Glen's movie completely lacks.
Clark, Mike. "Columbus Sails Off Course in '1492.'" USA Today 9 October 1992: 8D.
The stunning visuals reveal a film that had potential to be great. Unfortunately, the film is extremely long and dull. "The film is so debilitatingly dull at 2 1/2 hours that most will be rooting for it to ape Thelma and Louise's finale by having the crew sail off the edge of the world" (8D). Furthermore, the film miscast Depardieu as Columbus, "a French actor . . . cast as an Italian who's working for Spain in an English language movie. Especially when he's an actor who speaks English like Bela Lugosi reading a cue card" (8D). As a result, Depardieu does not relate any emotions or complexities that Columbus might possess.
Ebert, Roger. "Discovering Columbus; Romantic '1492' Reveals His Dogged Complexity." Chicago Sun-Times 9 October 1992: 42.
Columbus is an "enlightened revision of the traditional figure" by treating the Indians as equals. As a result, Columbus is a more complex and humane character than ever presented before on screen. Vangelis's soundtrack, on the other hand, is emotionally manipulative by not allowing the viewer to reflect upon the scenes Scott presents. Scott, unfortunately, rushes through the dramatics of the first voyage and discovery -- missing an excellent opportunity to create drama that would captivate the audience's interests. Regardless of this missed opportunity, the movie does a satisfactory job of holding the viewer's interest.
Garcia, Maria. Rev. of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Films In Review 44.5-6 (June 1993): 194-97.
Because the film is so based on plot, the characters are not allowed to develop. "This film has a hole where its soul should be; instead of a history lesson, we need a living, breathing, rather imperfect hero who reminds us of ourselves" (196). The film relies on events rather than empathy with the hero. Garcia notes how in most of Scott's prior movies "heroes are ambiguous, his stories are psychological, and his philosophy is existential" (197). 1492 somehow does not capture any of the complexity that Scott usually brings to his scripts. Yet Scott's directorial control of the medium makes up for his lack in character development. Scott's shots and scenes captivate the viewer's attention so that he/she enjoys the movie despite its rather stilted characters and mechanical plot.
Gritten, David. "The Arts: The Man Who Dresses In The Dark: Gerard Depardieu, Star Of The New Blockbuster Columbus Movie '1492,' Talks To David Gritten About His Wildly Unconventional Career." The Sunday Telegraph 11 October 1992: 113.
Depardieu was perfect for the part of Columbus since he shared many similarities with the protagonist: he was also an unknown who had a desire to transcend his working class roots and was, subsequently, launched into fame. The article questions if Depardieu will ever make it in the American mainstream-- especially since a Time magazine story quoted Depardieu saying that he raped women when he was younger. Of interest, though, in regards to Columbus is Depardieu's understanding of the historical figure of Columbus: "So what does he make of the criticisms against Columbus? 'All this that the Americans say,' shouted Depardieu, now starting to gesticulate, 'I say non! When Einstein invented the atom, it was used to cure people, bring everything good, he never thought that Roosevelt . . .' Er . . . you mean Truman? ' . . . yes, yes, Truman, that Truman would drop the atomic bomb. Never!'" (113). Go figure.
Howe, Desson. "Paradise Lost Again." The Washington Post 9 October 1992: N42.
A humorous review of Scott's movie that states, "The story's dead in the water. Actually, there's no story. It's all eye-dizzying hyperbole, with astounding camera work, fancy editing and a moody flamenco guitar-meets-synthesizer soundtrack by avant-garde musician Vangelis" (N42). Although Howe over-exaggerates the films negative aspects, some of his analyses strike true: "And when Depardieu first sets foot in the Americas . . . you'd think Neil Armstrong's famous landing was just a stumble through moon dust" (N42); "Depardieu's tentative English impedes him. He's simply unable to take command. He's just a guy with a funny accent dressed in even funnier clothes, trying to convince his near-mutinous men that land is at hand: 'De lan iz zere,' he insists, 'De lan iz cloze'" N42). Although one can criticize Howe for taking "cheap shots" on Scott's film, the film itself does unintentionally slip into parody.
Jackson, Kevin. "Sailing The Ocean Blues." The Independent 23 October 1992: 16.
The film is enjoyable despite particularly corny scenes that cause the audience to wince. Although Columbus is portrayed mostly in a heroic light, some of the atrocities Spain inflicted upon the Tainos are addressed. Jackson correctly notes, "The anti-Columbus faction will no doubt continue to be outraged at the almost unmitigatedly heroic light in which the film's central figure is cast . . . . His [Scott's] Columbus is an archetypal Hollywood-style visionary who is part Renaissance Man . . . part rugged Frontiersman" (16).
LaSalle, Mick. "'1492' Needs a Map." The San Francisco Chronicle 9 October 1992: C1.
The first half of the movie is splendid since it builds up the character of Columbus as an impassioned artist trying to discover new worlds. "'1492' doesn't give us Columbus as adventurer or Columbus as opportunist but Columbus the artist. This could be Van Gogh -- or James Joyce trying to publish 'Ulysses.' It's the same story, and it's a good one: a great man on fire with the need to bring some wonderful thing into the world, and his struggle against that world's indifference or hostility" (C1). But once Columbus returns to Spain, the movie ceases developing his character and portrays him instead as the noble explorer by contrasting him to the black-clad villain Moxica. What should have been conflicting desires within Columbus is externalized into Moxica, which absolves Columbus for the blame of subjugating the natives. The second half of the movie falls into the most empty of stereotypes.
Lipper, Hal. "Seeks His Destiny." St. Petersburg Times 9 October 1992: 20.
Lipper explains how journalist and screenwriter Roselyne Bosch "went to Seville, where she read letters written by Columbus from his New World settlement" (20). The article primarily focuses on Depardieu's, Bosch's, and Scott's defense of Columbus. Bosch claims, "The systematic persecution of the Indians started after Columbus's legacy was over. Saying Columbus was responsible for genocide is like saying Jesus Christ is responsible for the Inquisition" (20). Although Bosch's defense of Columbus is inaccurate, the review reveals the creators' and actor's ignorance of Columbus's misdeeds because of their primary focus on the myth of the man.
McCarthy, Todd. Rev. of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Variety 12 October 1992: 185.
1492 is largely a one-dimensional film. The characters are flat and the mechanized plot is not an adequate device to deal with the complexities of Columbus's experiences. By compressing four voyages into two, Bosch cannot help but only offer the vaguest experiences and emotions that Columbus went through while discovering and developing the New World. Even the visuals, at times stunning, are largely superfluous and ineffectively serve to obscure a badly written script.
Turan, Kenneth. "New World Disorder; Ridley Scott's '1492' Fills The Screen With Dazzling Visual Spectacle. But In Dramatic Terms, Its Paradise Lost." Los Angeles Times 9 October 1992: F1.
Although the plot is "dramatically inert," the visuals are amazing. When watching the movie, one feels as if he/she is in fifteenth century Spain and America. Roselyne Bosch "devoted years of intensive research to the subject. Despite all this scholarly labor, however, the film sounds suspiciously like it was written after too much time spent watching old Hollywood movies" (F1). The movie has an all-star cast-- Depardieu, Sigourney Weaver, Fernando Rey, Armand Assante, and Michael Wincott -- that brings diverse acting styles to the screen, but all the performances become weighed down by the film's plodding script.

See Also

Burke-Block, Candace. "Ridley Scott's Newest World." The San Francisco Chronicle 7 October 1992: E1.

Davenport, Hugo. "The Arts: Heaven and Hell On The High Seas." The Daily Telegraph 22 October 1992: 14.

Davies, Tristan. "The Arts: Talent That Travels." The Daily Telegraph 20 February 1993: 17.

Elliot, David. Rev. of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The San Diego Union-Tribune 8 October 1992: 11.

Fristone, Roger. Rev. of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The Courier-Journal 10 October 1992: 27S.

Green, Tom. "'1492' Puts Wind in Depardieu's Sails." USA Today 8 October 1992: 1D.

Griffin, John. "Heaven and Hell Collide In Ridley Scott's Epic Film." The Gazette 9 October 1992: D2.

Herd, Deborah. "That Sinking Feeling." South China Morning Post 30 December 1995: 11.

Hinson, Hal. "'1492': That Sinking Feeling." The Washington Post 9 October 1992: B1.

Lipper, Hal. "Discovering Columbus." St. Petersburg Times 9 October 1992: 21.

MacInnis, Craig. "Depardieu: An Epic Columbus." The Toronto Star 9 October 1992: C5.

MacInnis, Craig. "Ridley Scott's Taking All Comers In Debate On Columbus's Ethics." The Toronto Star 7 October 1992: F1.

Malcolm, Derek. "Film: Black Truth, White Lies." The Guardian 22 October 1992: 6.

Shannon, Jeff. "Scott's '1492': A Sage Strays Off Course." The Seattle Times 9 October 1992: 3.

Strauss, Bob. "Depardieu Finds '1492' Parallels His Life's Passage." Chicago Sun-Times 4 October 1992: 3.

Strick, Philip. Rev. of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Sight and Sound 2.7 (1992): 41-42.