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USA 1992
Directed by
Ridley Scott
145 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

1492 - Conquest of Paradise

This well-researched account of Christopher Columbus' visionary expedition to the New World is of interest from a historical perspective (the script by Rosylne Bosch is based on Columbus's son's account) and the large-scale staging is impressive, but dramatically it lacks bite.

There are a number of reasons for this. Although it is right and proper that the Americans turn their attention to their own beginnings this is a European story and is the sort of thing best done by Europeans who have the appropriate cultural baggage to go the distance. Milos Forman helmed Amadeus (1984) to success despite it being an American production, but Hugh Hudson's Revolution (1985) and Michael Hoffman's Restoration amply demonstrate the mis-match of sensibilities.

Ridley Scott appears to have used the Hollywood 1950s and '60s "sword and sandal" epic as his primary formal source material, for although this is content-wise very different, stylistically that is what I was reminded of, with every gesture and expression familiar from those films. Perhaps he needed to work through this material in order to get to 2000's Gladiator. Casting is decidedly odd. Depardieu is evidently suffering from the cultural estrangement and lacks sustenance for his Gallic bulk, which slowly loses power in the face of even bulkier sets and set pieces (including an impressive storm sequence). There just isn't enough interpersonal action here for him to get worked up about. His main opponent, at least in the New World, played by Armand Assante, admittedly, the best-looking villain since Willem Dafoe popped onto our screens, but equally, got up in all black and spurs and looking like an extra from a Marilyn Manson clip, he is an implausible plot device. And if you can swallow Sigourney Weaver as Queen Isabella of Spain well you'd be doing well. There are a few stylistic gimmicks like rearing horses and in particular, foaming mouths, which are decidedly over-used. All-up, this is one project which, falling between historical recreation and adventure story, European costume drama and Hollywood spectacle, though perhaps admirable in aspiration, just didn't come off.




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