1492: Conquest of Paradise, 1992.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Armand Assante, Sigourney Weaver, Loren Dean, and Angela Molina.
1492: Conquest of Paradise arrives on Blu-ray in North America in a release that features some deleted scenes and a commentary track by a pair of film historians. If you’re a fan of this film, you might wish for more bonus features, but given its place in cinema history, you probably won’t get much more than this for a while.
Sometimes Ridley Scott captures lightning in a bottle, and sometimes he ends up holding shards of glass, his face covered in soot and his hair standing straight up, cartoon-like. 1492: Conquest of Paradise was one of his latter efforts, a movie that is beautiful to look at but which doesn’t quite come together. Perhaps it didn’t blow up in his hand so much as simply fizzle out.
The choice of Gérard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus was a casting decision that has been much ridiculed, but it’s not that bad. This is a movie that attempts to give a more nuanced portrayal of Columbus, someone who wasn’t a larger-than-life hero nor a dastardly villain. However, the man’s more unsavory aspects were shoved under the rug in favor of a narrative that casts him as a victim of others who caused strife with the natives they encountered.
From that viewpoint, Depardieu was someone cast against expectations, and he holds his own in the role, although his attempts to affect an Italian accent often distract from his performance. Likewise, Sigourney Weaver’s turn as Queen Isabella I of Spain fails to convey the kind of gravitas one would expect from such a character.
Scott’s direction is a bit of a mixed bag too. There are plenty of beautifully composed shots, such as Columbus’s famous ships sailing against a brilliant setting sun, and there are smaller moments that resonate too, like a close-up of a line of ants carrying small bits of vegetation as Columbus tries to recover from an arduous battle. However, Scott sometimes lapses into moments that are unintentionally cartoonish, such as an excessive amount of slow-motion shots during the battles and a silly moment when lightning strikes a cross and sets it ablaze.
This new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber has more bonus materials than previous North American home video releases. There’s an Australian DVD that has some interviews on it, but most other editions have been pretty bare bones. This release serves up about 8.5 minutes of deleted and extended scenes presented without context, along with a gallery of trailers for other Kino releases and a commentary track with film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.
The commentary offers an interesting retrospective on the making of the movie and its spot in history, starting with its origin as a spec script by Roselyne Bosch, who saw the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s famous trip approaching and decided that it would make a great 1992 release. Amazingly, she was able to attract the attention of Ridley Scott, but, like many other movies, the making of 1492: Conquest of Paradise was a rollercoaster ride.
Berger and Thompson approach the subject with some reverence, noting at the beginning that it’s surprising the movie has been pushed aside, despite the fact that it was directed by someone as esteemed as Scott. They do a good job of filling in the details that fans will be looking for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★