True Action: 1492: Conquest of Paradise
Have you ever heard of Christopher Columbus? I just learned about him one October a couple of years ago. I had misplaced my phone and actually had to physically go to the bank. While I was on the nostalgia trip I decided to go to the post office as well. Much to my dismay, the bank was closed. The post office was closed. Even some of the streets were closed with fire trucks, the high school band and some union groups marching. It was a parade! In October! I asked a Jackie Presser wannabe what was going on, and I was informed that it was the Columbus Day Parade. I did some research and it turns out that the parade was not for the director of Adventures in Babysitting but the explorer credited with discovering what is now known as North America.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed under the Spanish Crown with three ships, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria to find a quicker, westward route to Asia. At the time, many believed the world to be flat, but Columbus knew it was round and would find Asia by going west. He did not know that a giant land mass was in the way and ran into what is today known as, thanks to Columbus, the West Indies. Columbus wasn’t the first to find North America. There was already an indigenous population there, and the great Viking explorers had already reached North America some 500 years prior. However, Columbus’ voyages are credited, and rightly so, with the start of exploration and colonization of the New World.
After 500 years, Hollywood decided that there was money to be made on the action packed adventures of Columbus and two major studios came out with competing Columbus films. Warner Brothers came out with Christopher Columbus: The Discovery in August of 1992. That film is not known for its historical accuracy, but has some Hollywood powerhouses behind the scenes, with the story being written by Mario Puzo (The Godfather and Superman) and being directed by John Glen (Aces: Iron Eagle III and several films from the James Bond series including For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill) In October of 1992, perfect timing for a quincentenary, Paramount came out with 1492: Conquest of Paradise. This film also had some directing chops behind it with action movie legend Ridley Scott at the helm. 1492: Conquest of Paradise is the truer of the action films so please imbibe on the knowledge flowing as we set sail on the SS True Action edition of 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
In 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Christopher Columbus is played by Gérard Depardieu. I have always been a fan of Depardieu’s natural French work, especially Mon pére, ce héros, but I came around to his English language films when I saw My Father the Hero, the English remake of Mon pére, ce héros. Depardieu brings all his gravitas to the role which really shows Columbus’ drive and desire to reach and settle in the New World. The audience feels Columbus’ anguish as he deals with trials and tribulations of command. The only drawback is his French accent fighting through trying to portray an Italian explorer working for the Spanish. C’est la vie.
An average action film can be catapulted into the great action film stratosphere with the inclusion of a great villain. 1492: Conquest of Paradise is lucky that the source material, true real life history, provided such a villain. Adrian de Moxica was Spanish explorer who accompanied Columbus on the voyage to the New World. de Moxica was involved in a rebellion against Columbus after the frustration of death of crew members and lack of gold and riches that were promised. The movie watching public was lucky that a quality actor was cast to play de Moxica, Michael Wincott. Many at Bulletproof Action are familiar with site favorite Jeff Wincott, but his younger brother excels at playing a villain that you love to hate. The viewer can almost feel the tension between Columbus and de Moxica and it makes me wonder if Depardieu and Wincott really didn’t like each other or if it was just two actors at the top of their craft.
The rest of the cast is filled with spot on portrayals, or what we can assume are spot on portrayals for people that lived 500 years ago. Sigourney Weaver plays Queen Isabella, the impetus behind Columbus getting his ships. Armand Assante is not a personal favorite of mine, but since he plays Gabriel Sanchez, another enemy and rival of Columbus, it makes even more fun to root against him. Tcheky Karo plays the loyal Martin Alonso Pinzon, and a better shipmate you couldn’t ask for. [Except maybe Robert Davi who played Pinzon in The Discovery.] The rest of the explorers and voyagers include the likes of Kevin Dunn, Mark Margolis and Arnold Vosloo. I don’t want to make the mistake that Columbus made and has plagued America since, ignoring the indigenous population. The actors playing the natives were inspirational as you could see their fright, confusion, interest, anger and all the other emotions arising out of meeting their strange visitors.
1492: Conquest of Paradise has a knockout score that was composed by Vangelis. The main theme, “Conquest of Paradise”, is such a stunner that the Portuguese Socialist Party uses it as their anthem. If it is good enough for the Portuguese Socialist Party, it is good enough for me. Honestly, I enjoy pretty much everything from Vangelis and don’t need the Portuguese Socialist Party’s approval, but it doesn’t hurt.
1492: Conquest of Paradise and even more so Christopher Columbus: The Discovery are both difficult to find. 1492: Conquest of Paradise was released on DVD, but extremely rare. Christopher Columbus: The Discovery was never released on DVD in North America, but you international readers can look for the DVD. I continued my nostalgia trip by watching on VHS, if you know what that is. I have two theories on why we haven’t seen more of these movies. The first is that the titles are too long with neither title being able to fit on a standard DVD case. I have seen posts on this very website that are shorter. The second reason is that the movies are a touch controversial due to the depiction and treatment of the native population. In our politically correct climate, the actions depicted can offend some. When you go out to make a movie based on True Action, you can’t be afraid to tell the truth, and while all of Columbus and his cohorts’ actions weren’t pretty, 1492: Conquest of Paradise did a good job of not sugarcoating. When you get a chance to watch either of the Columbus films, take the chance and maybe you will understand why the bank and post office are closed on that one random day in October.
For a more detailed but quick history lesson on Christopher Columbus and not the movies based on him, check out: