|1492: Conquest of Paradise|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ridley Scott|
|Produced by||Alain Goldman|
|Written by||Roselyne Bosch|
|Edited by||William M. Anderson|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|October 8, 1992|
October 9, 1992
October 12, 1992
|Box office||$59 million|
1492: Conquest of Paradise is a 1992 English-language French-Spanish epic historical drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and starring Gérard Depardieu, Armand Assante, and Sigourney Weaver. It portrays a fictionalized version of the travels to the New World by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and the effect this had on indigenous peoples.
The film was released by Paramount Pictures to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage. The premiere debuted at almost exactly the same time as Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, often leading to confusion between the two films.
In the beginning, Columbus is obsessed with making a trip westwards to Asia, but lacks crew and a ship. The Catholic theologians at the University of Salamanca heavily disapprove of it, and they are not keen on ideas that go against the writings of Ptolemaeus. After continuous warnings at the monastery, he becomes involved in a brawl with the monks, ending up lying in the monastery courtyard to pay penance. His eldest son, Diego, one of the monks, looks on disapprovingly. As Columbus continues his penance through a vow of silence, he is approached by Martín Pinzon, a shipowner from Palos, who introduces Columbus to the banker Santángel. Queen Isabella I (Sigourney Weaver) owes money to Santángel. Columbus meets with the queen, who grants him his journey in exchange for his promise to bring back sufficient amounts of riches in gold.
Columbus tricks many crewmen by telling them that the voyage would only last seven weeks. He goes to confession at the monastery to absolve his sins, and the monk reluctantly gives him absolution, as he is unable to inform the crewmen without breaking his oath. The next morning, three ships leave for the trip to Asia, with the flagship being the Santa Maria. During the voyage at night, Captain Méndez notices him navigating by the stars, a skill previously known only to the Moors. Columbus then happily teaches how to use the quadrant to find the North Star and that the 28th parallel must be followed to find land. Nine weeks go by and still no sign of land. The crew becomes restless and the other captain turns against Columbus. He tries to reinvigorate them, to let them see the dream that he wishes to share. While some of the crewmen were still not convinced, the main sail suddenly catches the wind, which the crewmen see as a small act of God's willingness. At night, Columbus notices mosquitoes on the deck, indicating that land is not far off. Some days later, Columbus and the crew spot an albatross flying around the ship, before disappearing. Suddenly, out of the mist they see Guanahani ("San Salvador") with lush vegetation and sandy beaches, their first glimpse of the New World.
They befriend the local natives, who show them gold they have collected. Columbus teaches one of them Spanish so that they are able to communicate. He then informs them that they are to return to Spain momentarily to visit the Queen and bring the word of God. They leave behind a group of crewmen to begin the colonisation of the New World. Columbus receives a high Spanish honour from the Queen and has dinner with the Council. They express disappointment with the small amount of gold he brought back, but the Queen approves of his gifts. On the 2nd expedition, Columbus takes 17 ships and 1,500 men with him to the island; however, all the crewmen left behind are found to have been killed. When the tribe is confronted by Columbus and his troops, they tell him that other strangers came and savaged them. Columbus chooses to believe them, but his commanding officer Moxica is not convinced. They begin to build the city of La Isabela and eventually manage to hoist the town bell into its tower, symbolising the arrival of Christianity in the New World.
Four years later, Moxica cuts the hand off one of the natives, accusing him of lying about the whereabouts of gold. The word of this act of violence spreads throughout the native tribes and they all disappear into the forest. Columbus begins to worry about a potential war arising, with the natives heavily outnumbering them. Upon return to his home, he finds his house ablaze by Moxica and his followers, confirming his unpopularity among a certain faction of the settlers. Soon, the tribes arrive to fight the Spaniards and the island becomes war-torn, with Columbus' governorship being reassigned with orders for him to return to Spain.
Christopher Columbus is accused of nepotism and offering administrative positions to his personal friends, thereby injuring the pride of the nobles such as Moxica; so, he is replaced by de Bobadilla. It is revealed that Amerigo Vespucci has already travelled to the mainland America. Therefore, Columbus returns to Castile. Columbus is sentenced to many years in prison, but he is bailed out by his sons soon after. When summoned by the Queen about seeing the New World again, he makes a case for her about his dream to see the New World. She agrees to let him take a final voyage, with the proviso that he does not go with his brothers nor returns to Santo Domingo or the other colonies. Columbus and his son go to Panama. The closing scene shows him old, with his youngest son writing down his tales of the New World.
The following production information is excerpted from the Paramount Pictures Pressbook given to reviewers of the film:
In 1987 journalist Roselyne Bosch - then senior writer for Paris's Le Point magazine - went to the archives of Seville to research an article on the early preparations for the Columbus quincentennial. Shown copies of Columbus's first letters to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, Bosch realized she had found a fascinating subject for a screenplay and began years of intensive research, focusing on translations of original documents as well as the numerous books that had been written about Columbus.
Bosch remembers, "I chose to explore the most exciting theory about him - that he was a rebel who pushed the limits of his time; not just geographically, but also socially and politically. You can't imagine a more complex personality that his. There are several men in one."
After Bosch teamed with French producer Alain Goldman, the duo set their sights on attracting a major film director. "Bosch's approach satisfied my curiosity about what kind of leader, seaman and father he was," says Goldman.
"They came to me with a detailed synopsis of the life of the man," comments Scott, "as well as a tapestry of the world he knew. It was intriguing to me at that point to see the historical overview. To understand Columbus, you have to understand his point in history.
"What fascinated me was the progressive disaster that engulfed both the islands and Columbus after the discovery," Scott says. "It was a great adventure, but for the man it was also a tragedy. He was accused of seeking gold and glory, but it was an idea that kept him going all those years before 1492. He was a visionary and a man with a conscience."
"We thought Roselyne's approach was very interesting," says Polka-Sotela. "As a journalist, she had clearly done her research and her approach was to be honest but fair about Columbus - his obsessions, what he did in order to try and fulfill his deams: both the positive and the negative results from the pursuit of this quest."
"He was a bright light emerging from a dark age, a man looking for renaissance," says Scott.
Scott and Goldman agreed to join forces, and, in the fall of 1990, they announced the project.
"Today it seems fashionable to re-examine history," Scott remarks, "and Columbus is receiving his fair share of criticism. Without question, he is one of history's provocative characters - a grand raconteur. He has also been accused of being a grand liar. Yet I think he can be forgiven. His elaborations convinced both the church and crown to take this 'giant leap for mankind.' One also cannot deny the man the courage it took to carry out a voyage into the unknown."
"Political clumsiness and brutality are words applied to his career and downfall," Scott says, "but one has to understand what was considered 'normal' in the 15th century - public burnings of heretics, the ruthless ousting of the Moors and the Jews from Spain. You have to understand the times to understand the man and his actions."
"At the time you could have your hands cut off for stealing a piece of bread and you could be burned at the stake for eating meat on Holy Friday," observes Bosch. "When historians are serious about it, they consider Columbus to be quite moderate.
"For a long time there was the cliché of the hero," Bosch says, "and now I'm afraid there is the cliché of genocide. The truth is in between."
As Bosch completed her script under Scott's guidance, the producers, along with the help of the CAA, Sinclair Tenenbaum, and Marriott Harrison Solicitors, secured international financing for what was shaping up to be one of the biggest independent films ever made. Ultimately, a package was assembled that encompassed a trio of elements: a three country co-production (England, France and Spain), advance sales to worldwide territories (through Odyssey Distributors), and a deal for U.S. and Canada distribution with Paramount Pictures.
The worldwide release of "1492" commemorates Columbus's first voyage on its 500th anniversary. Playing Columbus is France's Gerard Depardieu. "Anyone can sometimes make mistakes that hurt people," says Depardieu. "One of the reasons why I have such fondness for this film is that the character is so deeply human, someone with faults.
"I think that Columbus was an artist," Depardieu states. "Because when a man is looking for paradise, he's also looking for harmony, willing to find a better world. And that is the idea of an artist. I identify with all characters who feel the need to see something new. For a man like Columbus, anything is possible."
Depardieu's preparations included reading Columbus's letters. "He told me he wanted to hear his voice," recalls Bosch. "Nothing is better than the letters for that. Now we share the same passion for the character. Five hundred years later, Christopher Columbus is still extremely convincing."
Armand Assante portrays Sanchez, treasurer of the Spanish crown. "Sanchez actually existed, but very little is known about him," says Scott. "He personifies the nobility and the forces that eventually brought Columbus down."
"Sanchez isn't a villain, he's the guiding force of the reason of the state in the film," says Assante. "He speaks the truth, but dreamers like Columbus don't want to hear the truth. Eventually, Sanchez comes to realize that dreamers do have a place within the state and must be nurtured."
"I think Sigourney has a kind of stature as well as a vulnerability that I think Isabel must have had," says Scott. "And that's where the impact lay in the relationship between her and Columbus. It would be silly to suggest it was ever anything approaching sexual, but there was something that obviously impressed Isabel about him."
"Isabel always relied on her intuition," says Weaver. "When Columbus speaks about what he wants to do, she feels that he can really do it - she feels his passion is the same as hers. She thought that he was her kindred spirit, doing the impossible even more than she. That was the start of her great admiration for him."
Michael Wincott plays the disturbed nobleman Adrian de Moxica, who incites a brutal mutiny in the New World.
"Moxica is a creature of his lineage, a man of absolute and corrupt power," says Wincott. "To him, Columbus is a peasant and a foreigner, and taking orders from someone so beneath his station is total humiliation. It would have been impossible for them to get along."
"Like all countries in the world today, Spain is getting scarred by development," says Scott. "And so it was very difficult to find untouched environment."
Granted extraordinary privileges by the Spanish authorities, the filmmakers were allowed to shoot in world famous monuments like the Alcazar and Cada de Pilatos in Seville and the Old Cathedral of Salamanca - the Spanish equivalents of filming in the White House or Buckingham Palace. The opportunity to work in places Columbus actually visited - like the Alcazar and Salamanca's Convent of San Estaban - was a source of inspiration and awe for the cast and crew.
Production designer Norris Spencer and his team of art directors researched medieval and early Renaissance paintings and books to find references for the period. Often in the background of paintings and madonnas and saints they discovered domestic scenes displaying medieval objects. In Spain, 350 carpenters, laborers and painters would be required at the height of production.
As any item from 1492 would now be a precious antique, all the props were specially constructed for the film or later-era replicas were secured by set decorators Ann Mollo from antique dealers and prop houses in Madrid, Seville, Rome, and London.
Costume designer Charles Knode also studied art of the period. Discussing the more-than-3,000 costumes used in the film, Knode says, "What we always tried to do was have clothing, not costumes. We tried to make everything look lived-in."
Particularly challenging were the eight outfits Knode created for Queen Isabel, including a spectacular gold brocade gown with a 30-foot printed velvet train and gem-encrusted headdress.
As a Royal College of Art-trained artist, Ridley Scott has the advantage of being able to communicate directly with his production team by drawing pictures. Moments after scouting a new location or between takes, Scott often will himself illustrate the images he wants on screen. These drawings are then assembled, along with the work of the film's storyboard artist, into logbooks an used as a reference by key members of the crew.
Gerard Depardieu comments that he is accustomed to reflecting about a role and working out any problems before filming commences. "Once I'm on the set, it's like an explosion of joy," Depardieu says. "I am happy to follow the director and I don't want to convince him of a different approach to a scene. With Ridley Scott I've managed to build up exactly the kind of relationship I yearn for on the set."
"Costa Rica has been called 'the Switzerland of the Indies,'" says Scott. "It's balanced politically, has no army, and has 95% literacy. Apart from that I needed to have islands, beaches, mainlands, and jungle, and I found it all in Costa Rica."
While in Costa Rica, the production was based in Jaco, a small town frequented by tourists on the Pacific coast. After the bitter cold of the Spanish winter, the filmmakers were suddenly confronted with the heavy humidity and 100+ degree temperatures of the tropics.
The production team had to cope with such unwelcome gusts as alligators, scorpions and poisonous snakes. For safety's sake, a snake handler was employed to divest certain locations of the slithering reptiles. Another memorable part of the jungle experience was the haunting, shrill cry of the cicadas heard each day at sunrise and sunset.
Ten major sets were built in the environs of Jaco by production designer Norris Spencer and his team, including three Indian villages, a gold mine, and a long jetty, where the scenes of Columbus's departure from Spain was filmed. The most spectacular set was Columbus's city of Isabel, built on what had once been an empty field infested by snakes. In just three months, the barren 20-acre site was transformed into a burgeoning metropolis, complete with cathedral, city hall, an army barracks, a jail, and a two-story governor's mansion for Columbus.
The look of the city is an intriguing blend of European and Indian styles that Spencer describes as "a crossover between what the indigenous builders used and what the Spanish aspired to build.
Ridley Scott is a filmmaker celebrated for dramatic and action sequences by dazzling visual imagery. There were few camera set-ups for "1492" that weren't enhanced by atmospheric effects achieves by mist, smoke, rain, or fire.
Scott explains his goal is "to keep all elements under control. I try to make the air of the frame around the actors have life."
The production team enlisted, for six weeks, 170 indigenous people of Costa Rica comprising four tribes - the Bribri, Maleku, Boruca, and Cabecar - to play Indians that Columbus encounters in the New World.
Most of the principal Indian roles were played by six Columbian Waunana Indians who worked previously with executive producer Iain Smith on the 1986 film The Mission. They joined the production in Spain, portraying Indians brought back by Columbus to be presented to Queen Isabel. One, Bercelio Moya, has the role of Columbus's translator, Utapan. He is joined in the film by his father, Alejandrino, who plays Chief Guarionex, and his grandfather, Florin, who portrays the tribe's shaman. In addition, four other men from their village came to Costa Rica to build the totem poles, dugout canoes, furniture, and weaponry which adorn the various Indian villages seen in the film. "They understand very well what happened in history," says Claudia Gomez, who also worked with Waunana on The Mission. "They are very happy to show the world the cultures that Columbus encountered."
"I feel that the people we are portraying are both noble and dignified," says Alejandrino Moya, "and I would have been proud to have been part of their tribe."
Replicas of Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, and the caravel, the Pinta, were made in Bristol, England, by Square Sail, a British company that specializes in vessels for the motion picture industry. The two boats were refashioned from the waterline up, out of the hulls of two turn-of-the-century brigantines. The smaller caravel, the Niña, was totally constructed in Bahia, Brazil by the Columbus Foundation to commemorate the 500th anniversary. It is the culmination of the most recent research into the period and is considered by experts to be the most authentic discovery caravel ever built.
The Santa Maria and the Pinta left Bristol on December 10, 1991, and, following a route similar to Columbus's, sailed down to the Canary Islands and across the Atlantic to Costa Rica, arriving 55 days later, in early February. There they joined the Niña, which had arrived two weeks earlier from Brazil. While equipped with navigational equipment and diesel engines for total reliability, the three ships made the voyages largely through the use of the ship's sails.
"I've tried not to readjust history," says Ridley Scott. "There is madness and savagery in the film. We see Columbus go too far. Still, my aim is to take you underneath the skin of this character, so you can understand why he may have done these things. By the end of the film, Columbus has his own sense of remorse, but he can also take great pride in opening up a New World."
Renowned Greek composer Vangelis composed the score. Its main theme, "Conquest of Paradise", was used by former Portuguese Prime-Minister António Guterres at his 1995 election and it was used by the Portuguese Socialist Party as its campaign and rally anthem, although it was replaced by the main theme from Gladiator (curiously another Ridley Scott film) since the first José Sócrates legislative elections campaign, which doesn't prevent the theme from still being deeply associated with the Socialist Party.
The theme is also used at the starting line of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc ultramarathon. The German boxer Henry Maske (former world champion (IBF) in the Light heavyweight category) used the main theme as his official entry theme during his professional career. Other usages of the theme include New Zealand Super 15 Rugby franchise the Canterbury Crusaders, as they run onto the field, often accompanied by actors dressed as knights and riding on horseback, and rugby league team Wigan Warriors who play in the Super League, as well as being played before the start of every match in the 2010 and 2014 cricket World Twenty20 championships as well as the 2011 Cricket World Cup. In these events the theme was played right before the national anthems of the two competing nations, as the flags of the two nations were carried into the ground, accompanied by the players of the two teams. The theme was also played in the Top Gear: US Special and became a signature piece for World Professional Champion figure skaters Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding. Despite the film's dismal box office intake in the United States, the film's score became a successful album worldwide.
1492: Conquest of Paradise opened in theaters on 9 October 1992. It was rated PG-13 in the United States because of violence and brutality. The film was not a success, debuting at No. 7, and ultimately grossing far below its $47 million budget. However, according to the Internet Movie Database, it reached a Non-USA box office of $52 million.
Overall, the film received mixed to negative reviews, with the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a "rotten" 32% rating based on 22 reviews with the critical consensus: "Historically inaccurate and dramatically inert, Ridley Scott's retelling of Christopher Columbus' exploits is an epic without grandeur or insight". However, film critic Roger Ebert said that the film was satisfactory, and that "Depardieu lends it gravity, the supporting performances are convincing, the locations are realistic, and we are inspired to reflect that it did indeed take a certain nerve to sail off into nowhere just because an orange was round."