1492: Conquest of Paradise is a 1992 epic historical drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and starring Gérard Depardieu, Armand Assante, and Sigourney Weaver. It portrays a fictionalised version of the travels to the New World by the Genoese 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 over 1,000 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 (possibly another tribe) 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 neither go with his brothers nor return 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.
- Gérard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus.
- Armand Assante as Gabriel Sánchez, Columbus’s archrival in Castile.
- Sigourney Weaver as Queen Isabella I.
- Loren Dean as Older Ferdinand Columbus.
- Ángela Molina as Beatriz Enríquez de Arana.
- Fernando Rey as Antonio de Marchena.
- Michael Wincott as Adrián de Moxica, Columbus’s archenemy in the Indies.
- Tchéky Karyo as Martín Alonso Pinzón.
- Kevin Dunn as Captain Méndez.
- Frank Langella as Luis de Santángel.
- Mark Margolis as Francisco de Bobadilla.
- Kario Salem as de Arojaz.
- Billy L. Sullivan as Younger Ferdinand Columbus.
- John Heffernan as Brother Buyl.
- Arnold Vosloo as Hernando de Guevara.
- Steven Waddington as Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher.
- Fernando Guillén Cuervo as Giacomo Columbus, brother of Christopher.
- José Luis Ferrer as Alonso de Bolaños.
- Bercelio Moya as Utapán.
- Juan Diego Botto as Diego Columbus.
- Achero Mañas as Ship’s Boy.
- Fernando García Rimada as King Ferdinand V.
- Albert Vidal as Hernando de Talavera.
- Isabel Prinz as Dueña.
- Jack Taylor as de Vicuña.
- Ángela Rosal as Pinzón’s Wife.
- Silvia Montero as Pinzón’s Daughter (uncredited).
Overall, the film received mixed reviews from critics.
1492: Conquest of Paradise opened in US theatres on 09 October 1992. The version released there was edited to 150 minutes, with some violence and brutality removed in order to achieve a PG-13 rating. 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.
- The replicas of Columbus’ ships used in the film were built in Spain between 1990 and 1992.
- In 1992 they sailed the route of Columbus’ first voyage to commemorate to 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.
- Today they are exhibited in Palos de la Frontera, Spain, and they are visited by approximately 200.000 people each year.
- Screenwriter Rose Bosch got the idea for the project when she discovered millions of untranslated parchments while researching an article on Columbus.
- After joining forces with a French film executive, she finally found an interested director in Ridley Scott, who had always wanted to make a movie about Columbus.
- Scott agreed to direct the film on one condition: Columbus must be played by Gérard Depardieu.
- Depardieu was contacted, and eager to take the part.
- Sigourney Weaver was always Ridley Scott’s first choice to play Queen Isabella.
- However, when re-shoots for Alien 03 (1992) were taking longer than expected, Anjelica Huston was considered for the role.
- Weaver became available only at the last minute.
- The film shot for 16 weeks.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Ridley Scott.
- Producer(s): Alain Goldman and Ridley Scott.
- Writer(s): Roselyne Bosch.
- Music: Vangelis.
- Cinematography: Adrian Biddle.
- Editor(s): William M. Anderson, Francoise Bonnot, Les Healey, Armen Minasian, and Deborah Zeitman.
- Production: Gaumont Film Company, Légende Enterprises, France 3 Cinéma, Due West, and CYRK Films.
- Distributor(s): Gaumont (France) and Lauren Films (Spain).
- Release Date: 08 October 1992 (Spain) and 12 October 1992 (France).
- Running Time: 154 minutes.
- Rating: 15.
- Country: France and Spain.
- Language: English.