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Film / 1492: Conquest of Paradise

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1492: Conquest of Paradise is a 1992 historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the official discovery of the American continent by Europeans and taking the form of a biopic of Christopher Columbus. Vangelis composed the soundtrack.

In 1485, Christopher Columbus (Gérard Depardieu) had already been refused once by the King of Portugal the means to try crossing the Atlantic Ocean, sailing to the West. He turns to Castile and travel to Granada to meet Queen Isabella (Sigourney Weaver), who, after another refusal, finally allows him to sail away, on August 1492.

What happened then... is history.

The cast also includes Loren Dean as the older Ferdinand Columbus, Armand Assante as Gabriel Sánchez, Michael Wincott as Adrián de Moxica, Tchéky Karyo as Martín Alonso Pinzón and Frank Langella as Luis de Santángel.

1492: Conquest of Paradise provides examples of:

  • Age Lift: Columbus' sons. Diego was only 5, yet is played by 17 years-old Juan Diego Botto, and Fernando is played by Billy Sullivan, aged 10, while the real one was actually not born yet when we see him in the introduction, and was only 4 when Columbus first left.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • It is easy to say Columbus as depicted in the movie shares with the real man the name and very broad characteristic of "the guy who discovered Americas", but everything else falls into massive levels of Historical Hero Upgrade, described below.
    • Columbus sons weren't even in their teens when he left for his first journey.
    • Santangel was much more important than depicted in introducing Columbus to the Queen. He wasn't a mere banker, he was the finance minister of Castile.
    • The movie uncritically parrots the old ideas about Columbus "proving" the Earth isn't flat. No European in the 15th century with half a brain cell thought the earth was flat. Oddly, this is contradicted within the film not much later when the Spanish only object to Columbus' plan because of his gross miscalculation of the Earth's circumference.
    • The movie also bombastically claims that the 15th century Spain was "a nation gripped by fear and superstition, ruled by the crown and a ruthless inquisition that persecuted men for daring to dream." Refuting such a claim goes probably beyond the capabilities of this page, but hopefully, even the least history-savvy viewer will find it maybe a bit biased.
    • Getting technical, Columbus wasn't the first European to discover America. Leif Eriksson was. And of course the native Americans knew that the place they lived in actually existed.
    • As History Buffs pointed out, we see turkeys at the beginning of the movie. Even though turkeys came from America, which obviously hasn't been reached yet by the Spanish, and they were exported around the year 1519, years after Columbus died.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Columbus gets crowned Viceroy and Governor of the Indies after he returns from the first trip.
  • Bold Explorer: The treatment Columbus gets is to portray him as iron-willed explorer, who has to fight against all odds and strong opposition to reach his ends.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Columbus is often wearing white. Wicked nobles are wearing red or black, like Moxica.
  • Historical Domain Character: It's a biopic of Christopher Columbus, so it's a given. Aside the man himself, there is Isabella of Castile, her ministers, various members of Columbus crew and so on.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Columbus is depicted as a calm, kindly explorer who is fascinated by the Native peoples he encounters when he reaches San Salvador. In reality, as deduced from Columbus' own writings, the man was aggressively religious to the point of fanaticism (which is never shown in the film)note  and considered the Native people he met to be an "intrusion of nature" - he had absolutely no respect for them, and as a governor of San Salvador enslaved most of the indigenous population that he didn't outright massacre - to the point that he was considered excessively brutal even by contemporary Spaniards, leading to The Catholic Monarchs to remove him from his job.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • The Spanish Inquisition is portrayed as the classic "evil religious zealots that fight any sign of progress".
    • Adrian de Moxica was a colonizer and a rebel against Columbus. While he was almost surely guilty of atrocities to the Natives, the film makes him the chief perpetrator of all of it to present Columbus himself as a hero.
  • The Mutiny: Thrice during the story Columbus ends up with his men reaching their boiling point: first during their first journey, then when planning return and then during counter-massacre of the natives.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Gérard Depardieu never attempts to mask or change his French accent while playing the famously Italian Christopher Columbus.
  • Politically Correct History: Columbus is portrayed as the direct opposite of his aggressive, greedy and overzealous behavior, and isn't seen massacring or enslaving populations.
  • Scenery Porn: The highlight is the New World unveiling itself from a dense mist - which is what a dying Columbus remembers most of his travels.
  • Tantrum Throwing: In the monastery, Columbus loses it and starts throwing manuscripts around.
  • Title by Year: 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a 1992 film, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the official discovery of the American continent by Europeans and taking the form of a Biopic of Christopher Columbus. At some point in the film, it's August 1492 and he goes on his trip.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Inverted. Since it's the very start of Age of Discovery, the crew Columbus has at his disposal is not capable of feats required by the genre conventions and are openly mutinous many times, while dying in droves due to their lack of proper preparation and knowledge.