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Overly ambitious 1492 gets lost in its confusing plot

Conquest of Paradise
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Written by Roselyne Boch.
Starring Gerard Depardieu, Armand Assante,
and Sigourney Weaver.
Loews ''

By Craig White

Conquest of Paradise tries to tell too many stories in its more than two-hour running time. The movie itself is very similar to the voyage of Christopher Columbus -- long, confusing, and lost.

The film opens with a scene between Columbus (Gerard Depardieu) and his 9-year-old son (Billy Sullivan), in which he shows the boy that the world is round. They are sitting on the shore looking out at a ship sailing west, watching her disappear below the horizon. The seaman and son have an interesting relationship throughout the film and it is through the boy's remembrances that the film gets its historical base. After this scene, the movie is often interrupted by narration in an attempt to move the action along and give some needed information. The narratives also give a sense of veracity which the film desperately needs. Often the action seems unbelievable. For example, at one point during a storm in the islands of the New World, a lightning bolt strikes a cross in the middle of the town built by Columbus' men, setting it on fire.

The first half of the movie focuses on the vision of Columbus and the primary obstacle between him and a northwest passage to the Orient -- funding, not the ocean. After defending his theory about the shape of the world before the church and the state, he is offered an audience with Queen Isabella (Sigourney Weaver). He sells his idea to the queen, who feels that there is not so much to lose in the gamble of a few ships: "The same cost as two state dinners." We then move on to the sea voyage, with the same hardships one can find in any other "sea voyage" movie. The crew gets angry, they threaten to mutiny, Columbus gives a rousing speech, and they push onward.

The New World scenes, filmed in jungles reminiscent of the islands south of the United States prior to the "conquest," are beautiful to look at but too long. A great deal of time is spent "looking around," as if the audience doesn't know what a jungle looks like.

1492 tries to compress years of historical research into an entertaining film between two and three hours long -- a difficult undertaking for director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner). There are many interesting and entertaining things to be found in the film, but they are hidden among blank stares from Depardieu, lingering silences, and confusing relationships that are never truly followed through to a conclusion. Perhaps if one or two of the many relationships in the movie became the focus of attention, 1492 wouldn't seem so vast. The entertaining moments were there, but they never seemed to come together. The acting was mild in most cases and the stereotypical nature of the antagonists was disappointing. Weaver did stand out in the scenes she shared with Depardieu, given her power as royalty and the natural power she usually brings to the screen. I found myself wishing for her return as the movie dragged on.

1492: Conquest of Paradise sets out on a task much like that of Christopher Columbus -- the distance is too far to travel. In addition, much of the quality is lost in the telling of so large a story. If the movie stuck to the time period either before the voyage, after the voyage, or even during the voyage, there might have been a coherent story in it. If you are interested in history and don't mind sitting through some lengthy pauses, you might enjoy it. But you'd better not go to this one tired, or you might find yourself hoping for a mutiny.