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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 112.06)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • 4 Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Interviews - 72 min

1492 - Conquest of Paradise

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 149 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Back in 1992, the 500th anniversary of explorer Christopher Columbusís discovery of the ďNew WorldĒ prompted an expensive bout of competition between filmmakers, with two large-scale movies doing battle to be the first to reach cinemas in the anniversary year. One of them was the embarrassingly dreadful Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, produced by the Salkind family (of Superman fame), written by Godfather creator Mario Puzo and directed by James Bond stalwart John Glen. That now-forgotten flop might have won the race to be seen first, but it was Ridley Scottís 1492 that scored the prize for watchability.

Itís a hard story to screw up, really. The idealistic, driven Columbus, certain that his theories about a mainland to the west are correct, sets off on a voyage to discover them, against all the odds and with an increasingly annoyed, hungry crew. Heís vindicated when he finds new land, but the introduction of European ways to the previously untouched native cultures there has predictably tragic consequences.

Certainly 1492 looks nice; in typical Ridley Scott style, every carefully-prepared Panavision shot is loaded with sumptuous detail, rich colour, the trademark Scott falling-rose-petals gimmick (see Legend or Gladiator for further details) and enough over-the-top lighting effects to make Russell Mulcahy pick up his bat and ball and go home. But pretty pictures are almost a given when dealing with a Ridley Scott film; where 1492 stumbles is in the storytelling, a problem that starts with the screenplay and is exacerbated by Scottís fondness for visual symbolism. For the first two thirds of this very long film, the story is told economically and without too much dwelling over the fine details; itís basically an against-the-odds adventure movie. But when Columbus arrives back in the West Indies on his second voyage, the script goes south. Suddenly there are good guys and bad guys battling it out, but itís impossible to tell exactly whoís who or why; all we see is a lot of pouting, grimacing and blood. Perhaps itís an attempt to convey the anarchy that the island descends into; if so, it fails. Adding to the problem is Scottís attempt to turn this sequence into some kind of wordless ballet, complete with slow motion carnage and an unintentionally hilarious shot of a crucifix being set on fire by a bolt of lightning. All the good work done by the film to that point is undone in five minutes as a good yarn turns into a confusing and tedious photoplay.

Acting throughout is suitably over the top, and while Gerard Depardieu has come in for some flack over his performance as Italian explorer Columbus, heís actually perfect for the role; sure, the thick French accent isnít exactly authentic, but then, Sigourney Weaver gives Queen Isabel a New York drawl and nobody seemed to mind that at the time, nor the fact that much of the Spanish aristocracy sounds decidedly British!

A flawed attempt at a full-scale epic historical film, 1492 still offers much thatís worthwhile, and is certainly fascinating to watch in the light of Ridley Scottís subsequent output. If it were better attuned to its charactersí emotions, it might have worked a lot better than it ultimately does.

  Video
Contract

Umbrella Entertainment has come to the party for this long-overdue region 4 release of 1492, with an anamorphic transfer in the filmís correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio - a transfer previously only available on the German DVD release, and obviously imported from that country (the opening title still reads 1492 - Die Eroberung des Paradieses!) Other DVD releases of this film - including Foxís UK disc - have offered it cropped to 2.20:1, the ratio used for 70mm theatrical prints that were struck at the time.

Using a very clean and problem-free source, this transfer presents the film reasonably well, though itís not quite up to the current state of the art. Thereís some grain visible throughout, and colour saturation isnít quite what it perhaps could be. Nor are black levels, which tend more towards the green-grey much of the time, causing shadow detail to collapse during a couple of key scenes. But overall, the filmís never looked better on home video, and itís a relief to finally be able to see it in its full widescreen format.

The layer change, by the way, is dreadful; placed in the middle of a scene, it interrupts the music score and the flow of the sequence and took an unusually long time for our review player to navigate.

The video encoding is exceptionally well done, and presents no problems despite the occasional use of very low bitrates.

  Audio
Contract

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack heard here was only previously available on the German DVD release, other countriesí versions using the original Dolby Surround audio that most heard theatrically. This multi-channel version of the soundtrack is not a modern remix; itís the mix done for 70mm prints of the film, which carried six-channel magnetic audio. The difference in mix style from modern 5.1 mixes is quite striking, too - most notably in the surround channels, which are almost constantly active and mixed at a much higher level than is common today. Itís most definitely an immersive soundtrack, if not always the most realistic.

Fidelity is reasonably good, though location dialogue and effects have a tendency to sound tinny and midrange-biased, and there are quite a few scenes where itís near-impossible to decipher what Depardieu is saying. The LFE channel gets good use throughout, though it may have been artificially created for this Dolby Digital version. The music score is by Vangelis, and appears to have been mixed in full surround; many will know one of the more majestic pieces of this score, as itís been obnoxiously used in trailers for other films since.

  Extras
Contract

Umbrella beats all other comers with this release of 1492 when it comes to extras; most of the other releases donít have any at all, save for a trailer. This release shows what a little digging around can do to add value to a disc. Like all Madman-authored DVDs, this one is encoded with DVD Text (with the mysterious suffix ďProĒ) and a jacket picture for players that support such things.

Interviews: There are three separate offerings here, all of which appear to have been sourced from SBS Television in Australia. The most rewarding is a 36-minute (!) interview with producer Alain Goldman, raw unedited camera footage of an interview done by The Movie Showís Margaret Pomeranz. Thereís also an eight-minute Pomeranz chat with Ridley Scott, shot outdoors at Cannes. And finally, whatís listed as an interview with Depardieu is actually a 30-minute (very!) raw tape of a press conference featuring Depardieu, his interpreter and Goldman. All up, thatís nearly an hour and a quarter of archival material; it may be raw and unedited, but thatís part of the pleasure of it. Weíd like to see more of this done; certainly SBS is to be commended for being so generous with its archives.

Theatrical Trailer: If youíve ever wanted to be reminded how bad video transfers were back in 1992, watch this.

Umbrella Propaganda: Trailers for Bagdad Cafe, Cinema Paradiso, My Beautiful Laundrette and Red Rock West.

  Overall  
Contract

Unlikely to go down in history as the masterpiece it so obviously wants to be, 1492 is nonetheless well worth a look; fans of large-scale epic cinema (or of Ridley Scottís unique visual flamboyance) will find enough here to keep them entertained in spite of the movieís flaws.

Umbrella Entertainment has delivered the best available DVD of this film to date, with a decent widescreen transfer, 5.1 audio - and best of all, worthwhile extra features that are unique to the Australian release.


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      And I quote...
    "...the best available DVD of this film to date"
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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