I think of Ridley Scott as a badass. Chalk it up to me being a little tyke when Gladiator and Black Hawk Down came out, or to his most famous films being the sleek and surefooted sci-fi flicks Alien and Blade Runner. I watched his most recent film Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which Moses is played by Batman, and the reaction was more or less the same: this dude just made the Bible badass. Let’s be clear in stating that Exodus is a pretty poor effort, and so I don’t mean “badass” as a full compliment. But that sleekness and that direct, immediate pacing holding a healthy amount of action is what I associate Scott with, and if nothing else Exodus certainly was a spectacle.
Then I watched 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Gérard Depardieu plays Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, fighting to explore what he knows to exist past the European horizon. The film opens in 1490 or so, as Columbus gathers a head of steam for his royally-financed expedition — the always-superb Armand Assante plays the nobleman Sanchez, and Sigourney Weaver plays Queen Isabel. Columbus pushes for his dream. Sanchez and Co. conspire to gain from the ambition of the explorer, and there’s an overwhelming sense in this opening half-hour that — for lack of a better descriptor — shit is about to go down. Maybe Sanchez will plant a spy on the Santa Maria, or maybe he’ll do something even more dastardly.