Christopher Columbus: The Discovery

In 1992, several similarly themed movies sailed the ocean blue. It was the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus, and it goes without saying that mainstream audiences go absolutely fuckin ape shit for any movie commemorating a quincentenary. So who could blame producers for knowing for sure there was gonna be some intense Columbus Fever infecting the indigenous population of movie theaters, and wanting to hop aboard that ship? For example, Gaumont put together 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE, which was directed by the great Ridley Scott, with cinematography by Adrian Biddle (ALIENS) and music by Vangelis.

But that one didn’t come out until October. The one that came out August 21, 1992, causing me to have to watch it, was CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: THE DISCOVERY. That’s the one produced by the father and son team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, best known for producing the SUPERMAN movies. And then SUPERGIRL and then SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE and then Alejandro Jodorowsky’s disowned THE RAINBOW THIEF and then this. They had such a terrible time with this one that they quit the business (though Ilya did do one more movie, DANCING FOR MY HAVANA, 23 years later.)

Timothy Dalton was set to star as Columbus while he was waiting for the 007 rights situation to clear up between LICENCE TO KILL and what was supposed to be his third Bond movie. But when original director George Pan Cosmatos (COBRA) backed out a few weeks before filming, Dalton and Isabella Rosselini (who would’ve played the queen, I assume?) followed suit. Weirdly, though, the replacement was Dalton’s Bond director John Glen (whose ACES: IRON EAGLE III also released in summer of ’92). That wasn’t enough to bring him back.

So instead Columbus was played by French-Greek actor Georges Corraface (THE MAHABHARATA). I recognized the name – turns out it’s because he plays the revolutionary Cuervo Jones in ESCAPE FROM L.A. THE DISCOVERY is mostly about how this guy is handsome and charming and visionary and correct and very sure of himself (but very polite) in the face of nobody believing in him, and in fact actively, angrily thinking he’s wrong with his radical geographical ideas and getting mad at him for talking about them. He rarely gets upset. He just smiles and continues being Christopher Columbus.

King Ferdinand V (Tom Selleck, SUPERDOME) doesn’t believe in him and won’t let him do the expedition to the West Indies he wants to do. Torquemada (Marlon Brando between THE FRESHMAN and DON JUAN DEMARCO) doesn’t believe in him and interrogates him for blasphemy until he argues that going against this particular conventional wisdom about the earth does not go against anything specifically religious. (The Inquisitor lets him go, but spends the rest of his scenes standing around grumbling about him.) Robert Davi (also in WILD ORCHID II:TWO SHADES OF BLUE that year) doesn’t believe in him, and stabs a raw egg with a dagger to get him to shut up (long story).

(Okay, actually, not that long of a story. Columbus is always doing little demonstrations with watermelons and eggs and things to show his ideas, so Davi gets mad about it and stabs an egg in front of everybody. Harsh.)

It does turn out that Queen Isabella (Rachel Ward, NIGHT SCHOOL, SHARKY’S MACHINE, FORTRESS) believes him, though, so he gets to go on the journey. The catch is that the majority of the crew still think he’s full of shit and must be proven wrong and humiliated, so they root against him the whole way, conspire against him, argue with him, try to get him to go back. He holds his head high and valiant and feels bad when (in one of multiple mutiny attempts) he accidentally knocks two guys off the boat and they get eaten by sharks (not the first members of the crew that this happens to, by the way).

Eventually they arrive, there are topless Native Americans, etc. At least Branscombe Richmond (completing his summer of ’92 quadrilogy of BATMAN RETURNS, DEATH RING, ACES: IRON EAGLE III and this) gets to play “Indian Chieftain,” who has a big crown and passes around a pipe that they smoke through their nostrils. Then he drinks their wine and burps. Great part.

It doesn’t look cheap or anything (the budget was $45 million, $10 million more than LETHAL WEAPON 3, and I bet they didn’t have to pay Georges Corraface Mel Gibson money) but it’s just so cinematically plain and undistinguished. Just, very adequate and not at all compelling. Cliff Eidelman (STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY) does a very normal symphonic score like you’d expect in an old boat adventure movie, they know how to operate cameras in a professional manner, etc.

Usually when a familar story is being retold yet again, filmatists (whether consciously or not) at least slightly update it for their time, incorporating the contemporary style and trends and interests or showing it from a new angle or something to make it fresh and current and worth making and watching. For example, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES the previous summer was very much like a movie of its time and not like other versions of the story. One might expect a 1992 Christopher Columbus movie to try to use filmmaking advancements of the era and explore the topic from a modern perspective.

But no, I don’t think anything like that ever crossed the minds of the Salkinds. It’s hard to believe this is a historical boat movie from only five years before TITANIC. Hell – hard to believe it’s two years before CABIN BOY. It really seems like something that had been sitting on a shelf since at least 1984, deemed too dull to release. I’m sure that’s partly just the muddy transfer of the DVD (an important – it only came out on VHS here), but there’s no way looking at this movie I would’ve guessed it was from the ‘90s if not for the appearances of

1) Catherine Zeta-Jones (in her second movie, following Philippe de Broca’s 1001 NIGHTS) as Columbus’ wife Beatriz Enriquez de Arana


2) Benicio Del Toro (LICENCE TO KILL) as Alvaro Harana, one of the guys in the crew who most hates Columbus. He’s disappointed when Columbus turns out to be right, then in America his father (Oliver Cotton, FIREFOX) catches him raping the locals and they have a sword fight. Alvaro loses but uses a dirty trick to kill his dad and later cries about it and then goes into what seems like a cocaine rage calling people “savages” and stabbing a random dude.

I guess the idea is that Columbus wasn’t the bad guy, he was just the guy who convinced all the bad guys to come, and gave them a ride, and didn’t stop them, and then went home and was treated as a hero and got to use a fancy new title.

Of course, doing an expensive international co-production competing to beat another movie on the same topic and including a hunky TV star and a screen icon who has gotten weird and gained weight is absolute Razzie bait. And I can’t really stand up for their performances – it really is goofy to see Magnum P.I. wearing a crown, and Brando is only mildly interesting to watch, and doesn’t seem very invested in it. (I was surprised to see him in more than one location, though. I think three total. So maybe the budget went to him.)

Anyway, yes, Brando was nominated for a Razzie, and lost to Selleck. THE DISCOVERY was also nominated for worst picture, director, new star and screenplay – which, by the way, was by Mario Puzo of THE GODFATHER fame, along with John Briley (Oscar winner for GANDHI) and Cary Bates (a veteran comic book writer the Salkinds had hired to write the Superboy TV show).

I don’t know if this is the worst thing I’ve watched in the summer of ’92 series, but it’s the most boring. I dedicate this review to Fred Topel, because I was gonna skip this movie until I saw him say that it was one of the reviews he was looking forward to. I forgive him though, because I agree that this is a strange phenomenon that should be included in the record of the kind of shit that went down on movie screens in the summer of ’92.

P.S. The anniversary also brought us CARRY ON COLUMBUS and a cartoon called THE MAGIC VOYAGE, and I will not ever watch those, thanks.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 26th, 2022 at 7:06 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery”

  1. One of the few things I am proud of America for is roundly and without caveat rejecting Columbus Fever. Whether or not we as a people were ready to accept the fact that this scumbag didn’t discover shit and didn’t even prove the world was round since most everybody already knew that anyway, we all smelled a rat and refused to give these soulless cinematic conquistadores our money. Columbus can get fucked and so can these bullshit movies.

  2. I don’t know anyone who was even in the slightest excited about any of these films. I mean, the Ridley Scott one, sure, and it was a nice-looking movie, but the sort of thing you’d catch if absolutely nothing else was available. Hoariest of the middlebrow shit.

    Having said that, please please please don’t watch Carry On Columbus. Say what you want about that film series (I don’t like them, but a lot of people do – think corny ’50s style humor and lots and lots of double entendre) that one movie is about as far from funny as a comedy can get. Terrible, just terrible.

  3. Awww, thanks Vern. I saw this in theaters because it was a new release. Hated it but I did remember Corraface when he showed up in Escape from LA.

    I didn’t know it never even got a dvd release. The thing is 1492 isn’t good either but I guess it’s at least better made? There truly was no Volcano in this situation.

    God damn that was a weird summer! And I think the late august dumping ground might be the weirdest batch of the bunch. I hope there are a few more coming.

  4. I would like to point out that this is what comes up in the RELATED POSTS footer for this review:

    1. Dark Phoenix
    2. I Spit On Your Grave De Ja Vu
    3. My Review of The Steven Seagal Blues Band at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle
    4. Dogtown and Z-Boys

    I don’t know how the algorithm churned out this seemingly random hodgepodge, but I’d like to think that any combination of those elements would HAVE to be more entertaining than this fuckin’ movie.

    A rape-revenge flick about skateboarders with telekenesis going up against a honkey blues band led by an overweight authoritarian apologist who knows aikido sounds pretty awesome, actually.

  5. The day will come when I watch CARRY ON COLUMBUS, because as a fan of old slapstick movies I am indeed one of those people who like the CARRY ON series, but sheesh, nobody ever said something good about it, including the people who worked on it.
    I haven’t seen any of the big or small Columbusploitation movies that came out during that time, but I think 1492 is these days best remembered for its theme, which dominated the german single charts for months, two years after the movie came out, when boxer Henry Maske chose it as his entrance music.

  6. CJ – As someone who doesn’t like the series but finds at least some funny bits in most of them… I’d say you’re better off rewatching any of the other ones instead of Columbus. Ooh matron it blows.

    Re: the authoritatian apologist – Dunno if anyone’s brought it up around these parts, but he’s recently put out a novel titled “The Way of the Shadow Wolves: The Deep State And The Hijacking Of America.” And yeah, seems like it’s just as bad as it sounds. At least the cover is hilarious:

  7. I saw THE MAGIC VOYAGE on BBC (great use of taxpayers’ money) one holiday day with my grandparents. I remember enjoying it; I was about 11, which is kind of old for me to just say “eh, I was just some dumb kid”, so I have to own that. I think it was still just quite novel to see an animated film that didn’t feel like a Disney film.

    CARRY ON COLUMBUS wasn’t really a hit in the UK, but it was the highest grossing of the Columbus films here. It’s pretty difficult to explain what the CARRY ON films were to the uninitiated. Lowbrow MONTY PYTHON? More prolific old-timey Broken Lizard? A POLICE ACADEMY with no continuity? A Bond series that’s all DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER or THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN with a fraction of the stunts and an exponentially higher number of PG-rated innuendos? Anyway it was a series that racked up 30 films from 1958 to 1978, plus numerous television specials and stage shows. They had a fluctuating core cast, and there was the odd sequel, but they mostly all had different settings and characters, often genre parodies. They generally did pretty well at the UK Box Office although in the 70s they started to lose their audience to films like the CONFESSIONS OF series, which married the same kind of innuendos with actual nudity. CARRY ON #30 tried to catch up with the “saucier” CARRY ON EMMANNUELLE, but it didn’t work and, coupled with a few deaths among the regulars, led the franchise into hibernation until COLUMBUS 14 years later. There’s been several attempts at a revival since, but they’ve all stalled.

    What was weird about COLUMBUS was that it had a lot of members of the British “alternative comedy” scene that had broken through on TV about a decade earlier (COMIC STRIP PRESENTS, THE YOUNG ONES etc) with a “non-sexist, non-racist” mission statement; the CARRY ON films weren’t the kind of acts they had directly in their sights, and some of them clearly had a similar fondness for double entendres, but it still seemed an odd fit. Granted Julian Clary in a CARRY ON made perfect sense, but Alexie Sayle? Not so much. One of them (Peter Richardson, writer/director of THE POPE MUST DIE(T)) was even planning to write and direct the next film.

    Anyways that’s a Franchise for you to check out when you’ve got a spare month Fred.

    I’ll admit it; I think 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE is pretty darn good. But given that it’s a *very* romantic take on Columbus (akin to an adult fairy tale) starring Gerard Depardieu I probably don’t want to be too committed to that fandom in 2022.

    I never saw this one, but the Salkinds are fascinating figures. Kind of throwbacks even in their prime, and certainly by 1992, yet simultaneously kind of ahead of their time. No doubt if they were at it today they’d be talking excitedly about what they’d do with “the Columbus IP”.

    In conclusion the best quincentenary souvenir was America: What Time Is Love? by The KLF

    The KLF - America: What Time Is Love? (Radio [7"] Edit)

    The KLF - America: What Time Is Love? (Radio [7"] Edit)

  8. Comparing CARRY ON to POLICE ACADEMY works for me, although of course one has to imagine that Mahoney and co change jobs in every sequel and it’s not Mahoney and co, just the same actors playing different characters but at times with the same quirks and catch phrases.

    And I just learned that THE MAGIC VOYAGE aka PICO AND COLUMBUS was not just a German production, but at its time even the most expensive German cartoon movie ever! That’s not a recommendation, by the way. Just a fact. It does amuse me though that even Germany wanted a piece of that sweet Columbus pie.

  9. It’s also the second of two films made by the same company about Woodworms on famous ships, following 1988’s STOWAWAYS ON THE ARK, about a sassy (I’m guessing) Woodworm chilling on Noah’s Ark.

  10. I believe vern started Way of the Shadow Wolves to be a completist. Am I misremembering that? I thought he shared some passages on Twitter.

    Now that is more than even Franchise Fred would subject the good man to.

  11. I really like the Cliff Eidelman score on album (standard old-timey boat movie music, sure, but *magnificent* standard old-timey boat music), but yeah, in the movie itself it just feels as weirdly generic and listless as everything. I saw it way back when I was 14, and do remember liking a couple of things about it – Davi plays Pinzon with a charisma and energy otherwise missing from the performances and I quite liked the scene where Columbus convinced the crew to join him with the eggs. But otherwise, it was incredibly boring. I was already a huge Bond fan and was particularly fond of Glen’s Bonds, with Licence to Kill always being one of my very favorites, so I was specifically disappointed that it was so blandly directed. Not that his Bonds are especially distinctive stylistically, but they do have *some* style. 14-year-old me couldn’t even be engaged with all the naked natives at the end. Ebert had a great line about the nudity:

    “Columbus encounters friendly Indians, of which one – the chief’s daughter – is positioned, bare-breasted, in the center of every composition. (I believe the chief’s daughter is chosen by cup size.)”

    Seeing 1492 is even further back – I believe I was 8. (Even as a little kid, I was big into history and convinced my mom to rent that from Blockbuster at some point.) I do remember even that far back that it was absolutely stunning visually, and I love the Vangelis score an order of magnitude more than the Eidelman one. But my memories of it are otherwise pretty hazy; I think I kind of liked it, but it was probably a bit too artsy for me at the time.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you had to suffer through this but glad we got a review out of it – it’s kind of a fascinating bad film. It was sort of the end of the era of bad big-budget films being bad in these particular ways – even the really terrible ones started at least being highly slick and competent. And it was probably about the last time you could make a Columbus film where he was the hero, and even then, it didn’t go over especially well. (As I recall, 1492 also leans heavily toward the “genocide was mostly other people’s fault” theory, in that case being all Michael Wincott’s fault.)

  12. I believe the KLF discovered America. At least, that’s what I’m teaching my children.

  13. I actually have seen STOWAWAYS ON THE ARC in theatre when I was a wee CJ, but the only two things I still remember about it are a scene where a fly accidentally flies in some guys nose, gets sneezed out and is covered in snot afterwards, and a pretty dark joke where all the animals board the arc, then in the last second a dinosaur shows up with an egg. First they don’t wanna let her on board because the rule says “two of every species”, but then they decide to count the egg as a partner, only for her to drop and break it, so the last dinosaur is doomed to die in the flood.

  14. Forget about Columbus. We all know very well from the documentary THE NORSEMAN, with Lee Majors, Cornell Wilde, Mel Ferrer an Jack Elam, that America was discovered by a viking dressed as a roman legionaire!

  15. There’s a Mitchell and Webb sketch where the premise is a guy is basically in the middle of a CARRY ON movie, but he hasn’t got the hang of what the vibe is meant to be with these things:

    Bawdy Hospital

    That Mitchell and Webb Look - Season 2 Episode 1

  16. He’s also named Askwith (presumably) after Robin Askwith, star of the aforementioned more explicit CONFESSIONS films, which might be another layer of commentary (or may just be a tip of the hat).

  17. Regarding the Carry On series, I’ve read that as a general rule the good ones are the ones with a period setting. Also I can personally vouch for Carry On Screaming as a pretty funny parody of 60s gothic horror.

  18. I love that this review has prompted us to discuss literally anything except that piece of shit Columbus.

  19. We can still do it a little

    Sopranos - Furio on Christopher Columbus

    From the Season 4 episode "Christopher”

  20. I hope there’s an afterlife, so that Christopher Columbus’ family and social legacy of rape and destruction is given infinite, incomprehensible-to-our-earthly-mind suffering. Elsewhere, Tom Laughlin is hopefully being given the most VIP treatment that could ever be possible.

    The best Carry On movie is CARRY ON DISARMING, an NME anti-nuke charity videotape that features both my favorite music person of all time (Kirsty MacColl) and my close second (Chris Sievey), along with an all star cast, including Throb his most Slash, the beautiful sound of 14 Iced Bears and The Bachelor Pad at their most awesomely annoying. Also, The La’s, like you hear at the supermarket when life decides to be momentarily beautiful, and the RI intensity of Throwing Muses.


    Pacman and Dread, are either of you a fan of any of those bands? Pac, I’d still recommend the Frank Sidebottom documentary to you and would be so overjoyed to hear what you think about it, particularly at this moment in time. The same goes for DreadG, Vern and all y’all. And Pac, I didn’t mention it elsewhere, but thank you again, sincerely. I appreciate your friendship and hope to meet you if my life’s dream of moving to England can ever happen.

    I dig The KLF, but to me the real career highlights are found on Bill Drummond’s “The Man”, a great LP featuring the wonder of The Triffids.

  21. Hey ALF, I was quite into The La’s album at one point in my life, as well as the bass player John Power’s more ordinary (and thus more commercially successful) band Cast, who I saw live a few years ago. I agree Kirsty MacColl was great, I’m not too familiar with the others, although there are certainly a fair few bands on that tape I’ve liked at various times in my life, particularly the Inspiral Carpets. Interesting that the original, pre-hit version of Sit Down by James is on there. I heard the original much bleep-ier, pre-hit, no-cartoons-in-the-video version of Take on Me by A-Ha in a shop recently, surely a weird mistake.

    You know what band was heavily involved with/associated with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament before they were famous? The Thompson Twins, I shit you not. This is when they were fluctuating between a five and seven piece (I think eight at one point?) band, so they were even more offensive to mathematicians and Tintin purists. This version of the band recorded In the Name of Love which is on the GHOSTBUSTERS soundtrack.

    I will check out BEING FRANK when I can and post about it here.

  22. “Also, The La’s, like you hear at the supermarket when life decides to be momentarily beautiful”
    Have to say, that’s as good a description of trancendental pop as I’m ever likely to hear, and it fits Here She Comes to a tee. I’m so going to steal that.

    That’s a really eclectic, interesting lineup of brit acts. Mostly bands I only listen to every now and then in compilations, but I am or have been at some point a pretty big fan of The Mekons, Wedding Present, Pogues and New Order. I adore the older Jesus and Mary Chain stuff, before they went a bit Madchester, but IIRC that track isn’t that great. And Napalm Death.. a blast of aggression is nice every now and then, but these days for Grindcore I’d go to Anal Trump; Justin Broadrick’s stuff is always interesting, though, especially when he went shoegaze-ish with Jesu.

    Nice compilation!

  23. Hey ALF, don’t know if you’ll read this but hope you’re doing OK out there. Just wanted to say that I finally saw the Chris Seivey documentary, and really enjoyed it. Him covering “We Are the Champions” and changing it to a dis track about Little Frank is one of the funniest things I’ve seen recently. Always a little bittersweet on a self-pitying level to see people who had the same kind of weird ideas and fantasies as a kid many of us do who actually took the next step and actually did something with them as an adult, but great that he did it and shared it with the world. Jealous of the YELLOW SUBMARINE Nursery he painted for his kid, almost as cool as this Mickey Mouse one from a news story 15 years ago that I still think of semi-regularly.

    I saw it after signing up for a Free Trial of the BFI Player, because I wanted to see a documentary about my grumpy arthouse bae Peter Greenaway made by his wife about his relationship with their daughter. There’s a bit near the start where their looking at an artwork made of smashed together Spongebob, CARS and Minions toys and much else. Was hoping we’d find out what his favourite Minion was (almost certainly Stuart), but no dice. He did like the piece though.

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