A weary, ragged band of Spanish soldiers makes its way through the New World jungle, staggering beneath the searing tropical sun. Christopher Columbus, a bearish, hulking man with beads of sweat falling from his shoulder-length brown hair, leads his men through the charred remains of what was once a small colonial settlement: eerie skeletons of crude wooden huts, blackened skulls, shards of broken pottery. ”There will be no revenge,” he says in heavily accented English.
Here on the edge of what is, in fact, the Costa Rican jungle, French film star Gerard Depardieu, Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise), and an international film crew are remaking history with 1492. In February, after two months of filming in Spain (with Aliens‘ Sigourney Weaver playing Queen Isabella), the cast and crew invaded the small Costa Rican coastal town of Jaco, renting every available four-wheel-drive vehicle and building a replica of the New World’s first colonial city, Isabella — complete with stone cathedral and village square. The production wrapped in March.
Set for release by Paramount in October to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first landing in America, 1492 will encounter some competition: Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind (Superman) and featuring Georges Corraface, Tom Selleck, Rachel Ward, and Marlon Brando, will be released this summer. Will Depardieu, the earthy star whose only other English-speaking role was in Green Card last year, be able to make the $44 million epic a success with American audiences? Says Scott: ”Gerard Depardieu is Columbus. He is an extremely passionate character driven almost purely by his intuition.” Meanwhile, in between takes, Depardieu brandishes his sword, his booming voice breaking the stillness of the jungle. ”Just like Mel Gibson,” he shouts with a laugh.