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1492: Conquest of Paradise;Christopher Columbus: The Discovery

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Last year the quincentennial of the discovery of America lent itself to one of the biggest movie busts of all time: the release of two expensive, atrocious epics, each chronicling the voyage to the New World. On video now, both films prove just how tiny grandiose ideas can be. Director Ridley Scott’s 150-minute 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992, Paramount, PG-13, $95.95) has been photographed as if the New World had been discovered by Mirabella. Then, once the laddies reach land, there’s enough slo-mo to have made the late action director Sam Peckinpah arch his bushy eyebrows. As an Italian in Spain struggling with the English language, Gerard Depardieu is-how you say?-awful. But things do perk up when the ravishing Sigourney Weaver, as Spain’s Queen Isabella (wearing the biggest hair this side of a Kentucky diner), shows up and engages in a little sexual politics. And there’s an auto-da-fe (more commonly known as heretic burning) near the beginning that’s a lot more exciting than anything following it. If 1492 is laughable for its pretensions, the junky Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992, Warner, unrated, $94.99), a history lesson for the faint of mind and the dull of heart, is equally laughable for its lack of them. As the explorer, George Corraface has all the charisma of a banana. And as Torquemada, Marlon Brando for the first time in his career is a momentous bore. As the King of Spain, Tom Selleck has to be seen-and heard-to be disbelieved. Compared with The Discovery, 1492 seems an astonishing advance both in storytelling and visual narrative. Both these lumbering mastodons are living, if barely breathing, examples of how Hollywood so easily confuses a thought passing through its head with an actual idea. 1492: D+ The Discovery: F