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Soundtrack review: 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis – 1992)

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Soundtrack review: 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis – 1992)

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“1492: Conquest of Paradise” (in French, 1492 : Christophe Colomb) is a 1992 French-Spanish epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Roselyne Bosch, which tells the fictionalized story of the travels to the New World by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (Gérard Depardieu) and the effect this had on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The film was released by Paramount Pictures to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. Vangelis wrote the score and the previous collaboration with Ridley Scott, “Blade runner”, is still one of the best scores ever.

The opening of the score with the ethnic woodwind instruments actually makes me think of one of James Horner’s favorite motifs.; it’s a discrete and mysterious opening that leads into, well, one of the most easily recognizable pieces of music not only from Vangelis but from any film music score. “Conquest of Paradise” has been used countless times on trailers, TV shows or any other visual distraction you could think of. I would say that next to “Chariots of fire” this is the most well known Vangelis theme with the inspirational choir and the melodic chimes. The synth, the sheer beauty and emotion of this piece that evokes vast, miraculous places and, yes, paradise, make it easily one of the best film themes ever written. The composer managed to capture in this simple tune both an indescribable beauty and how overwhelming and awe-inspiring a new, unknown and majestic place might be. This cue makes me feel respect, gratitude and devotion. This isn’t just music, it’s art and it deserves the iconic, legendary status it has achieved through the years.

The Vangelis gets to the ambient synth sound that few can do as well as he; “Monastery of La Rabida” captures the reflective and melodic magic of “Blade runner” and there are moments when I get misty eyed listening to this cue and it’s fragile, touching electronic musings. The choir plays a part in here as well, more subdued, more subtle, just enough to crank the goose bump lever up another notch. Some cues just have that feeling of a sanctuary, of a place out of space and time where I feel protected and loved, of the purest sensation of home. I am now in my life in a place where I finally feel at home, for the first time, and this cue just echoes what’s inside me. I have never felt it as close as I do now. This cue and “West across the ocean sea” are my favorites, the cues that just render me incapable of doing anything else other than just let them take me over; this is my deepest musical soft spot, this calm, reflective and magic ambience that only the synth can induce. This is what I’ve known from the start, from my earliest memories and nothing is as comforting.

I love it how Vangelis manages to weave the ethnic Hispanic sound into his synth fabric and make it feel so natural, so honest; there are subtle touches, be they some wooden instruments or an acoustic guitar motif that make me think of the Latin world. The entire score has an almost religious sound, warm, comforting, elegiac at times. The choral parts are angelic and as soft as silk and they are the moments when the score tells me when the story takes place. I get the feeling of exploration, or discovery, all carefully crafted in an unforgettable composition. There is a little pieces called “Eternity” which I guess evokes the simplicity of the inhabitants of the new land as it also reminds me in the beginning of the Malaesian chants from Hans Zimmer’s “Thin red line”. The Zimmer nostalgia is also strong in the rest of the cue as I get a wonderful “Black rain” vibe from it. The addictive pace of “Hispaniola”, the suave and dreamy sound of the cues that describe the boat journeys are all variations that make this album feel like a captivating story.

If somehow you haven’t heard this score until now, in its entirety I mean since it’s almost impossible not to know the main theme, it’s as good a time as any to hear the richness of motifs, the wonderful ambient or how that main theme appears in its divine piano version in “Twenty Eighth Parallel”. “1492: Conquest of paradise” is a landmark in film music history and one of the most beautiful hours of music you can listen to. It’s a dream.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 55 / 55

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
Opening
Conquest Of Paradise
Monastery Of La Rabida
City Of Isabel
Light And Shadow
Deliverance
West Across The Ocean Sea
Eternity
Hispanola
Moxica And The Horse
Twenty Eighth Parallel
Pinta, Nina, Santa Maria (Into Eternity)

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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