Category Archives: Columbus Day

The Age of Exploration! What would we know or care about such ancient history if it weren’t always ripe fodder for movies? Whether they involve grand endeavors, imperialist injustice, or both, movies might be the only way to salute this oddest, and most historically oblivious, of official celebrations.

The New World (2005)

Terrence Malick’s bleeding-heart romantic vision of the Pocahontas–John Smith saga, The New World is less interested in historical revisionism per se (it does Disney a step better, though) than it is in projecting a rhapsodic feeling for the unspoiled wilderness, frontier intoxication (Colin Farrell, as Smith, is as joyful and quivering as a child at Christmas) and the sun-burnished, beauteous glow of costar Q’Orianka Kilcher, whose Pocahontas should define the character in the popular culture for eons to come. (We’ll forget, as everyone has, that the real Pocahontas was about eleven years old and naked, clothes being permitted among the Powhatan only after puberty.)

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Mountains of the Moon (1990)

A terrific, overlooked revisionist epic of the Age of Exploration’s last days, as the impossibly cool Sir Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and the not-so-impressive John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) search Africa for the source of the Nile. If you’re of an anticolonialist mind-set, you’ll be happy to see that they get theirs; in addition, the spirit of Victorian clubs, British savoir faire, and National Geographic adventurism of Mountains of the Moon is intoxicating.

Cover of "Mountains of the Moon"
Cover of Mountains of the Moon

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

German New Wave adventurer Werner Herzog stranded his crew, his cast, and himself in the Andes to film this magnificent parable on fascism, which looks as if it were shot in the sixteenth century. The tale of a mutinied contingent of Spanish conquistadors, lost on a Peruvian river and led by megalomaniac knight Klaus Kinski, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a muscular, incredibly realistic experience (no safely dismissed special effects here)—a masterpiece.

The Far Horizons (1955)

Donna Reed doesn’t look much like the Sacajawea we have on our dollar coin nowadays, but The Far Horizons isn’t history; it’s Hollywood doing Lewis and Clark (Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston), whose actual trip would’ve made an eventless movie in the traditional sense, and so dramas are invented involving tribal war, a scurvy French trader (Alan Reed—that’s right, Fred Flintstone), and the love dance between Clark and Reed’s dewy Indian maiden. Shot in Grand Teton National Park.

Cover of "The Far Horizons"
Cover of The Far Horizons