Sitting on the ruined walls of an Inca stronghold not far from Cusco in Peru, our local guide felt compelled to address the issue of how it happened that the pitifully small army of Francisco Pizarro managed to overcome the vastly superior military manpower of the Inca Empire. It is a conundrum that has preoccupied the West over the turning of the millennium thanks primarily to the works of Jared Diamond.* The consensus is that guns, germs, and steel gave the Europeans the advantage.
There is only one movie in my archive that takes up this theme. It is Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969) and it did not do well at the box office. Beginning its life as a play on the London and New York stages, it was a lengthy dialogue between Pizzaro and the Inca king, Atahualpa (say Ata-whall-pa). Interesting though it might have been, the talkiness did not translate to good cinema. It may be useful, however, for anyone interested in a two-hour exposition of a perplexing issue.
Part of the answer to this mystery lies in the strange sense of inevitability that accompanied the arrival of the Europeans on New World shores. The forces of nature and the clash of cultures had orchestrated a negative destiny for the indigenous people of the Americas. The spectacular ceremonial center of Machu Picchu, far into the Andes, still raises more questions than it answers.
All that is left in the movie record of this region is the legend of El Dorado, a mythical city of gold, sought but never found by the Spaniards. There is a fairly ridiculous animated treatment of the legend by Jeffrey Katzenberg at DreamWorks, called The Road to El Dorado (2000) – based loosely on Voltaire’s Candide. If manufactured legends from these regions hold interest for you, see also Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). This is one of those areas where it becomes more interesting to study how Hollywood misses the point.
*See Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (1999) and Collapse (2005).
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