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Steven Spielberg Resurrects a Lost Dalton Trumbo Script for Amazon

The miniseries will focus on the conquests of explorer Hernan Cortés.
By  · Published on March 27th, 2018

The miniseries will focus on the conquests of explorer Hernan Cortés.

The story of Hernan Cortés has taken a long time to reach American pop culture. We’ve seen the unstoppable consumption of the conquistadors detailed in Aguirre: The Wrath of God, The Fountain, and Apocalypto, but the 16th century explorer has made very few appearances in cinema himself. César Romero as Cortés has a cameo in the 1947 film Captain from Castile, and Winnie the Pooh’s Jim Cummings voices the tyrant in the Dreamworks animated feature The Road to El Dorado. That’s about it.

Steven Spielberg has been attempting to bring Cortés’s saga to the screen since 2014, and according to Deadline the project will finally be realized as a four-hour miniseries for Amazon Studios. Based on an un-filmed, 60-year-old Dalton Trumbo screenplay, Cortés will be produced by Amblin Television and adapted by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s ListGangs of New York) and will star Javier Bardem as the infamous conquistador. Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey of The Americans will oversee as executive producers.

Trumbo’s original script, entitled Montezuma, explored the relationship between Cortés and the Aztec ruler he vanquished. Then planned as a film, the project was originally meant to be directed by John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and star Kirk Douglas (Spartacus, Ace in the Hole). Trumbo’s eventual blacklisting made the movie impossible, and the allure around the screenplay grew significantly as one of the greatest Hollywood What-Ifs.

Four years ago, Spielberg brought on his Schindler’s List screenwriter to rework Trumbo’s script, still for a feature film, after failing to get Robopocalypse and his version of American Sniper off the ground. Ultimately, the director moved on to Bridge of Spies, and his Cortés film found a new home and a new format.

Javier Bardem has also been attached to the project since that 2014 development. As he tells Deadline, he’s excited to tackle such a complicated and dark character:

“It is a privilege to tell this epic story— one that is full of drama and conflict within this huge, historical spectacle where two distant civilizations clash at the height of their reign. The best and worst of human nature came to life in all its light and darkness. As an actor, there is no better challenge than to serve such a unique project that I have been passionate about for years, and I am thrilled to be working with this dream team of Steven Spielberg, Steven Zaillian, and Amazon.”

This first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas was brutal, bloody, and barbaric. Cortés seized much of mainland Mexico for the Spanish government. He achieved this by joining some of the indigenous people against others. When the governor of Cuba sent soldiers to arrest Cortés for refusing to halt his expedition, he battled them and won. Once he overthrew the Aztec Empire, Cortés demanded that his king recognize his conquest instead of his flagrant mutiny.

Containing such an epic story in one film would be a challenge. Four hours might not even be enough. Spielberg, Zaillian, and Bardem have their work cut out for them. To see such a historically rich character brought to life will be worth the weight. Cortés has been percolating for a very long time, and Amazon should be able to provide the scope the character deserves.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)