Originally published: 28th September 2015
John Boorman’s 1974 post-apocalyptic science fiction cult classic comes to Blu-Ray in restored, feature packed resplendence.
Starring Sean Connery in only his second film role since his last official Bond (Diamonds Are Forever), stars alongside Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, and John Alderton in this stylish, and very quirky ‘future society’ tale.
To say that Zardoz remains a somewhat misunderstood slice of 70’s post ‘hippie’ sci-fi, is to sell it short while speaking no lie. People do seem to find it a tad unfathomable for some reason.
Having been a moderate fan of the film since childhood; this author has long since acclimatised to it’s innate strangeness. Where else for example can you see James Bond hairily running around in a red nappy, thigh high boots, bullet bandoliers, ponytail and Mexican Bandito moustache eh? Worth the price of admission alone, some would say. Add to that mix, the ubiquitous and copious bare breasts so typical of 'post Hays Code' 1970s cinema, and it’s a surefire winner….
To all readers who aren’t concerned with bare breasts in cinema (70s or otherwise); one profusely apologises for that last sentence, surely a mere throwback to watching the movie as a hormone flexing teenager.
So, what’s it all about, and is it as complicated and unfathomable as people think?
Well, It is actually a pretty simple if admittedly ‘high concept’ story which, stripped of the aforementioned female nudity, could easily fit in amongst the kind of thought provoking pure sci-fi adventures Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were having on TV half a dozen years previously.
The Plot in brief:
In a post-apocalypse future Earth, mankind has become divided into two basic groups. The all but immortal ‘Eternals’ and the entirely mortal ‘Brutals’. The Eternals live within a pastoral green and pleasant area called the Vortex. Within its shielded perimeters; they want for nothing (well almost nothing, but we will get to that).
The Brutals by contrast, populate the desolate wasteland (dare I say ‘cursed’ Earth) outside the Vortex, and toil the land to provide for the Eternals via religious observance to a god that reveals itself to them as a giant levitating head called Zardoz (stay with me).
Discipline and population control of the Brutals is managed by Exterminators, of which Zed (Connery) is a leader. The Exterminators also adhere to the violent teachings of Zardoz, and are instructed to rampage and kill. The weapons they employ in this endeavour are provided to them by ‘God’ himself (spewing forth from the mouth of the giant Zardoz head). They deliver unto Zardoz what belongs to Zardoz.
However, several hundred years of this new human paradigm have created a few unique problems. Namely, the Eternals have become sterile, frigid, and bored with immortality. They are directionless, and some (the Apothetics), even become completely catatonic.
The only punishment Eternals are able to meter out to each other is the penalty of ageing, but death evades them by design. Many Eternals simply crave nothing but the very mortality they have engineered out of their kind.
Anyway, Zed in a pique of curiosity that he doesn’t yet understand; stows aboard the Zardoz head and travels through the shield to the Vortex. Once there, his presence causes all manner of conflicts and irreparable damage to the Eternal’s way of life.
The film also suggests (in a rather pre-Matrix kind of way), that all of the events leading to the denouement have been carefully orchestrated ahead of time, in order to achieve the exact result that occurs. There is no free will at work here, simply deterministic, predictable behaviours that bring about the desired outcome.
Clear as mud?
OK, so pull back the curtain, watch the film again, and think especially hard about the link to The Wizard of Oz as revealed to Zed in the third act, as this is the film’s central tenant. Zardoz...the WiZard of Oz - Get it? Ok, just watch the movie.
Zardoz is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio i.e. nice and wide. If you are a home cinema owner, audio is provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0, for those who don’t there is also LPCM 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit) stereo audio as well.
Picture restoration quality is good, and certainly slap bang on the curve in terms of what we have come to expect from Arrow’s recent releases specifically, but this kind of movie in general (in terms of likely restoration budget). This means that for a movie of this kind, the quality on offer is very decent.
For anyone who originally discovered Zardoz on television in pan & scan, umpteenth generation degraded atrociousness, this cleaned up, wide screened presentation will delight. Yes, the bread is supposed to be green, in case you think someone has run amok with the colour grading.
This new edition comes packed with a pretty generous glut of supplemental material, including a very good director commentary. Here are the details.
Bonus Features (data pasted in from official product information):
New 4K digital restoration by Twentieth Century Fox, supervised and approved by John Boorman
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary with writer-producer-director John Boorman
Brand new interviews with Boorman, actor Sara Kestelman, production designer Anthony Pratt, special effects creator Gerry Johnston, camera operator Peter MacDonald, assistant director Simon Relph, hair stylist Colin Jamison, production manager Seamus Byrne, and assistant editor Alan Jones
Newly filmed appreciation with director Ben Wheately (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
Collector s booklet containing new writing on the film by Julian Upton and Adrian Smith, plus archive interviews, illustrated by original production stills.
John Boorman, flush from the success of Deliverance a couple of years previously; was able to finance and produce an indulgent passion project movie that continues to confound and bewilder even now. Whatever critics may say, Zardoz remains a very interesting piece of work, and is far more accessible than it’s reputation would have you believe.
Yes, Connery’s gameness in wearing that incredibly silly outfit tends to over shadow the more well thought out aspects of the story Boorman was trying to tell. However, a compelling concept is nonetheless underpinning it all rather confidently.
A strong supporting cast, and Cinematography from Mr. 2001: A Space Odyssey himself Geoffrey Unsworth; makes the film definitely worth anyone's time.
It is of course essential viewing for any Boorman fan, and it most definitely has a well earned spot in that rather interesting period of sci-fi cinema that falls between Kubrick’s aforementioned masterpiece, and Star Wars.