Zardoz
U.K. / 1974
Directed by John Boorman
Starring
Sean Connery
Charlotte Rampling
John Alderton
Color / 106 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
7
    10   10 = Highest Rating  
Undeniably, this is the best sci-fi movie ever to feature Sean Connery loping about in a loincloth.
Actually the garment looks more like a diaper... He also sports a ponytail, ammo belts and thigh-high pirate boots. A far cry from James Bond's Saville Row suits to be sure. But if any actor has the macho screen presence to carry off such an ensemble, it's Connery.
Zardoz is an ambitious, visually arresting science fiction allegory from John Boorman, acclaimed director of Deliverance, Excalibur and The Tailor of Panama. Belying what on the surface seems like a fairly simple, straightforward plot, this is not a movie that's particularly audience-friendly. (Some find it just plain silly. Parts do veer perilously close...) All manner of metaphors and symbolism are thrown at you so many, in fact, it'll take repeated viewing to pick up on all of them. Provided you don't prefer your movie plots/themes spoon-fed to you, this should prove a worthwhile experience.
The film is set in the year 2293. Most of Earth has been ravaged by some kind of cataclysm. Its cities rubbled, the countryside is a charred, blasted wasteland. The pathetic remnants of the human race "Brutals" who exist on a primitive level are hunted down and killed by the Exterminators, a more advanced group of humans who use horses and guns. The Exterminators worship Zardoz, a giant flying stone head that has gifted them with firearms and what limited knowledge they possess. Their mysterious god has always had but one simple commandment: Kill the Brutals. For Zed (Connery), an Exterminator chieftain, this has always been enough.
But suddenly, everything changes. Mighty Zardoz has a new edict: the campaign of genocide against the Brutals will stop. Instead they will be enslaved and forced to grow food. The resulting crops will be gathered and placed 'aboard' Zardoz when the flying head stops by at harvest time. Warrior Zed, who loves nothing more than the thrill of the chase and the excitement of the kill, is mystified and disappointed. What right does God have to change His mind?
Zed and his followers among the Exterminators want answers. He stows away in the stone head when it lands to take on the harvest. While Zardoz flies through the clouds toward an unknown destination, Zed explores its interior. Inside he finds naked humans in some kind of stasis, encased in plastic. A man in strange garb (Niall Buggy, already introduced to us as "Arthur Frayn" in the film's bizarre prologue) suddenly appears. With Visigothian brusqueness Zed plugs him with his Webley. The man falls to his death (or does he?) from the open mouth of the stone head but not before recognizing who shot him. "You!" he exclaims to a puzzled Zed as he plunges out of sight. Soon thereafter Zardoz sails over a lush, verdant countryside, descending to land by a large house near a lake. Zed disembarks from the stone to scout out his environs. A new world of strange wonders awaits the Exterminator. Zardoz has brought him inside the Vortex private enclave of the Eternals, immortal beings who are intellectual giants compared to the barbarians who struggle to survive in the wasteland beyond.
Their compound protected by an invisible force field, inhabitants of the Vortex lead decadent lives of unending leisure. Captured, Zed becomes a catalyst for disruption among them. One faction, led by the scientist Consuella (Charlotte Rampling), wants him studied quickly and then destroyed. The other, championed by Consuella's companion May (Sarah Kestelman) and the sarcastic Friend (John Alderton), wish to spare the outlander for either prolonged examination or simple amusement. Zed has other plans, however. He already knows the true secret of his "god" (which is revealed in a flashback sequence that will throw you for a loop the high point of Zardoz's Swiftian narrative). The Eternals have underestimated this "savage"...
As mentioned, Boorman's movie may well overwhelm the viewer with heavy concepts. Religion, science, the nature of Man, class distinction, politics they're all touched on in unusual ways. You should also know that the story doesn't exactly unfold in a linear fashion. But if you have a taste for the decidedly offbeat and enjoy science fiction that actually causes you to think, then Zardoz could just be the ticket. To a future that doesn't work.

Fox's December 2002 DVD release of Zardoz brings the sci-fi cult fave to American home video in widescreen format for the first time. Even the most cursory comparison between this new anamorphic edition and previous VHS Pan & Scan releases should cure anyone of their fear of the dreaded "black bands". In Pan & Scan, much of Boorman's striking compositions are simply lost widescreen is the only way to see it. Picture quality is virtually unblemished though at times seems soft. (Not the fault of the transfer; that's the way much of it was apparently shot.) A new 3.0 Dolby Surround sound mix also contributes to the film's otherworldly ambiance.
Extras include the trippy theatrical trailer one can only imagine the reaction of audiences to it in 1974 a collection of radio spots narrated by The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling (appropriate choice!), and a rather limited stills/poster gallery. Director John Boorman provides an interesting, if halting, audio commentary to his work; he's either naturally a slow, deliberate speaker or was inadequately prepared for the recording session. His anecdotes about working with Connery are best. 12/17/02
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