ZULU (1964) is an epic, true story about the battle between an undermanned British mission defending themselves against hordes of attacking Zulu warriors. Set on January 22, 1879 in Natal, this film tells of the brave defense by overwhelmed British troops at the small outpost of Rorke's Drift. In the end, 150 British soldiers fought 4000 Zulus.
Having been warned that a British army contingent has been recently been killed by Zulu warriors that are now moving on Rorke's Drift, Lt. John Chard (Stanley Baker, who also produced the film) orders his troops to remain and defend the site. Despite the pleas of second-in-command Lt. Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine, in his first major motion picture), the British troops begin preparations for battle and attempt to withstand a seemingly never-ending series of attacks.
This amazing film manages to be very accurate in its depiction of the Rorke's Drift attack. Additionally, it contains some of the greatest battle scenes ever committed to film. The acting is brilliant and the script is wonderful -- after a slow start that sets up the situation and clarifies the characters, the action picks up and the movie never looks back. You definitely should not be bored watching this excellent film.
ZULU has apparently been the victim of some rights disputes and therefore has been available on VHS and DVD in a variety of public domain/budget editions. Most of these have been terribly panned and scanned and poor quality, ruining the wonderful widescreen cinematography. Recently, Diamond Entertainment released a widescreen DVD (letterboxed at approximately 2.0:1) that had very good picture quality. Fans of this film will be happy to hear even better news -- this new edition from GoodTimes Home Video maintains the proper aspect ratio, but improves upon the picture quality of the Diamond edition.
The source prints used for the Diamond and GoodTimes editions are identical (or very, very similar). However, colors on the GoodTimes are much more vibrant than the drab, washed-out Diamond DVD -- it's noticeably more lush and colorful. There is some minor damage to the print, but nothing distracting. I didn't notice any major compression issues either.
The picture quality is not perfect and doesn't compare to major studio releases. It is not 16x9 enhanced and, at 138 minutes, really pushes the limits of a single layer DVD. Increasing the bit rate and putting the film on a DVD-9 would probably have helped improve the quality even more. But for the seven or eight bucks this DVD will cost, you won't have any major complaints.
The 2.0 mono soundtrack is very good and I noticed no major problems, aside from some slight distortion. It's quite dynamic for a mono track and most people should be pleased.
Aside from a page of nearly illegible production notes in a very small font, there are no extras on this title. The DVD does contain 18 chapter stops for scene access -- a big improvement over the 4 on the Diamond edition.
NOTE: The GoodTimes version runs about 20 seconds shorter than the Diamond. The only difference between the two is right at the beginning. Diamond opens with a title card that says "An Embassy Pictures Release", then the music starts and the credits begin with Joseph L. Levine Presents. The GoodTimes version omits the Embassy credit and starts right up with the music and Joe Levine title.
ZULU is an amazing movie that everyone should see at least once. Most action/historical film fans will find themselves returning to it again and again. While it is disappointing that a major classic like this has not seen a proper release, it is also good to know that an acceptable budget edition exists. I can highly recommend the GoodTimes widescreen DVD of ZULU -- at least until Criterion or some other company releases an anamorphic "official" DVD.