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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Zardoz (Blu-ray)
Zardoz (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // R // April 14, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 4, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Highly Recommended
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There's an excellent article circling the Internet these days decrying this so-called hipster notion of projecting a superior attitude through the derision of old movies, to laugh out loud and even talk back to the screen to let others no you're not to be fooled by anything less than photo-realistic special effects and, God forbid, anything resembling honest human emotion.

Writer Amy Nicholson's comments might equally be applied to a movie like Zardoz (1974), a post-apocalyptic science fiction drama written and directed by John Boorman. Made in the wake of thoughtful, ambitious, and profoundly adult science fiction films like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972), Zardoz likewise sticks its neck way, way out there, with an audacious look and offbeat concepts in almost every scene.

It's the kind of a film that demands its audience 1) meet the filmmaker halfway, to suspend disbelief and go along with the ride, at least until the setting, characters and story are established; and 2) that it take the time to actually think about what's transpiring onscreen. Here's somebody else who knows a thing or two about such pictures, putting it another way.

Twilight Time's new Blu-ray disc offers a pretty good rendering of what the movie looked like when it was new. That label's usual supplements try to put the film into some perspective while paying particular notice to its score.

In a post-apocalyptic 2293, privileged Exterminators such as Zed (Sean Connery) roam the countryside terrorizing other Brutals, preventing them from procreating via mass murder, using guns provided them from a colossal, Zeus-like flying stone head called Zardoz. "The Penis is evil!" it cries. "The Penis shoots Seeds, and makes new Life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots Death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals."

Zed, an usually intelligent Brutal, climbs into the mouth of Zardoz, which eventually lands into the exclusive domain of the Eternals, the immortal descendants of the once rich and powerful, who through the centuries have developed telepathy, immortality, and live in a seemingly idealized democratic utopia where they balance advanced technology with a simple farming village lifestyle.

The Eternals, however, are desperately bored. They've become flaccid and impotent, and they've developed an advance form of meditation no longer require sleep. Many, called "Apathetics," have fallen into a state of catatonic madness, while others, the "Renegades," rebelling against the society's painfully democratic process over every little matter, are punished by advanced aging, making them physically infirm when not outright senile.

Zed's arrival fractures the Eternals' already fragile, decaying state. Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) wants Zed destroyed but May (Sara Kestelman) wants to study him, to learn more about the Brutals. Other than Brutals administrator Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), accidentally murdered by Zed, the Eternals have no idea what the Brutals have been up to for the last century.

The downside of Zardoz is that its original screenplay plays like it was written by someone completely unfamiliar with science fiction but thinks he's stumbled upon concepts no one else has ever explored before. In fact, the dystopia presented in Zardoz has, with modest variations, turned up in, probably, hundreds of novels and short stories for decades preceding the film.

However, the look of Zardoz is undeniably original and vividly imaginative, and the approach to these familiar concepts is adult and intelligent. And that's certainly refreshing even now, when nearly all filmed science fiction is juvenile and frivolous.

Seen today Zardoz strikes a chord, offering up a possible end scenario to our increasingly oligarch society, where the super-wealthy have disconnected and isolated themselves from the rest of the world, which they seem to regard with utter contempt. In the movie the "Eternals" - And what else can one call the likes of Dick Cheney, who literally has no pulse? - think of the Brutals as sub-human monsters, using the Exterminators to limit their population.

The Eternals attempt to validate their special status by meticulously cataloging the Earth's pre-apocalyptic history, archiving its art treasures, for instance, but by this point in time they're clearly doing this solely to alleviate their boredom. In one scene no one seems terribly concerned when Zed innocently sticks his finger through one of Van Gogh's masterpieces.

The screenplay also explores how a democratic society can all too easily rationalize and compartmentalize violence, making the problem of the uncivilized Brutals one to be ignored and left in the care of a single administrator.

Less original are the bored Eternals' varied means of struggling with immortality. Though a little pat, the idea that some, overwhelmed with the concept, would go mad and fall into a catatonic state is interesting.

Zardoz looks much more expensive than it was, costing just $1.57 million with most of the picture made in Ireland. The main reason for this is Geoffrey Unsworth's (2001, Cabaret, Superman) gorgeous cinematography, and the film's modest but still impressive visual effects, particularly that floating head, which is made convincingly huge and God-like.

The movie also is notable for its extensive nudity and sexual themes, the kind of thing Hollywood movies seem to have completely abandoned after the early 1980s. Amusingly, when Zardoz aired on Detroit's leading UHF indie, WKBD-Channel 50, they often ran it uncut after 11:00pm, exciting stuff in those pre-cable, pre-video days. Interestingly, the impotent Eternal men are all rather androgynous (quite a contrast to the super-masculine, hairy Sean Connery) while nearly all the women are fair-skinned with freckles. (Some have proto-Princess Leia bun-style hairdos.)

Video & Audio

Licensed by Twilight Time from Fox, Zardoz was filmed in anamorphic Panavision, and the transfer here is pretty good, though falls just short of perfection. Unsworth's use of heavy filters to soften the image much of the time is partly what inhibits Zardoz from jumping off the screen. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix (reportedly drawn from 4-track theatrical engagements) isn't bad, but similarly lacks the robustness one might have expected. Optional English SDH subtitles are included, and this Blu-ray edition is limited to 5,000 copies, so be warned.

Extra Features

Supplements include an isolated score track; a trailer; liner notes by Julie Kirgo; and an audio commentary featuring film historians Jeff Bond, Joe Fordham, and Nick Redman.

Parting Thoughts

Engagingly weird and, in this day and age, impressively adult and serious (if seriocomic at times), Zardoz is Highly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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