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Click above to purchase "Zardoz" at amazon.com

 

Zardoz

review by Anthony D.

Rated R

Studio: Fox

Running Time: 106 minutes

Starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestleman

Written and Directed by John Boorman

Retail Price: $22.98

Features: Audio Commentary With John Boorman, Radio Spots, Still Gallery, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 3.0, French Stereo (some portions are in English with French subtitles), English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search

A scowling stone face soars above the green hills. A tribe of red-diapered men pursue. The stone head hovers. The tribesman raise their arms to the skies. A flurry of automatic weapons spew forth from the behemoth's mouth. The tribesmen gather the guns. The colossus speaks, "The gun is good. The penis is evil." One tribesman picks up his gun and aims it straight at the camera. He shoots. Thus is our introduction to the characters of Zardoz, the god of Zed (Sean Connery) and his tribe of "Brutals" in John Boorman's neo-mythological cult film, "Zardoz." Following this mystifying opening, the next time we see Zed is in a shot often used by Boorman: Zed's clenched hand and arm emerges from a pond of grain, housed within Zardoz. (Boorman used a similar approach with a nightmare sequence in "Deliverance," but the shot would only attain immortality as The Lady of the Lake extends the titular sword in "Excalibur.") Working through a mythos of his own creation, Boorman challenges the viewer with a world that is not quite primitive, not altogether futuristic, always visually arresting, but not quite always coherent.

Zed is a member of "The Brutals," a race of people who worship the flying god-head, Zardoz. The Brutals are chosen genetically by Zardoz to create a race of strong, killing machines. Zardoz has assured The Brutals that if they are faithful to his will, and conduct the massive slayings he desires, they will receive immortality. Somewhere along the line, Zardoz has changed his request to the The Brutals, they are now to oversee the planting and harvesting, and kill only the disobedient. It is this change in Zed's lifestyle that forces him to stowaway in the giant floating godhead, and unravel the mysteries of life. (Trust me, it makes some sense in the grand scheme of things). Zed meets a man in the godhead, and kills him. The man was Arthur Frayn (who appears in a prologue that was inserted at the studio's request, spouting drivel which would lead an audience to believe that they are about to see a comedy). With the death of Arthur, Zardoz crashes into a lake. Arthur was of another race; the genetically mastered "Immortals," whom Zed encounters when he washes ashore. These Immortals, led by the stunningly-freckled May (Sara Kestleman) and Consuela (the always watchable Charlotte Rampling) don't know what to make of Zed. Conseula suggests killing him, while May wishes to perform scientific experiments on him, as if we have wandered into a "mad scientist" movie. Zed is attracted to May. Through thorough psychological telekinetic research, Zed strapped spread-eagle to a glass table, The Immortals learn of Zed's brutality. May insists that her experimentation is not finished, and with the approval of the council, Zed is granted three weeks to live under the guardianship of Friend, a male Immortal. Zed is used as slave labor in Friend's sculpture-lined studio, where he asks, "Are these your gods?" in reference to the fallen idols. With so many plot threads going on, Boorman adds yet another: The Immortals are just that, they will never die. Should an accident befall any one of them, they are regenerated, some have been regenerated as many as six times! They each come equipped, like a Mattel® doll, with a crystal embedded in their foreheads to allow mas quantities of thought transference. Just when you think that you know where the film is going, out of left field comes another plot twist (and this movie is less than two hours long!): it seems that Arthur Frayn, now regenerated, had grown tired of immortality (as had many other immortals), so he created Zardoz so that he could watch over The Brutals in order to choose the right Brutal to put an end to the curse of immortality, which is not all that it's cracked up to be. Hey, if you were a male immortal, and all these gorgeous Irish lasses were walking around half-naked, and you being an immortal had lost the ability to become aroused, wouldn't you rather NOT live, too? Zed is the right Brutal, but will he still do the will of this false god, this humbug? Zed's course of action takes up the final third of the film, leading to a bloody siege of The Immortal's habitat, and a final happy ending with a twist that was never really hinted at, for all.

Ah, the power of visual story-telling. John Boorman's Panavision (2.35:1) ocular essay has been given a nifty transfer from FOX. "Zardoz" looks as good as I remember seeing it in theaters, which is soft-focused, hazy and imagery-laden. These were the days before CGI, and all special effects were done within the camera. The opening scenes alone, of the floating Zardoz head, linger in the mind's eye. Fox's anamorphic transfer displays virtually no artifacts of age, even if the film itself hasn't aged well, this print has. Colors are subdued, in line with Boorman's directorial decisions, so that even the loincloths look as if they've been stone-washed one too many times. The clarity displayed (through the filters and the haze) is top-notch: Sara Kestleman's freckles are amply displayed, Connery's loincloth shows more of James Bond than most viewers need to see...(let me rephrase that, no visible panty lines here), and one can actually make out the genders of the glass-encased nude bodies in the process of regeneration. Skin tone, and there is a lot of skin on display in "Zardoz," is rendered correctly, though never vibrant. A sure sign that "Zardoz" was made abroad is the matter-of-fact nudity (virtually all female) scattered throughout the film. According to Boorman, some of "The Brutals" are actually naked, with loincloths painted on them, due to budget restraints. There is a slight amount of grain inherent in the print, which Boorman claims he would change if doing the film today. The graininess is confined to darkly lit scenes, or to scenes with major amounts of smoke and fog. While not reference quality, Fox's presentation of "Zardoz" (with all its inherent flaws) is quite pleasing.

As for the sound, FOX has still another form of Dolby Digital up its sleeve, the Dolby Digital 3.0 sound experience. This new form of Dolby, well, new to this listener's ears, is all up-front: Left, Center and Right speakers. "Zardoz" seems to have its dialogue placed firmly center, with music and directional ambient sounds to the left and right. There is some more than adequate bass response, which leads me to wonder why they didn't go that extra yard for an independent LFE channel. As befitting a film of limited budget, the dialogue is often tinny, but never harsh. There are many instances of studio-produced dialogue, especially in the use of crowd murmurings, and often a line of dialogue will come out when not one of the extra's lips are moving. The electronic score sounds nice, and Beethoven is always welcome in a science-fiction/fanatasy presentation. A pleasant treat for me was watching "Zardoz" with the French soundtrack enabled; the two channel stereo track en francias can't make "Zardoz" any less baffling, but it sure does make it more foreign! And there are quite a few films from France ("Last Year at Marienbad") with a higher baffle quotient than "Zardoz."

An audio commentary by John Boorman is always welcome in my house. This man is probably more gifted at verbal story-telling, than his films would let on. And what a memory he has! I thought that his delightful, blunt commentary on Warner's "Excalibur" was one of the all-time great commentaries, but possibly because I've always been fond of "Zardoz," I found his reminiscences here to be far more engaging, though equally as blunt. His dismay at the studio's decision to add the corny prologue is priceless, as are his equally amusing details of working with Connery. This is a scene-specific commentary, and a surprising addition to a film whose merits are highly debated among critics and audiences. Fox's original theatrical trailer for "Zardoz" ("HE brought them the gift of Death") is presented in a widescreen format, and is a typical "70's Psychedelia" selling of a virtually un-sellable film. The six Radio Spots (four at 60 seconds, two at third) use the taglines of "Beyond Death" or "Beyond 1984" to good effect as voiced by a Rod Serling sound-alike. Under the "Fox Flix" heading are five additional trailers, all for sci-fi related films: "The Abyss," and "Independence Day" are presented in widescreen, whereas "Aliens," "Enemy Mine" and "Alien Nation" are represented with full-framed frazzled and faded prints. "Zardoz" also features a still gallery with production photos, lobby cards, concept art, press book and the one sheet poster.

In the long run of events, "Zardoz"sadly never caught on with audiences. Too cerebral for some, too confusing for others, "Zardoz" possesses a certain charm and has developed somewhat of a cult following. Even though Boorman's visionary screenplay simply couldn't be achieved on such a small budget, there are some interesting conceits and concepts that an attentive viewer will find rewarding. Hopefully, Fox's budgetary-conscious pricing of "Zardoz" will garner it new fans. Curiosity seekers will not be disappointed, remember "Zardoz" is the only film in existence wherein you can see Sean Connery in a wedding gown in one scene, and displaying his acting skills, as well as other attributes throughout in his snug, form-fitting, tailor-made diaper.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3/5)

(3/5)

(2/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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