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"Now hear this, you old farts!
Meet this creature from the outside world.
This man has the gift of death."
- Friend (John Alderton), to renegades.

June 2002                                                       SITE MAP   SEARCH
cast: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, and Sally Anne Newton

writer, producer & director: John Boorman

101 minutes (15) 1974
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling
It's 2293 AD, and human civilisation has splintered into disparate groups. Within shielded enclave, the Vortex, live the eternals: a matriarchal order of impotent, sleepless telepaths, hiding their society's failures - the old and senile renegades, and the bored immortal apathetics - from the attention of exterminators and the unenlightened brutals that roam the outlands. Beyond the confines of the Vortex, a giant stone head (sculpted in the likeness of director Boorman!) floats down from a foggy sky, then spews guns from its mouth in exchange for grain harvested by slaves, which incites an uprising against the dominance of the eternals. Zed (a hirsute Sean Connery) leads this macho rebellion by penetrating the Vortex and destabilising its complacent and fragile society, where crimes such as 'psychic violence' are duly punished by ageing, not prison or forced labour. Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) is fascinated and repelled by the permitted scientific studies of Zed, a sexually active catalyst for change and destruction...
   The problem with Zardoz is its overabundance of ideas. It's an allegory of the class struggle, a satire on religion, an art house psychodrama of hippie commune lifestyles - in a post-nuclear, rural idyll of crystalline intelligence and inflatable buildings, and it's also a vision of man's future at once more horrifying and complex than that of The Time Machine (1960). Shot on location in the Wicklow Mountains for a paltry $1 million, Zardoz was inspired by The Wizard Of Oz (Baum's book, not the famous Judy Garland musical movie) and, while it's amusing to consider Connery as protagonist 'Dorothy', Boorman's self-indulgent yet undeniably ingenious re-interpretation of archetypal fantasy tropes remains entertaining to this day.
   Geoffrey Unsworth, the cinematographer of Kubrick's 2001 (1968), performs cut-price miracles using in-camera effects, ghost glass tricks, and rear projection techniques to create the strange world of Zardoz, without any post-production effects. Many of these visuals still look remarkable, even in our time of CG marvels, and Boorman is rightly proud of his film's many achievements. Only one sequence here drags on too long (as Boorman confesses, he'd shorten it if Zardoz was re-edited); and that's when Zed is drawn (absorbed?) into the Tabernacle AI, the cue for an hallucinatory montage of surreal images, filmed in a hall of mirrors.
   Whether it's viewed as a parody of SF, or as a radical revision of genre themes, Zardoz is a memorable film that repays several viewings and it deserves to find a new generation of fans with this release on disc.
   DVD extras: an intriguing and candid director's commentary (during which Boorman is delighted to point out his cameo as a farm worker, shot and killed by Connery as exterminator Zed), plus a gallery of artwork, stills and posters. Also a trailer and four radio spots, scene index in 24 chapters, 14 language subtitles.