“In-between the Hollywood productions of Deliverance and Exorcist II: The Heretic, John Boorman embarked on one of the strangest films ever to come from a major studio: Zardoz.
The year is 2293. Society as we know it has broken down centuries ago with the Earth’s population split into three classes: the Brutals, who work the land and are forbidden from reproducing; their overseers, the Executioners; and the highly-civilised Eternals, who are protected from the outside world by a force-field. But when an Executioner, Zed (Sean Connery, light years from James Bond), smuggles himself into their isolated paradise, he risks unbalancing the system and threatening the status quo…
Photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey, Superman: The Movie) and designed by Anthony Pratt (Excalibur), dystopian Science-Fiction has rarely looked so beautiful – or been so odd – as it appears in Zardoz”.
– via Arrow Video.
After the success of his previous films, the excellent “Point Blank” and “Deliverance”, and before the disaster of the near-unwatchable “Exorcist 2: The Heretic”, director John Boorman, off the back of his disappointment at aborted plans to bring JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” to the screen (1), delivered “Zardoz”, released in 1974; a low budget, personal project that quickly bombed at the box office and was met with near universal ridicule. It remains an underrated film with much to admire and discuss.
Casting Sean Connery (in a lengthy post-James Bond period in which he struggled to find work) (2) as the exterminator Zed who discovers a seemingly Utopian commune of immortals, “Zardoz” was condemned as fascist and misogynistic upon its release as Connery’s brutal character destroys a women-led, seemingly democratic community as revenge for his realisation that the supposed god Zardoz is nothing more than a myth and “a fairy tale”.
“Zardoz” presents a community of the Vortex which presents itself as a democracy in which everything gets voted on but is, in reality, an intellectually fascist order of immortals with no concern for the rest of the planet as anything except slave workers. It is a conflict between the brute, primitive thinking of a revenge driven exterminator against the supposed intellectualism of the inhabitants of the Vortex. In “Zardoz” it will be the base simplistic approach that we sympathise with. It also presents the question: if you had the chance to kill the god that had lied to you, would you do it and what would the consequences be?
Director Boorman has repeatedly noted that he has no interest in the science aspect of sci-fi, but prefers to present a world of dreams and nightmares, his films containing images of the mind. It is fantasy that has attracted him, as opposed to reality that he finds dull and without challenge. He has always been drawn to characters that find themselves in places they don’t belong. Here, Zed finds himself in a place that has often been compared to “The Village” from the cult TV series “The Prisoner”, and it does have that look and feel of a place isolated from the so-called reality of the world and run by people who think they’re superior, but will be defeated ultimately by Old Age Alpha Maleism.
The pre and post Moon landing Hollywood, experiencing a resurgence of interest in Sci-Fi that went beyond the Atomic age paranoia of the 1950s, presented some of its most engaging and entertaining films of the genre: “Planet of the Apes”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “The Omega Man”, “Soylent Green”, “The Forbin Project” and “Rollerball”; all Dystopian futures that tied in with the initial optimism of the exploration of space, and then the cynicism and disappointment caused by the Watergate era and the lack of mankind reaching beyond the Moon. “Zardoz” provided a Boormanesque view of the future in that it will be imagination that will save the world.
The themes of “Zardoz” are many: the Vortex immortals who can’t reproduce and seek death are an elite that, without death, are unable to savour life. The place of a god in society and the need to create one if necessary fitted in perfectly with the post-existential age. The Magritte inspired God in the sky (in Magritte, it’s a rock) was noted at the otherwise successful Paris opening by a concerned Communist critic who asked Boorman to put it in writing that the God head wasn’t based on Karl Marx (it wasn’t) before he wrote his favourable review.
Boorman has readily admitted that “Zardoz” wasn’t consistent enough at times, and that the ideas and philosophy didn’t get played out as there were so many in it that they often weren’t developed enough. It’s certainly true, but there are enough ideas to engage the audience and it is also Boorman’s most colourful and cinematically experimental film. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography is, as you’d expect, exceptional.
“Zardoz” remains a harshly judged piece. Flawed, perhaps, but it is a fascinating trip and a visual delight. The director approved 4K restoration is superb, bringing the colours and sets to life in a way that hasn’t been seen since the film’s original release.
“Arrow Video is thrilled to announce the Blu-ray release of Zardoz, director John Boorman’s cerebral and eerily dystopian sci-fi tale. Released in 1974, not long after Boorman’s iconic Deliverance, Zardoz saw the director team up with Sean Connery, three years after his final official appearance as James Bond and light years away from anything either had done before.
Zardoz will debut on Blu-ray from 21st September 2015 and comes presented in a brand new 4K transfer. The disc will feature a wealth of bonus content including newly shot interviews with key members from every aspect of the film’s production and an audio commentary by writer-producer-director John Boorman. Zardoz mega-fan Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England) also provides an on-camera appreciation recorded especially for Arrow Video.
This exciting release comes packaged together with newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin and a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Julian Upton and Adrian Smith, who explores Boorman’s novelisation, plus archive interviews, all illustrated with original stills”.
New 4K digital restoration by Twentieth Century Fox, supervised and approved by John Boorman .
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation.
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Audio commentary with writer-producer-director John Boorman.
Brand new interviews with Boorman, actor Sara Kestelman, production designer Anthony Pratt, special effects creator Gerry Johnston, camera operator Peter MacDonald, assistant director Simon Relph, hair stylist Colin Jamison, production manager Seamus Byrne, and assistant editor Alan Jones.
Newly filmed appreciation with director Ben Wheately (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England).
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin.
Collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Julian Upton and Adrian Smith, plus archive interviews, illustrated with original production stills”.
(1) At the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, I asked John Boorman how he now felt about his “Lord of the Rings” project failing to come to fruition. He was philosophical, his original disappointment seemingly replaced by a now more reflective view in the post Peter Jackson version age. Boorman noted that the special effects of the day might not have been to the standard he really would have wanted to bring his vision of LOTR to the screen. He also wryly stated that if his version had been made, we would most likely never have gotten to see the Peter Jackson films, which Boorman was impressed by. His disappointment may also have been tempered by the fact that he did get to realise another project, the excellent “Excalibur”, released in 1981.
(2) Connery used his own car to get to the set and back rather than using a hired driver, then receiving the costs back from Boorman in a deal pre-agreed between the director and actor (based on Connery’s suggestion, according to Boorman). Connery received $200,000 salary on the film; far below his $1m James Bond deals, but still one-fifth of the total “Zardoz” budget. Connery replaced first choice Burt Reynolds, who dropped out due to illness.
This review originally appeared on SFFWorld at: