Review for Zardoz
Your childhood, your adolescence is precious. It’s when your mind develops, you experience things for the first time, and who you will eventually become starts to form. Things that I experience now, in middle age, are just experiences, moments to be filed away in memory, but things that I experienced when I was young had a lasting impact on me that transcended their material worth. The first time I saw Zardoz was such a moment. Forget the new age theatrics, the lurid colours, Sean Connery in a crimson loincloth! Forget also whether the film was good or bad. The person I was when I sat down to watch Zardoz the first time bore little resemblance to the person I was when the end credits rolled. It was that singular a moment in my personal film history. It’s going to be hard to watch Zardoz again through adult eyes, but I’ll give it a go.
Zed is an executioner, a warrior priest in the service of the god Zardoz, who manifests in the form of a giant floating head, issuing proclamations and dispensing weapons and ammunition; all so the executioners can obey its commandment to kill the Brutals, the primitive people surviving in the Outlands.
Only this time, Zed has stowed away in the stone head, as it returns from the Outlands, to the Vortex. The Vortex contains a community of immortals, the elite of the world, greedily hoarding the knowledge of humanity, passing infinity in indolence and stagnation. The arrival of this brutal Executioner in this apathetic paradise will change everything.
Zardoz gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, sourced from a 4k scan. The image is clear and sharp, colours are strong and consistent, the print is stable and free of damage, dirt or signs of age, and it’s stable throughout. The film has probably never looked better. The mid-budget production design stands up well, but the real benefit in the HD presentation is felt in the costumes and the set dressing, which really makes the world feel more coherent. The audio comes in DTS-HD MA 3.0 and PCM 2.0 Stereo English formats. I went with the ‘surround’ option, and while it adds a little depth and space to the film, it’s not quite as clear for dialogue as the stereo track. I stuck with the 3.0 track regardless though, and the film was certainly watchable that way. English subtitles are there if you require.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case with a reversible sleeve. Although I didn’t get the usual o-card slipcover with my purchase, I did find the 40-page booklet that usually accompanies the first print run of an Arrow Video release. It’s an interesting read, packed with essays and interviews as well as artwork and stills from the film.
The disc boots to an animated menu.
On the disc you’ll find the audio commentary from director John Boorman.
There are also a host of interviews to peruse through.
John Boorman, writer/producer/director (21:59)
Sara Kestelman, actor (16:54)
Anthony Pratt, production designer (17:32)
Gerry Johnston, special effects (21:18)
Peter MacDonald, camera operator (15:28)
Simon Relph, assistant director (13:46)
Colin Jamison, hair stylist (8:47)
Seamus Byrne, production manager (9:30)
Alan Jones, assistant editor (7:38)
You get a modern perspective on the film in An Appreciation by Ben Wheatley (16:24).
The trailer lasts 3:09, and you get 2:58 of Radio Spots. All of the video extras are in HD.
I’m a sucker for dystopian post-apocalyptic visions of the future, and there was a period in the sixties and seventies, fuelled by Cold War hysteria and the imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon that resulted in some of the bleakest and most imaginative sci-fi cinema. It was a trend that continued into the eighties, but once Terminator came along, the budgets started soaring, and studios started expecting muscle-bound protagonists, big ‘splosions and CGI, and the essence of the thing, the allegorical nature of the storytelling was lost. But Zardoz is right from the heart of that period, when films like Planet of the Apes, A Clockwork Orange, Logan’s Run, and Soylent Green were making us do double-takes at our own world. Zardoz’s sci-fi dystopia is so effective and imaginative, that I went looking for the sci-fi novel it was based on. I’m still stunned to realise that it’s actually an original screenplay.
This future world has degenerated, split down the lines of the haves and the have nots. In classic Time Machine style, the Brutals from the Outlands are the Morlocks to the Immortals effete and neutered Eloi. Only this vision of the future is more sexual and adult in nature. The immortals establish a religion to keep the Brutals in check, creating a priest class who worship Zardoz, take to heart the sermon of the gun being mightier than the penis, and commanded to slaughter the Brutals, lest they multiply and infest the world as they once did.
Meanwhile the Immortals live their eternal, sexless existence in a sealed off paradise, their society linked by an all-knowing Tabernacle, their every technological need taken care of so they can toil, maintaining a connection with nature as they grow and harvest and bake, debate and meditate, and forever maintain the status quo. Into this idyll comes the Executioner Zed, who turns the world upside down by his mere existence. Lacking mental powers, but possessing aggressive masculinity, he brings an interest in sex back to the Immortals, and that’s just the beginning.
Zardoz has a screenplay that has a reach exceeding its grasp. It’s epic, a grand tale in the style of classic sci-fi, but the film lacks a budget to match that. It does its best with its locations and costumes, but it does feel claustrophobic and confined when it comes to the scope. This is a society of mental powers and abilities, but a lack of imagination and budget here does make it feel like an actors’ workshop at times. It’s always on the verge of breaking the suspension of my disbelief.
But thinking back to the teenager who first saw this film, I still share that sense of wonder at the ideas in this film. Sure, it’s an extreme example of societal division, but it also toys with ideas of predestiny and evolution, the idea that societies will self-select to ‘normalise’ for want of a better word. Actually, forget what I said about low budgets and small scope, the concepts and visuals of Zardoz are still striking, and still memorable. The final scene with Zed and Consuella is just as impactful a moment in sci-fi cinema as Taylor finding the Statue of Liberty, or the thighbone turning into a spaceship, or a Star Destroyer passing overhead. Zardoz has often been ridiculed for its surface detail and triviality, but look beneath the surface and you’ll find much to appreciate.