Directed by John Boorman.
Starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, Bosco Hogan and Niall Buggy.
In the distant future a barbarian finds himself in the realm of the elite and immortal Eternals.
Originally released in 1974, John Boorman’s Zardoz is the movie equivalent of a prog rock band being given the keys to the studio, a big budget and told to just go for it and see what happens. This is because Zardoz is one of the strangest sci-fi movies to have gotten major studio backing; in fact, forget the sci-fi bit – it’s one of the strangest movies to have gotten major studio backing.
Released between Boorman’s classic backwoods revenge thriller Deliverance and his brave but ultimately disastrous Exorcist II: The Heretic, Zardoz is set in the 23rd century and stars a post-Bond Sean Connery as Zed, an Exterminator who, as well as wearing a mankini and sporting a Francis Rossi hairdo, smuggles aboard the floating stone head of the god Zardoz and finds his way into the vortex, where he is poked and prodded by the Eternals, a matriarchal society of immortals who have psychic abilities and separate themselves from the Brutals, the field workers who are ruled over by the barbaric Executioners. Now in the realm of the Eternals, Zed becomes the object of their attention as they have become bored with what immortality brings and with the balance of humanity now upset, it’s up to Zed to find out the truth of what Zardoz is… or something like that.
You have to wonder whether, in his quest to distance himself from the mainstream popularity and business politics of EON Productions and the James Bond rollercoaster, Sean Connery took this role as a protest against his superstar status or somebody wasn’t quite telling him the full story when pitching the role to him because it is very hard to imagine him agreeing to it based on what we see. Because Zardoz is a film with ideas, lots of them, but none of them being really clear; there is the obvious class system that is in place for Zed to smash against, themes of artificial intelligence, religion and the role it plays in society, concepts about aging and genetic manipulation, plus various other topics that all good sci-fi is built upon. But Zardoz is just too sketchy and odd to fully get across whatever point John Boorman was trying to make and gets bogged down in its own weighty mythology.
Sean Connery looks in pretty good shape considering how flabby around the edges he was looking in Diamonds Are Forever, his final Bond outing before returning in to the role in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, but even he cannot erase the look of bewilderment that creeps onto his face in near enough every scene, apparently not quite on board with the gibberish he has to come out with. Charlotte Rampling seems to be taking it all very seriously, and is all the more sexy for it if truth be told, but John Alderton seems to have the right idea and plays his role with the smirk of a man who can’t believe he’s being paid to say the words that Boorman has written for him.
It really is a strange film to try and rate because if you are of a mind that can readily accept any personal nonsense that comes from a filmmaker’s subconscious and interpret it into a coherent narrative then Zardoz could well be a wonderful film that will enrich your movie-watching experience. However, if you want to be entertained and not feel like you’ve wasted 106 minutes of your life then there are better ways to achieve that than trying to work out what John Boorman was thinking and why somebody gave him the money to film it. Not even filmmaker Ben Wheatley in the special features can offer up a reasonable argument as to what it is about this film that he likes – it really is a case of you’ll either love it or hate it without any middle ground.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★