Directed by: John Boorman
Premise: In the distant future, the world is divided into two groups: Brutals, nomadic savages who kill for a floating stone god called Zardoz, and Immortals, an isolated group of perpetually young psychics who control the Brutals through Zardoz. One of the Brutals (Sean Connery) penetrates the society of the Immortals and threatens their social structure.
What Works: Zardoz is an attempt at very thoughtful science fiction and the film’s strengths are found in its ideas and images. Even when the story stagnates and the plot gets muddled, the potency of the images and the concepts behind them are often enough to keep a viewer interested. The opening sequence, in which the giant stone head of Zardoz proclaims its gospel of obedience and violence, sets up a subversive agenda for the film that is mostly seen through. What the film has to say about knowledge, and how social structures control it to maintain hegemonistic power relationships, mirrors similar themes in the original Planet of the Apes and The Matrix. The film also deals quite interestingly with life and death and presents some ideas that are on par with such celebrated fare as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Blade Runner. Although it risks getting too abstract at times, the film uses striking imagery to deal with these topics and themes and viewers who persevere through the narrative weaknesses of Zardoz will likely find their attention rewarded by some provocative ideas.
What Doesn’t: Zardoz is in many ways a mess. The script would have benefited from another draft as the story spirals out of control for most of its second act, although it does manage to partially recover in the climax and denouement. While dealing with lots of big ideas, the film sometimes struggles to develop them and merge intellectual inquiry with narrative. In terms of production, this is a film whose ambitions are bigger than its means and some of the costumes, sets, and special effects are quite laughable, especially thirty-five years after the film’s initial release.
DVD extras: Commentary track, trailer, radio spots and still gallery.
Bottom Line: Zardoz, despite its considerable faults, is nonetheless a fascinating film. At the very least it is an interesting footnote in pre-Star Wars science fiction that fans of the genre ought to take time to view.
Episode: #233 (March 29, 2009)