Finally released on Special Edition Arrow Blu Ray on the 14th September, “Zardoz” is one of the Seventies’ most bizarre dystopian sci-fi curiosities (in a decade brimming with them), and possibly one of the strangest movies ever to come from a major studio. Coming off the disappointment of a proposed adaptation of “The Lord Of The Rings”, John Boorman opted to write, produce and direct a low budget sci-fi tale of alienation, ennui and the ultimate end point of human civilisation.
In the year 2293, society as we know it has long since collapsed and fractured into three castes: the Brutals who work the land, the Executioners who oversee and control the Brutals and the highly-civilised Eternals, who live in an idyllic paradise separated from the wild outside world by an impenetrable force field.
Opening with the face of Zardoz, a floating stone head of exposition with a penchant for Greek chorus style framing narration and a tendency to hork up guns and weaponry for the Executioners to use, it’s pretty clear from the start that we’re in for a curious and surreal voyage of discovery. When a rogue executioner, Zed (Sean Connery) manages to sneak aboard Zardoz and accidentally kills the pilot, he is smuggled into the Eternals’ enclave where his presence starts to fragment the peaceful and intellectual commune.
Part satirical critique of the Sixties’ Flower Power movement, part meditation on the themes of sex, death and the meaning of life, Boorman’s film, photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth and designed by Anthony Pratt (who would go on to work with Boorman again on “Excalibur”) examines the human condition through the lens of the Eternals struggling to understand a plague of apathy which is sweeping over their population while, with sexual reproduction forbidden – Zardoz’s principle policy ‘The gun is good; the penis is evil’ neatly encapsulating some of the current American political discourse – the sheer physicality of Zed’s existence challenges the foundations of their sexless utopia.
Connery had struggled to get work as an actor after returning to the Bond franchise for 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever” so accepted a massive reduction in his usual fee to take the lead in this. In a neat joke at the expense of his 007 past, his very first appearance in the film is him shooting a gun at the camera. He’s turns in a powerfully masculine performance although at times he seems uncomfortable with some of the more outré sci-fi elements and gender fluidity inherent in the film. Charlotte Rampling’s icily aloof Consuella makes for a perfect foil for the coarse Zed and her gradual seduction and epiphany is at the core of the film’s morality play.
Psychedelic, liberated and casually explicit in a way only Seventies sci-fi seems to be, Boorman’s modestly staged but visually dazzling film is a trippy Dr Seuss-ian variation on “The Wizard Of Oz” (which is where the film takes its name and title character from). It’s a delightfully odd film and one which is worthy of your time.