Zardoz is a film that tends to divide people. It is a DVD that has been long awaited by hardcore science fiction fans. I remember seeing it close onto two decades ago and was bewildered by the plot, but the images tended to stick given the bold concepts and singularly unique conception.
The introductory monologue tries to set things up with little success. It is the year 2293 and the globe is a mess, environmental or nuclear it doesn’t matter. The vast majority of the population are termed ‘Brutals’ – scavengers who roam the wastelands eking out a miserable existence. These are the society’s bottom feeders. They seem to run around in the beautiful but desolate moors of Ireland.
They are kept in check by the ‘Exterminators’, who are a genetically engineered race of brutish males. Zed (Sean Connery) is a great example of this; a bullish man who wears an orange loincloth and prances about on horses with a variety of firearms at his disposal. Their job is to keep the ‘Brutals’ in check; by killing them on a regular basis.
They are on a mission by the title character Zardoz. He is an ‘Eternal’, one of the descendants of the immortal elite of the old society. He lives in the ‘Vortex’ and is given the job of keeping the ‘Brutals’ in check by this use of these ‘Exterminators’.
We find out that the ‘Eternals’ are the children of society’s intellectuals. They are kept young and beautiful by a supercomputer AI, the ‘Tabernacle’. The ‘Vortex’ is a small enclave protected by an invisible forcefield. The ‘Eternals’ possess marvellous psychokinetic powers – the power to kill, mainly by thought. Their world could not be more charming, a mix of cottage architecture, English gardens and pseudo technology. Their society is not perfect however, eternal life means eternal boredom especially with such a small number of elites. They are punished by old age but not death, others punished by catatonia (the sickness not the band). The ‘Eternals’ wish for something different given their selective breeding out of passion, sexuality and violence. For all their technology, they surround themselves in mundane tasks (baking bread, farming). They believe that traditional work ‘defines’ mankind.
Zed is no dummy, however. Because of his selective breeding, he is also blessed with incredible intellect and he learns to read and wants to find out how or why Zardoz controls his people. Basically he feels there is more to life than raping, pillaging and burning. Silly boy.
Zardoz provides well for the ‘Exterminators’. The opening scene is bombastic in execution; a flying stone head, spewing firearms and ammunition and the spewing out of even more outrageous doctrine. The script deserves some kudos for being so outrageous.
All it takes is one man to change a society, and that man is Zed. The ‘Eternals’ are fascinated by him, he is a raw, carnal, venal animal; especially attractive to the largely young nubile women folk who are perhaps none more haughty and icily beautiful than Consuela (Charlotte Rampling). Their men are effeminate creatures who offer no excitement for the women, unlike the masculine Zed (he is barechested throughout). This is a very matriarchal society with women outnumbering and ‘out-thinking’ men. Consuela is one of Zed’s strongest critics and you may guess how their relationship transpires. She senses the danger of that one differing intellect in a largely homogenous society. One man could bring down this society and their technology. And just as it has started, so does it end.
This is a highly intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) film depending on your point of view. Is Zed an animal or experiment? To be ‘flushed’ when the ‘Eternals’ are done with him? What of the ‘Milton-esque’ Paradise Lost and all the implications of this ‘perfect’ society? This film touches on a laundry list of issues that plague us today. It is strange that such a reputedly ‘silly’ movie does this.
Along the way you will enjoy the copious female nudity if you are into such things. This film succeeds in both visual execution and intellectual fervour.
The transfer is 2.35:1 anamorphic and it is surprisingly fine. Colours are extremely strong with a rainbow-like palette. It does not match some of the modern stuff, notably from Roadshow, but this is a very contrasty, very saturated transfer with consistently strong yet natural colours.
The cinematography is superlative. Rarely does the setting create a more stark difference in locales. The ‘Brutals’ live in a smashed, twisted urban world or a windswept and inhospitable moor-ish landscape like that in Scotland or Ireland. It is a misty, windy place with copious use of translucent fog.
The ‘Eternals’ live in a warm English village enclave bathed in a inviting winter sun. Their life is one that looks hospitable and safe. Idyllic as it were. Their countryside is lush with lakes, ponds and beautifully delineated vegetation. I doubt the British countryside has looked more inviting.
I could note some very isolated grain, very light edge enhancement and some softness not just in distance shots but also close-ups. That softness is perhaps deliberate much like the use of Vaseline on lenses to soften a scene. These are minor faults given the age of this film.
The audio is strange, Dolby Digital 3.0 at 384k/s. It is configured as left-centre-right. The makes for a strong front soundstage. The only thing you can get here is strong intelligibility with one very isolated circumstance where one cannot understand the diction.
Music is poor, except for the isolated use of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, both in composing and fidelity. The dynamic range seems poor with unimpressive bass and gun effects (there’s lot of this obviously).
Be that as it may, this is a good soundtrack which is faithful to the original mag tape.