Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Boorman|
|Produced by||John Boorman|
Charles Orme (associate producer)
|Written by||John Boorman & William Stair|
|Music by||David Munrow|
|Edited by||John Merritt|
John Boorman Productions Ltd. (uncredited)
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox (United States)|
Fox-Rank Distributors Ltd. (United Kingdom)
|102 or 104-105 minutes|
|Box office||$1.8 million (US and Canada)|
Zardoz is a 1974 Irish-American science fantasy film, and later a book, written, produced, and directed by John Boorman and starring Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, and featuring Sara Kestelman. The film was shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth on a budget of US$1.57 million. It depicts a post apocalyptic world where barbarians worship a stone god called "Zardoz" that grants them death and eternal life.
In a future post-apocalyptic Earth in the year 2293, the human population is divided into the immortal "Eternals" and mortal "Brutals." The Brutals live in a wasteland, growing food for the Eternals, who live apart in "the Vortex," leading a luxurious but aimless existence on the grounds of a country estate. The connection between the two groups is through Brutal Exterminators, who kill and terrorize other "Brutals" at the orders of a huge flying stone head called Zardoz, which supplies them with weapons in exchange for the food they collect. Zed (Sean Connery), a Brutal Exterminator, hides aboard Zardoz during one trip, temporarily "killing" its Eternal operator-creator Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy).
Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two Eternals — Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman). Overcoming him with psychic powers, they make him a prisoner and menial worker within their community. Consuella wants Zed destroyed immediately; others, led by May and a subversive Eternal named Friend (John Alderton), insist on keeping him alive for further study.
In time, Zed learns the nature of the Vortex. The Eternals are overseen and protected from death by the Tabernacle, an artificial intelligence. Given their limitless lifespan, the Eternals have grown bored and corrupt. The needlessness of procreation has rendered the men impotent and meditation has replaced sleep. Others fall into catatonia, forming the social stratum the Eternals have named the "Apathetics." The Eternals spend their days stewarding mankind's vast knowledge—through a voice recognition-based search engine—baking special bread for themselves from the grain deliveries and participating in communal meditation rituals. To give time and life more meaning the Vortex developed complex social rules whose violators are punished with artificial aging. The most extreme offenders are condemned to permanent old age and the status of "Renegades." Eternals who somehow managed to die, usually through some fatal accident, are then reborn into another healthy, synthetically reproduced body that is identical to the one they just lost.
Zed is less brutal and far more intelligent than the Eternals think he is. Genetic analysis reveals he is the ultimate result of long-running eugenics experiments devised by Arthur Frayn—who is Zardoz—who controlled the outlands with the Exterminators, thus coercing the Brutals to supply the Vortices with grain. Zardoz's aim was to breed a superman who would penetrate the Vortex and save mankind from its hopelessly stagnant status quo. The women's analysis of Zed's mental images earlier had revealed that in the ruins of the old world Arthur Frayn first encouraged Zed to learn to read, then led him to the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Zed finally understands the origin of the name Zardoz—Wizard of Oz—bringing him to a true awareness of Zardoz as a skillful manipulator rather than an actual deity. He becomes infuriated with this realization and decides to plumb the deepest depths of this enormous mystery.
As Zed divines the nature of the Vortex and its problems, the Eternals use him to fight their internecine quarrels. Led by Consuella, the Eternals decide to kill Zed and to age Friend. Zed escapes and, aided by May and Friend, absorbs all the Eternals' knowledge, including that of the Vortex's origin, to destroy the Tabernacle. While absorbing their knowledge Zed impregnates May and a few of her followers as he is transformed from a revenge-seeking Exterminator, his subsequent efforts to give the Eternals salvation by bringing them death are in essence acts of mercy. Zed helps the Exterminators invade the Vortex and kill most of the Eternals—who welcome death as a release from their eternal but boring existence. May and several of her followers do escape the Vortex's destruction, heading out to bear their offspring as enlightened but merely mortal beings among the Brutals.
Zardoz ends in a wordless sequence of images accompanied by the sombre second movement (allegretto) of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, snatches of which are heard throughout the film. Consuella, having fallen in love with Zed, gives birth to a baby boy within the remains of the giant stone head. In matching green suits, they sit with the boy standing between them, who matures as they age in a series of dissolves. The youth leaves his parents, who take hands and grow very old, eventually decomposing into skeletons and finally vanishing. Nothing remains in the space but painted handprints on the wall and Zed's Webley-Fosbery revolver.
- Sean Connery as Zed
- Charlotte Rampling as Consuella
- Sara Kestelman as May
- Niall Buggy as Arthur Frayn / Zardoz
- John Alderton as Friend
- Sally Anne Newton as Avalow
- Bosco Hogan as George Saden
- Jessica Swift as Apathetic
- Reginald Jarman as voice of Death
- Bairbre Dowling as Star
- Christopher Casson as Old Scientist
Boorman was inspired to write Zardoz while preparing to adapt The Lord of the Rings for United Artists, but when the studio became hesitant about the cost of producing film versions of Tolkien's books, Boorman continued to be interested in the idea of inventing a strange new world. Boorman wrote Zardoz with William (Bill) Stair, a long time collaborator.
Boorman said "I wanted to make a film about the problems of us hurtling at such a rate into the future that our emotions are lagging behind." The original draft was set five years in the future and was about a university lecturer who became obsessed with a young girl who disappeared. He searched for her among communes where the girl lived. Boorman visited some communes for research. He then decided to set the story even further in the future, when society had collapsed and a new society had emerged.
Boorman developed the society and the central character "who penetrated it. He'd be mysteriously chosen and at the same time manipulated — and I wanted the story to be told in the form of a mystery, with clues and riddles which unfold, the truth slowly peeled away."
Boorman said he was influenced by writers such as T.S. Eliot, Frank Baum and Tolkien as well as the medieval Arthurian quests.
"It's about inner rather than outer space," said Boorman. "It's closer to the better science fiction literature which is more metaphysical. Most of the science fiction that gives the genre a bad name is adventure stories in space clothes."
Boorman says "Nobody wanted to do it. Warners didn’t want to do it, even though I’d made a shitload of money for them." His then-agent David Begelman knew the head of 20th Century Fox wanted to make a film with the director. He said the executive could read the script but needed to make a decision within two hours. "It’s either yes or no," Begelman told him. "You have no approvals, and it’s a million dollars negative pick-up". Boorman says "The Fox guy came to London, and I was very nervous, so we went for lunch whilst he read the script. When he finally came out of the office his hand was shaking, clearly with no idea of what to make of it. Begelman went straight up to him and said, ‘Congratulations!’ He never gave the poor guy a chance."
In April 1973 Boorman announced the film would star Burt Reynolds and Charlotte Rampling. Reynolds had just worked with Boorman on 1972's Deliverance. However, Reynolds had to pull out due to illness and was replaced by Connery. "Connery had just stopped doing the Bond films and he wasn’t getting any jobs, so he came along and did it," said Boorman. Connery's casting was announced in May 1973 the week before filming was to begin. Rampling said she did the film because it's "poetry. It clearly states — love your body, love nature and love what you come from."
As this region of Ireland was quite rural at the time the locals[who?] were very surprised when the production set up shop in their small town. Several locals[who?] were hired to help with the production. A group of County Wicklow artisans[example needed] were hired to create many of the film's futuristic costumes. The costumes were designed by Boorman's wife Christel, the creations were based on "pure intuition." She decided that, because the Eternals' lives were purely metaphysical and colorless, this should be incorporated in their costumes too. As The Brutals were lower, more primitive beings, Christel decided that they would not care much about what they were wearing, only what was functional and comfortable. As stated in the magazine Dark Worlds Quarterly "functional" and "comfortable" costumes ended up meaning that the costumes were extremely revealing, “It is the costumes for the Brutal Exterminators, and Zed in particular, that raise the eyebrows. Thigh-high leather boots, crossed bandoliers and a pair of shorts that can be described as “skimpy”, the Brutals and Connery in particular exude raw masculinity, particularly as they ride their steeds and fire their guns.” 
Financed by 20th Century Fox and produced by Boorman's own self-titled company, John Boorman Productions Ltd. which was based in Dublin, principal photography for Zardoz took place from May to August 1973 .It was reported that Stanley Kubrick was an uncredited technical advisor on the film.
John Boorman controlled all aspects of the film, including the soundtrack. Boorman commissioned David Munrow, director of the Early Music Consort, to write the score. While the film is set in the distant future (the 23rd century approximately), Boorman seemed to believe futuristic music would contain a variety of old-world instruments. Boorman instructed Munrow to use a variety of medieval instruments including notch flutes, medieval bells and gemshorns. These instruments, plus snatches of Beethoven's Seventh, gave the movie a truly unusual soundtrack. As stated by infamous British conductor Sir Anthony Lewis in 1976 "David Munrow did not just emerge into the field of medieval and renaissance music......he exploded into it. He established a standard that can now never be ignored, and the stimulating shock-waves from his explosion will carry far into the future..." 
Along with David Munrow's medieval ensemble, the Zardoz soundtrack features Beethoven's "Symphony No.7" in A, 2nd movement, played by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Conducted by Eugen Jochum.
Zardoz was released in theaters on February 6, 1974, in Los Angeles and New York. When the film was released, it was immediately met with terrible reviews. Along with the scathing reviews, the public reacted very poorly to the confusing world of Zardoz. According to a Starlog Magazine article on Zardoz "these reviewers (and the general public) failed to understand many of Boorman's analogies and philosophical statements". The confusion caused word of mouth to spread very quickly that Zardoz was not worth watching and soon theaters showcasing the bizarre sci-fi were left practically empty. Multiple moviegoers reported that "when dissatisfied patrons from the previous showing exited the lobby, they would encourage those waiting to leave. Many times they did." This bad reaction caused ticket sales to drop immensely. As Zardoz had a budget of $1.57 Million and only made $1.8 Million at the box office it is considered to be a commercial failure. The film was later shown on local TV stations as late-night movie fare.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Zardoz holds an approval rating of 47%, based on 32 reviews, and an average rating of 5.19/10. Its consensus reads, "Zardoz is ambitious and epic in scope, but its philosophical musings are rendered ineffective by its supreme weirdness and rickety execution."
In a 1974 New York Times article, film critic Nora Sayre wrote ""Zardoz," which opened yesterday at the Trans-Lux East, is science-fiction that rarely succeeds in fulfilling its ambitious promises... Despite its pseudo-scientific gimcracks and a plethora of didactic dialogue, "Zardoz" is more confusing than exciting even with a frenetic, shoot-em-up climax."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it two-and-a-half stars out of four and called it a "genuinely quirky movie, a trip into a future that seems ruled by perpetually stoned set decorators… The movie is an exercise in self-indulgence (if often an interesting one) by Boorman, who more or less had carte blanche to do a personal project after his immensely successful Deliverance." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave it one star out of four and called it "a message movie all right, and the message is that social commentary in the cinema is best restrained inside of a carefully-crafted story, not trumpeted with character labels, special effects, and a dose of despair that celebrates the director's humanity while chastising the profligacy of the audience." Variety reported the "direction, good; script, a brilliant premise which unfortunately washes out in climactic sound and fury; and production, outstanding, particularly special visual effects which are among the best in recent years and belie the film's modest cost."
Jay Cocks of Time called the film "visually bounteous", with "bright intervals of self-deprecatory humor that lighten the occasional pomposity of the material." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was generally positive and wrote that its $1.5 million budget was "an unbelievably low price for the dazzle on the screen and a tribute to creative ingenuity and personal dedication. It is a film which buffs and would-be filmmakers are likely to be examining with interest for years to come." Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote that the script "lacks the human dimensions that would make us care about the big visual sequences" and burdened the actors with "unspeakable dialogue," and also remarked that Connery "acts like a man who agreed to do something before he grasped what it was."
In 2013 Will Thomas of Empire Magazine wrote of Zardoz "You have to hand it to John Boorman. When he’s brilliant, he’s brilliant (Point Blank, Deliverance) but when he’s terrible, he’s really terrible. A fascinating reminder of what cinematic science fiction used to be like before Star Wars, this risible hodge-podge of literary allusions, highbrow porn, sci-fi staples, half baked intellectualism and a real desire to do something revelatory misses the mark by a hundred miles but has elements — its badness being one of them — that make it strangely compelling."
Decades later, Channel 4 called it "Boorman's finest film" and a "wonderfully eccentric and visually exciting sci-fi quest" that "deserves reappraisal". Despite being mostly panned by critics, Zardoz has since developed a cult following.
Recently the Chicago Reader called it "John Boorman's most underrated film—an impossibly ambitious and pretentious but also highly inventive, provocative, and visually striking SF adventure with metaphysical trimmings."
- Zardoz at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
- Solomon p 232. Please note figures are rentals.
- "ISBN Search - zardoz". isbnsearch.org. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- Review of Zardoz from Channel 4
- CRITIC AT LARGE: Visions of the Future Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times 11 Jan 1974: d1.
- Zardoz and John Boorman Strick, Philip. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 43, Iss. 2, (Spring 1974): 73.
- Movies: Boorman at 40: Losing a Millstone at a Milestone Los Angeles Times 7 Apr 1974: n24.
- Thrift, Matt. "John Boorman on Kubrick, Connery and the lost Lord of The Rings script". Little White Lies.
- Hair' Turns Silver (Screen) New York Times 22 Apr 1973: 107.
- Laying to Rest Burt-Is-Dying Rumor Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times21 May 1973: f10.
- MOVIE CALL SHEET: Kubrick Sets 'Barry Lyndon' Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 18 May 1973: h16.
- Movies: Self-searching, on a rambling Rampling route Kramer, Carol. Chicago Tribune 17 Mar 1974: e16.
- Starlog Magazine Issue 056.
- Jackson, M. D. (17 April 2020). "The 'Barely-There' Costumes (and Plot) of Zardoz". Dark Worlds Quarterly. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
- Trade and Industry, Volume 15, April to June 1974. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1974. p. 62. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "John Boorman Productions Limited". DueDil. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- John Boorman's Zardoz Sight and Sound; London Vol. 42, Iss. 4, (Fall 1973): 210.
- link, Get; Facebook; Twitter; Pinterest; Email; Apps, Other. "David Munrow, And The Zardoz Soundtrack (1974)". Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Zardoz (1974) - IMDb, retrieved 28 April 2020
- Starlog Magazine Issue 056.
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- "Zardoz | VHSCollector.com". vhscollector.com. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Zardoz Blu-ray Release Date April 14, 2015, retrieved 28 April 2020
- "Zarzoz (1974) – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Fandango Media. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
- Sayre, Nora (7 February 1974). "The Screen: Wayne, Off the Range:Stars as.a Policeman in Warners'.'McQ.'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Ebert, Roger, "Zardoz (review)", Chicago Sun Times
- Siskel, Gene (March 19, 1974). "Gloom and doom infect 'Zardoz'". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
- "Film Reviews: Zardoz". Variety. January 13, 1974. 13.
- Celtic Twilight, an 18 February 1974 review from Time magazine
- Champlin, Charles (February 3, 1974). "'Zardoz': It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1, 45.
- Kael, Pauline (18 February 1974). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 98, 99.
- "Zardoz". Empire. 2 March 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
- Shankel, Jason; Stamm, Emily; Krell, Jason (7 March 2014). "30 Cult Movies That Absolutely Everybody Must See". io9. Gizmodo. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
- Telotte, J.P.; Duchovnay, Gerald (2015). Science Fiction Double Feature: The Science Fiction Film as Cult Text. Oxford University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-78138183-0.
- "Zardoz". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
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