theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Boorman|
|Produced by||John Boorman|
|Written by||John Boorman|
|Music by||David Munrow|
|Edited by||John Merritt|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|102 or 104-105 minutes|
|Box office||$1.8 million (US and Canada)|
Zardoz is a 1974 Irish-American science fiction fantasy film written, produced, and directed by John Boorman and starring Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, and featuring Sara Kestelman. The film, Connery's second post-James Bond role—after The Offence—was shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth on a budget of US$1.57 million.
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". But any Eternals who somehow manage to die, usually through some fatal accident, are almost immediately 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. 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. Some few Eternals do escape the Vortex's destruction, heading out to radically new lives as fellow mortal beings among the Brutals. Zed brings the immortals salvation by bringing them death.
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 giant stone head. In matching green suits, they sit with the boy standing between them, who matures as they age in a series of fades. 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 hand-prints on the wall and Zed's Webley-Fosbery revolver.
- Sean Connery as Zed
- Charlotte Rampling as Consuella
- Sara Kestelman as May
- John Alderton as Friend
- Sally Anne Newton as Avalow
- Niall Buggy as Arthur Frayn / Zardoz
- Bosco Hogan as George Saden
- Jessica Swift as Apathetic
- Reginald Jarman as voice of Death
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.
Financed by 20th Century Fox and produced by Boorman's own self-titled company, John Boorman Productions, principal photography for Zardoz took place from May to August 1973 in Ireland at Ardmore Studios in Bray, and on location in County Wicklow. Originally, Burt Reynolds was cast in the lead role (having just worked with Boorman on 1972's Deliverance) but had to pull out due to over-scheduling and was replaced by Connery. It was reported that Stanley Kubrick was an uncredited technical advisor on the film.
The film received mixed-to-negative reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times 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." Jay Cocks of Time called the film "visually bounteous", with "bright intervals of self-deprecatory humor that lighten the occasional pomposity of the material." Nora Sayre, in a 7 February 1974 review for The New York Times, called Zardoz a melodrama that is a "good deal less effective than its special visual effects"... a film "more confusing than exciting even with a frenetic, shoot-em-up climax." 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 a commercial failure and mostly panned by critics, Zardoz has since developed a cult following and found success on the home video market.
- Zed was the inspiration for the DC Comics character, Vartox.
- Film director Ben Wheatley is a self-confessed fan of the film.
- The seventh episode, "Raising Gazorpazorp", from Season 1 of the Adult Swim television series Rick and Morty includes an homage to the Zardoz head.
- In the Futurama episode "31st Century Fox", Professor Farnsworth is seen wearing Zed's uniform while trying on various other sci fi costumes, such as the stillsuit from Dune and the flight attendant's uniform from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- In the TV series Community, there is a reference to Zardoz when the character Starburns is wearing the same outfit as Zed in Season 5 episode 8
- 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.
- Review of Zardoz from Channel 4
- Ebert, Roger, "Zardoz (review)", Chicago Sun Times
- Celtic Twilight, an 18 February 1974 review from Time magazine
- Review of the film from The New York Times
- McAvennie, Michael and Dolan, Hannah (ed.) (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p.161. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. Quote: "Fans of John Boorman's 1974 sci-fi film Zardoz, starring Sean Connery in revealing red spandex, could appreciate writer Cary Bates and artist Curt Swan's inspiration for Vartox of Valeron."
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