Saturday, February 5, 2011

Zardoz (1974)

          When a movie opens with a giant floating head landing among a group of loincloth-wearing soldiers on horseback, and then the head lectures the soldiers about how the gun is good and the penis is bad before expectorating a shower of weapons and ammunition, you know you’re in for a party. And sure enough, writer-producer-director John Boorman’s sci-fi epic Zardoz is so earnest about delivering laughably nerdy futuristic concepts and visuals that it’s entertaining despite itself. It’s certainly not as if anyone can be expected to take seriously a movie in which Sean Connery delivers nearly his entire performance wearing nothing but bright-red diapers and a preposterous hairstyle comprising a handlebar moustache, massive sideburns, and a long braid Cher might covet.
          Describing the plot of Zardoz is a thankless task, because it’s one of those numbingly convoluted sci-fi flicks in which nearly every scene introduces another fantastical conceit, so the movie constantly digs itself in deeper by trying to explain itself. However the broad strokes are that in the 23rd century, mankind has gotten divided into a handful of telepathic immortals living inside a domed country estate, and hordes of flesh-and-blood “brutals” who occupy the rest of the post-apocalyptic planet. Connery plays Zed, a brutal who serves his god Zardoz by raping and killing fellow brutals, and Zardoz manifests as the aforementioned giant floating head. For reasons that get explained later, Zed sneaks into the floating head so he can travel back to its home base, where he learns that one of the immortals created Zardoz. The immortals’ society starts to splinter when Zed emerges, inexplicably, as a messianic leader.
          Boorman uses all sorts of hallucinatory imagery, like film projections onto walls and human bodies, plus angles shot through every semi-transparent texture imaginable. (My favorite contrivance is a scene photographed through rainbow-colored threads when Connery wanders through the works of a loom.) The costumes are straight out of a bad Star Trek episode, and the immortals favor chanting and silly hand gestures, so if there’s an interesting allegory buried inside Zardoz, it’s hard to dig it out from the ludicrous surface imagery. Connery spends a lot of his screen time staring blankly into the middle distance, like he can’t make any more sense of this stuff than viewers, and costar Charlotte Rampling lends little more than her icy beauty to a clichéd role as an “elevated” soul whose animal roots are showing through.
          With cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth giving the film a soft, otherworldly look, Boorman manages to conjure some beautiful tableaux, but he constantly goes overboard with gonzo moments like a nighttime riot featuring men in giant papier-mâché masks, tuxedoed oldsters moaning like zombies, hippies copulating in trees, and Connery wearing a wedding gown.

Zardoz: FREAKY

1 comment:

Kevin Greene said...

This is (even tossing in 2001) the single most confused by a movie that I ever was as a child. I'm trying to think of others but I'm pretty sure I've never been as perplexed. Wow. And after reading your review I still can't (well, clearly no one can) understand it. I don't even want to see it again, which is really saying something.