Zardoz (1974) from The Realist
|Zardoz is a futuristic fantasy with a 60's feel, in which the entire future lifestyle choice comes down to either a failed hippie commune or a brutal recreation of Taras Bulba.|
|You have to love any movie
which starts with a disembodies head talking to the audience, followed
by a giant stone head floating down from the sky, soon to be
worshipped by various people in red panties or cheap Eastern European
suits. The head is named Zardoz, and he speaks only to the Panty-Men,
who are apparently in charge of population control. Zardy says,
"the gun is good, the penis is evil, and I think the blender and
the gall bladder could go either way", at which point he spits
out guns and ammo enough for the panty men to kill some more Eastern
European refugees. The panty men also wear droopy moustaches and red bandoliers
to match their panties, making them look like the dream sequence dance
numbers from a Broadway musical version of Viva Zapata.
But one of the Panty-Men (Bond, James Bond) stows away in the stone head, and uses it to penetrate the dreaded Vortex, a sheltered bubble in which the inhabitants have advanced beyond homo sapiens, and are now immortal. Although they are advanced beyond comprehension, they grind wheat into flour with a technology from the first millennium. I guess it's a whole hippie organic thing, because they all meditate together and dress up like a Peter Max nightmare of hippie existence, complete with beaded curtains and blacklight posters. They also live in an English country mansion and sew their own clothing, since the last GAP was closed hundreds of years earlier.
|This effete ruling
class has taken political correctness to an extreme, to the point
where any non-correct thoughts are punished with "aging". In
a world where everyone lives forever, there is no death penalty, so
the ultimate punishment is to doom people to living forever as senile
codgers. The codgers, called "renegades", live in their own
part of the vortex, where they spend every minute of every day and
night dancing to old Jimmy Dorsey songs in a forlorn ballroom. There
is one more Immortal group in the vortex, the "apathetics",
who have fallen prey to the ultimate disease of eternal life - no, not
the possibility of watching re-runs of The Nanny forever, but rather
boredom. Imagine if you had to live with the same 25 hippies, baking
organic green bread and sewing your own clothes, every day for the
rest of eternity. I know I'd become an apathetic.
When the brutal outlander penetrates the Vortex, things get really screwed up. The Immortals want to study him because he can die, and his penis works, while theirs doesn't. They're really into the whole penis thing, and they keep showing him nude mud wrestling movies in order to watch the effect on Sean Connery's dick. After 300 years of The Nanny, this must seem like major entertainment to them. Finally, some of the women come up with a rather self-serving way to impart to Connery all the knowledge of mankind. They do this by "osmosis", which is their term for making a mind-link download to Connery's brain, while he is making a penis-link download to them elsewhere. Remember these women haven't seen a hard dick in 300 years.
Poor John Boorman, the writer and director, was asked to do a commentary for the DVD, and even he finds it embarrassing now. He comments on some of the scenes, "yes, well, it's all rather absurd looking at it here, isn't it?". Most of the time he can't think of anything at all to say, so he just rambled on about how Connery stayed at his house during the shooting, since it was only ten miles away from the seedy mansion that played The Vortex. Apparently, Connery was an exemplary guest who always played his music very low, brushed his teeth after every meal, and never left any of those dried toothpaste stains on the sink. I'm not making this up, by the way. Boorman really doesn't seem to have any sense of what might make for interesting commentary.
There are some good things to say. The film has some imaginative visuals, and this DVD represents the first time that the full 2.35 theatrical aspect ratio has been seen since the film was actually in theaters. For some reason, the widescreen laser disc was cropped to 1.85. Strangely, the trailer is still in a 1.85 aspect ratio! I did enjoy seeing the full framing in the feature.
|I also enjoyed the cerebral aspect of
the movie. It is cheesy, and pretentious, and dated, and a lot of
other unflattering things, but it also comes from an era when people
used to come out of movies and talk about the ideas they presented.
This film is filled with interesting ideas about the nature of
immortality, and how it wouldn't be quite as good as it sounds. Think
about it, how would you keep from being bored? How would we punish
people? How would we control the population? The world is
overpopulated now, although we die. Imagine how crowded the planet
would be if we all kept living forever. The basic ideas behind the
movie were interesting, and the intricate multi-layered plot was
clever and thought-provoking.
Unfortunately, Boorman got lost somewhere on the road that led from good ideas to a good movie. At one time he must have hoped for profundity, but looking at it now, it's nothing but snicker fodder for the undergrads. To paraphrase Churchill, never has it been so sad that something was so funny.
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