John Boorman cashed his Deliverance cheque to make…this? To clarify: that’s not a dig at the Zardoz‘s quality but more a reaction to Boorman’s sheer audacity. After a planned adaptation of Lord of the Rings fell through, Boorman poured all his enthusiasm into an original screenplay built on his own ideas for a science fiction universe. Critics and audiences barely managed to get past the image of Sean Connery in a mankini and the film ended Boorman’s career for a brief period. And yet…Zardoz lives on.
While the film never really works as a whole – the plot and characters never really resonate or connect – the world and design around it all is constantly fascinating. So often do spaceships and laser battles define science fiction movies but Zardoz goes in the opposite direction. Hard ideas, heady concepts and foreign civilizations are what keep Boorman’s film interesting. More Planet of the Apes than Flash Gordon, I have no doubt Zardoz remains a cult touchstone because it showcases a universe unique to itself. Giant floating stone heads, sexy aliens with class issues, detailed diagrams explaining the phenomena of…erections? Oh boy there’s a lot to scratch your head over. I always assumed Boorman was merely a director for hire on Zardoz so my puzzlement became even more complex when I realized he actually originated the project from scratch. Then again, let’s not forget this is the man who directed Point Blank so I maybe shouldn’t be so surprised that he enjoys creating things outside of the box.
The fact people like me are still discovering and talking about Zardoz 40+ years later is a real testament to the power of cult fandom and bold, original filmmaking. In much the same way Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce has outlived it’s reputation as a big-budget disaster to become a home-video favourite for it’s individualistic/totally fucking bat-shit approach to sci-fi, Zardoz seems to constantly attract and reward new viewers. But where Hooper’s film feels like it was conceived under a haze of green smoke with endless piles of cash and acid tabs, Boorman’s feels like an intellectual’s imagination running wild and has a handmade, personal quality offset by the unconventional rural setting and political undertones. It’s goddamn memorable to say the least.
The oh-so-70s physique of Connery’s exposed bod might get most of the limelight, but Zardoz boasts enough striking images and audacious ideas to warrant it’s everlasting shelf-life. If a one-way ticket to a one-of-a-kind sci-fi universe is enough to pique your interest then Zardoz is the destination for you. It’s not a misunderstood masterpiece by any means but if nothing else, the sheer imagination on show demands respect and attention