In fact, that's what you're most likely to hear if you don't like the movie! "Oh, you just didn't understand it!" The argument goes that if you dare not praise Zardoz then you must be completely dense and as slow-witted as the people who can't grasp 2001: A Space Odyssey!
This is probably because writer/ director John Boorman attempted to give that very impression. Almost every frame, no matter how artistic, no matter how ridiculously silly, is treated with a pretension designed to make the audience think they must be missing something brilliant. Just imagine going out with your most pseudo-intellectual friends to see this film and then discussing it at some uptight coffee shop afterwards. DARE you say you didn't like it when "Ethan-Jayden" and "Chloe-Madison" are discussing its virtues as "less a Science Fiction film, because I don't watch those, than a socio-political commentary on the human condition marked by class struggles elitism and the rise of the common everyman to the post of leader and spiritual guide who brings about equality in ways that we can only dream of in our own time."
Nevermind that these are the same goofs who pretended not to hear a homeless guy asking for change on the way in... these are your "Smart Friends", so if you don't agree with them, you might as well be slapping your chest with the back of your hand, breathing through your mouth and moaning while wearing some ungodly combination of a bicycle helmet and conical dunce cap on your previously-believed-to-be adequate noggin! If Ethan-Jayden decries the plight of the downtrodden and condemns the elitists before he drives away in his Dad's Mercedes Benz, he can't POSSIBLY be an Elitist himself, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, bite me! I'm not specifically dissing Zardoz (yet). It's the people who burst into angry fits any time someone dares point out that Zardoz isn't reactor-core brilliant that I'm spitting all over. Zardoz has its great moments, it's true, but in so many places it was clear that Boorman was making this into his own, Earth-bound, 2001 with all the psychadelia and mind-bending, mixed in with a very Lord of the Rings-like fantasy and the controlled, pseudo-utopian society of something like THX-1138, here represented by a gaggle of ageless laissez-faire hippies with Green Lantern power rings and a propensity for running around naked.
You see, after Deliverance, Boorman was clear to write his own ticket (or screenplay as the case may be). This is what he came up with:
A big floating head drops out of the sky and vomits up firearms onto a bunch of hairy guys in their underwear who look like they're about to go see Sabbath in concert. Then it vomits out some diatribe about how evil the Penis is. Doesn't "The Big Giant Head" realize that one of these "Brutals" is actually James Bond, whose legendary sexual exploits throughout the world pretty much belies the very concept that he could believe that his penis is "evil". Mine's pretty nice, too, actually.
By the way, just so the audience realizes that James Bond is in the crowd, the second we see Sean Connery's Zed he walks onscreen with a pistol, turns and shoots at the camera! Way to diversify the resume, Sean! Hell, Boorman, why not have the screen drip red and the camera swoon down for a few seconds before the credit sequence, man? Then again, I guess James Bond himself never donned a pair of Tighty-Reddies with matching suspenders and rode around in a big stone head making a face that looks like a '57 Chevy's grill!
I have to hand it to Connery, though... the man was big and tough in this thing! Braided pony tail or not!
Much of this whole "Brutals" raping, pillaging and keeping the underlings in line story is told in flashback as Zed is under the interrogative care of the "Eternals", the aforementioned race of bored Green Lantern-powered hippies who are equally agricultural and technological... and naked.
Yes, naked. Quite a bit of the time. If you ever wanted to see the lady from Swimming Pool nude, here's your movie. Uh, no, not the hot, young actress (who wasn't born yet)... I mean the older woman, Charlotte Rampling from back when she was a hot, young actress! Yes, her character Consuella is equal part stern, angry scientist, sexually repressed hippie and all around kill joy. At least at first. The same tends to go for fellow eternals like spotty May (Sara Kestelman), Friend (John Alderton) and Avalow (Sally Anne Newton)!
After a while it seems like the rabble-rousing Zed is the normal one.
But then again, that's what Boorman wants you to think and he spells out exactly the right time that you should start to think this. When things start to get more ambiguous, Boorman throws in an explanatory flashback or a character like Bosco Hogan's George Saden or Niall Buggy's Arthur Frayn pops up to give some insight. Seeing as how the introductory sequence of Buggy's floating head (that's before the big stone floating head) explains that Arthur Frayn also goes by the name Zardoz, maybe he's worth listening to in all of this. Ha ha!
That's kind of the key to Zardoz... pay attention and it the whole thing feels pretty obvious. That's not to say that there are no moments of ambiguity. There are. These elements, however, come off less as mystical and powerful than as a contrivance to make the film seem to be a bit deeper than it is. Often Boorman and his cast and crew can be very clever. Just as often, unfortunately, Boorman and his cast and crew seem pleased with themselves for being so clever and they spend way to much time congratulating themselves and distracting us further from the plot flaws with their "cool ideas". When all of that fails, Boorman distracts us with nudity and descriptions (and depictions) of sexuality ranging from the erotic to the coldly clinical.
To be fair, when Boorman gets it right, the film can be spectacular, even given the fact that you can see the strings on the floating objects and the crew is accidentally shown on screen a few times. On occasion, Zardoz feels like Logan's Run, at others it feels like the ANTI-Logan's Run! At times its Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz influences shine right through, at others it feels like a combination of other futuristic, semi-iconoclastic films of the age like Rollerball and Planet of the Apes. At still other times, Zardoz feels a bit sanctimonious and preachy with its obscured message hidden just close enough to the surface that those who really "get it" can feel smug and smart and pat themselves on the back.
The good parts can be good, the artistry can be beautiful and the budgetary corner-cutting can be brilliant. The action is interesting and the slower moments can be thought provoking. The ultimate final answer, however, is not quite the sum of Zardoz' parts. Like any given latter-day Shyamalan picture, Zardoz will have its admirers and detractors who will disagree vehemently on its assets and liabilities. And to be fair... there are a lot of both! Sure, Zardoz thinks it's 2001, but it's really a lot more like Krull! Many may be thrilled... others might just Zardoz-off!!!
The end result is mixed enough to the point that I'm not even sure how to review Zardoz! It's got its moments of brilliance and its moments of complete collapse under its own weight. Accepting that when it's good it can be beautiful, it's still only worth Two Stars out of Five... sigh, okay, okay, maybe Two and a Half! Maybe! Yes, I'm sure I'll get some hate mail for this one. Trust me, though, Chloe-Madison and Ethan-Jayden... I've heard it already, I see your point and the review still stands. We all know what Deliverance did for Boorman and for movies in general but let's not forget that his next film was Exorcist II: The Heretic! So, let's all just agree to feel clever together when I see you in the next reel!
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