Is there anyone with as varied a career, film-quality-wise, as Sean Connery? Here is a man known world-wide as Secret Agent 007 James Bond, and yet two years after his last true Bond film (Diamonds Are Forever), here he is, running around in red underoos and calling himself Zed.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The film in which he does these things, however, is a terrific argument against the use of psychotropic chemicals. Far from the allegorical commentary it was probably intended to be, Zardoz is a muddle of surrealistic imagery and psuedo-intellectual twaddle intertwined with occasionally laughable moments. Connery's skimpy attire and sagging 43-year old physique aside, this is one movie that is just plain weird.
In the year 2293, the denizens of Earth worship the Big Giant Head from 3rd Rock from the Sun. Finally, proof that NBC is making a bid to take over the world! If you want to get technical about it, they're actually worshipping Zardoz, their god and supplier of firearms. No, really. The big flying head descends upon the horse-riding masses, expostulates for a while on the good nature of guns versus the bad nature of penises, tosses out loads of weapons, and then departs. On second thought, maybe the big flying head is actually financed by the NRA. It even looks kind of like Charlton Heston playing Moses.
Zardoz: committed to outdoing
the natives of Easter Island
at every turn!
The point of all this flinging of ordnance is to fulfill Zardoz's plan: the unkempt and unwashed "Brutals" who live in the "Outlands" (as opposed to Outland, which is a totally different Sean Connery film) must be kept from multiplying. To this end, a race of kowtowing Exterminators has developed to take the weapons from Zardoz and kill the other Brutals. Why the oppressed Brutals don't just hang around and grab up some of those guns for themselves when they're expelled willy-nilly from the mouth of Zardoz (complete with ammunition) is anyone's guess.
To get the plot moving, Zed hops aboard the Big Flying Head one day when it stops to collect a shipment of wheat. Once inside, Zed discovers that Zardoz is not a god, but rather a flying machine. After disposing of its pilot, Zed finds himself in the Vortex, an oasis of calm where the current ruling class of the planet holds a non-stop Renaissance festival.
The best thing about the Eternals, as they are called, is that many of them are played by perky 1970's British actresses who don't feel the need for too much clothing. Connery must have had a terrific time frolicking about with these micromastic pretties, but they really don't make up for the assorted other British looneys we're subjected to during the course of the movie.
Weirdest of all is Friend, who looks like the genetic spawn of Eric Idle and Paul McCartney. He is apparently a bit of a bad egg, what with his thinking of bad thoughts and such. Through him we get to witness what happens when someone refuses to make leather mugs 24-7 like the rest of the Eternals. He becomes a Renegade, which means that he is artificially aged and then to forced to wear an ill-fitting tux and hang out with other similarly dressed Renegades. They spend all their time dancing very slow waltzes. Oh, and the Vortex is also inhabited by the Apathetics, but they're really weird.
After 45 minutes of setup, the plot finally begins to fall together, and what a strange beast it turns out to be. You see, Zed is actually a super-brained mutant, and not the ruthless killer he seemed to be. He's the last hope for humanity or something, which is evidenced by his dialogue.
Zed: An old man calls me. The voice of the turtle is heard in the land.
We swear we are not making this up. Later on, the Eternals bequeath all of their collected wisdom to Zed, and because Zardoz is a film made in the seventies, this involves people having sex.
Sara Kestelman and Charlotte Rampling
do their best to maintain
our interest in this movie.
We've mentioned a couple of times before that science fiction films are rarely about ideas, which is strange because science fiction has its roots in idea-laden short stories. The saving grace of this movie is that it does have the occasional interesting idea, in particular the origin of the word Zardoz. Zed's quest does finally make some sort of twisted sense, which is a relief, but the plot is so buried in experimental filmmaking (the cinematographer's previous credits include 2001) and pretentious dialogue that it became difficult for us to care.
The only thing stranger than Zardoz (or Connery's attire in it) is the career of its director, John Boorman. Boorman made his mark a year before Zardoz with Deliverance, a film famous for causing psychological problems both in its stars and in a generation of moviegoers. He went on to direct an amazing variety of films, including the awful Exorcist II, Excalibur, Emerald Forest, and Hope and Glory (one of Chris' favorite movies). More recently, he brought us Beyond Rangoon with Patricia Arquette. We might have suspected that a director so firmly entrenched in the 1970's super-cerebral science fiction genre during the making of Zardoz (see Silent Running, Logan's Run, and Planet of the Apes for more on this) would go on to a bizarrely uneven career... much like Sean Connery, now that we think about it.
As super-weird seventies movies go, Zardoz could be worse. It could have starred a less famous star than Connery, which would have robbed us of the sight of James Bond wearing a full wedding dress.
The Eternals show off truly advanced
technology: big screen television.