Zardoz is a 1974 Irish-American science fantasy film, and later a book, written, produced, and directed by John Boorman and starring Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, and featuring Sara Kestelman. The film, Connery's second post-James Bond role—after The Offence—was shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth on a budget of US$1.57 million. It depicts a future world where a stone image called "Zardoz" instructs the "Brutals" to kill each other for eternal life.
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Boorman|
|Produced by||John Boorman|
Charles Orme (associate producer)
|Written by||John Boorman|
|Music by||David Munrow|
|Edited by||John Merritt|
John Boorman Productions Ltd. (uncredited)
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox (United States)|
Fox-Rank Distributors Ltd. (United Kingdom)
|102 or 104-105 minutes|
|Box office||$1.8 million (US and Canada)|
In a future post-apocalyptic Earth in the year 2293, the human population is divided into the immortal "Eternals" and mortal "Brutals". The Brutals live in a wasteland, growing food for the Eternals, who live apart in "the Vortex", leading a luxurious but aimless existence on the grounds of a country estate. The connection between the two groups is through Brutal Exterminators, who kill and terrorize other "Brutals" at the orders of a huge flying stone head called Zardoz, which supplies them with weapons in exchange for the food they collect. Zed (Sean Connery), a Brutal Exterminator, hides aboard Zardoz during one trip, temporarily "killing" its Eternal operator-creator Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy).
Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two Eternals — Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman). Overcoming him with psychic powers, they make him a prisoner and menial worker within their community. Consuella wants Zed destroyed immediately; others, led by May and a subversive Eternal named Friend (John Alderton), insist on keeping him alive for further study.
In time, Zed learns the nature of the Vortex. The Eternals are overseen and protected from death by the Tabernacle, an artificial intelligence. Given their limitless lifespan, the Eternals have grown bored and corrupt. The needlessness of procreation has rendered the men impotent and meditation has replaced sleep. Others fall into catatonia, forming the social stratum the Eternals have named the "Apathetics." The Eternals spend their days stewarding mankind's vast knowledge—through a voice recognition based search engine—baking special bread for themselves from the grain deliveries and participating in communal meditation rituals. To give time and life more meaning the Vortex developed complex social rules whose violators are punished with artificial aging. The most extreme offenders are condemned to permanent old age and the status of "Renegades." Eternals who somehow managed to die, usually through some fatal accident, are then reborn into another healthy, synthetically reproduced body that is identical to the one they just lost.
Zed is less brutal and far more intelligent than the Eternals think he is. Genetic analysis reveals he is the ultimate result of long-running eugenics experiments devised by Arthur Frayn—who is Zardoz—who controlled the outlands with the Exterminators, thus coercing the Brutals to supply the Vortices with grain. Zardoz's aim was to breed a superman who would penetrate the Vortex and save mankind from its hopelessly stagnant status quo. The women's analysis of Zed's mental images earlier had revealed that in the ruins of the old world Arthur Frayn first encouraged Zed to learn to read, then led him to the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Zed finally understands the origin of the name Zardoz—Wizard of Oz—bringing him to a true awareness of Zardoz as a skillful manipulator rather than an actual deity. He becomes infuriated with this realization and decides to plumb the deepest depths of this enormous mystery.
As Zed divines the nature of the Vortex and its problems, the Eternals use him to fight their internecine quarrels. Led by Consuella, the Eternals decide to kill Zed and to age Friend. Zed escapes and, aided by May and Friend, absorbs all the Eternals' knowledge, including that of the Vortex's origin, to destroy the Tabernacle. Zed helps the Exterminators invade the Vortex and kill most of the Eternals—who welcome death as a release from their eternal but boring existence. A few Eternals do escape the Vortex's destruction, heading out to radically new lives as fellow mortal beings among the Brutals. Zed brings the immortals salvation by bringing them death.
Zardoz ends in a wordless sequence of images accompanied by the sombre second movement (allegretto) of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, snatches of which are heard throughout the film. Consuella, having fallen in love with Zed, gives birth to a baby boy within the remains of the giant stone head. In matching green suits, they sit with the boy standing between them, who matures as they age in a series of fades. The youth leaves his parents, who take hands and grow very old, eventually decomposing into skeletons and finally vanishing. Nothing remains in the space but painted hand-prints on the wall and Zed's Webley-Fosbery revolver.
Boorman was inspired to write Zardoz while preparing to adapt The Lord of the Rings for United Artists, but when the studio became hesitant about the cost of producing film versions of Tolkien's books, Boorman continued to be interested in the idea of inventing a strange new world.
Boorman said "I wanted to make a film about the problems of us hurtling at such a rate into the future that our emotions are lagging behind." The original draft was set five years in the future and was about a university lecturer who became obsessed with a young girl who disappeared. He searched for her among communes where the girl lived. Boorman visited some communes for research. He then decided to set the story even further in the future, when society had collapsed and a new society had emerged.
Boorman developed the society and the central character "who penetrated it. He'd be mysteriously chosen and at the same time manipulated - and i wanted the story to be told in the form of a mystery, with clues and riddles which unfold, the truth slowly peeled away."
Boorman said he was influenced by writers such as T.S. Eliot, Frank Baum and Tolkien as well as the medieval Arthurian quests.
"It's about inner rather than outer space," said Boorman. "It's closer to the better science fiction literature which is more metaphysical. Most of the science fiction that gives the genre a bad name is adventure stories in space clothes."
Boorman says "Nobody wanted to do it. Warners didn’t want to do it, even though I’d made a shitload of money for them." His then-agent David Begelman knew the head of 20th Century Fox wanted to make a film with the director. He said the executive could read the script but needed to make a decision within two hours. "It’s either yes or no," Begelmen told him. "You have no approvals, and it’s a million dollars negative pick-up". Boorman says "The Fox guy came to London, and I was very nervous, so we went for lunch whilst he read the script. When he finally came out of the office his hand was shaking, clearly with no idea of what to make of it. Begelman went straight up to him and said, ‘Congratulations!’ He never gave the poor guy a chance."
Rampling said she did the film because it's "poetry. It clearly states - love your body, love nature and love what you come from."
However he had to pull out due to illness and was replaced by Connery.
"Connery had just stopped doing the Bond films and he wasn’t getting any jobs, so he came along and did it," said Boorman.
Connery's casting was announced in May 1973 the week before filming was to begin.
Financed by 20th Century Fox and produced by Boorman's own self-titled company, John Boorman Productions Ltd. which was based in Dublin, principal photography for Zardoz took place from May to August 1973 in Ireland at Ardmore Studios in Bray, and on location in County Wicklow. 
The film received mixed-to-negative reviews.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it two-and-a-half stars out of four and called it a "genuinely quirky movie, a trip into a future that seems ruled by perpetually stoned set decorators… The movie is an exercise in self-indulgence (if often an interesting one) by Boorman, who more or less had carte blanche to do a personal project after his immensely successful Deliverance." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave it one star out of four and called it "a message movie all right, and the message is that social commentary in the cinema is best restrained inside of a carefully-crafted story, not trumpeted with character labels, special effects, and a dose of despair that celebrates the director's humanity while chastising the profligacy of the audience." Variety reported the "direction, good; script, a brilliant premise which unfortunately washes out in climactic sound and fury; and production, outstanding, particularly special visual effects which are among the best in recent years and belie the film's modest cost." Jay Cocks of Time called the film "visually bounteous", with "bright intervals of self-deprecatory humor that lighten the occasional pomposity of the material." Nora Sayre, in a 7 February 1974 review for The New York Times, called Zardoz a melodrama that is a "good deal less effective than its special visual effects"... a film "more confusing than exciting even with a frenetic, shoot-em-up climax." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was generally positive and wrote that its $1.5 million budget was "an unbelievably low price for the dazzle on the screen and a tribute to creative ingenuity and personal dedication. It is a film which buffs and would-be film-makers are likely to be examining with interest for years to come." Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote that the script "lacks the human dimensions that would make us care about the big visual sequences" and burdened the actors with "unspeakable dialogue," and also remarked that Connery "acts like a man who agreed to do something before he grasped what it was."
Decades later, Channel 4 called it "Boorman's finest film" and a "wonderfully eccentric and visually exciting sci-fi quest" that "deserves reappraisal". Despite being a commercial failure and mostly panned by critics, Zardoz has since developed a cult following. The film presently has a score of 48% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews, with an average grade of 5.2 out of 10.
- Zardoz at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
- Solomon p 232. Please note figures are rentals.
- "ISBN Search - zardoz". isbnsearch.org. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- Review of Zardoz from Channel 4
- CRITIC AT LARGE: Visions of the Future Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times 11 Jan 1974: d1.
- Zardoz and John Boorman Strick, Philip. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 43, Iss. 2, (Spring 1974): 73.
- Movies: Boorman at 40: Losing a Millstone at a Milestone Los Angeles Times 7 Apr 1974: n24.
- Thrift, Matt. "John Boorman on Kubrick, Connery and the lost Lord of The Rings script". Little White Lies.
- Hair' Turns Silver (Screen) New York Times 22 Apr 1973: 107.
- Movies: Self-searching, on a rambling Rampling route Kramer, Carol. Chicago Tribune 17 Mar 1974: e16.
- Laying to Rest Burt-Is-Dying Rumor Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times21 May 1973: f10.
- MOVIE CALL SHEET: Kubrick Sets 'Barry Lyndon' Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 18 May 1973: h16.
- Trade and Industry, Volume 15, April to June 1974. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1974. p. 62. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "John Boorman Productions Limited". DueDil. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- John Boorman's Zardoz Sight and Sound; London Vol. 42, Iss. 4, (Fall 1973): 210.
- Ebert, Roger, "Zardoz (review)", Chicago Sun Times
- Siskel, Gene (March 19, 1974). "Gloom and doom infect 'Zardoz'". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
- "Film Reviews: Zardoz". Variety. January 13, 1974. 13.
- Celtic Twilight, an 18 February 1974 review from Time magazine
- Review of the film from The New York Times
- Champlin, Charles (February 3, 1974). "'Zardoz': It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1, 45.
- Kael, Pauline (18 February 1974). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 98, 99.
- Shankel, Jason; Stamm, Emily; Krell, Jason (7 March 2014). "30 Cult Movies That Absolutely Everybody Must See". io9. Gizmodo. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
- Telotte, J.P.; Duchovnay, Gerald (2015). Science Fiction Double Feature: The Science Fiction Film as Cult Text. Oxford University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-78138183-0.
- "Zardoz". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2 December 2018.