In the year 2293, lesser humans called Brutals farm the decrepit Earth to feed the Eternals, who live forever in the luxurious Vortex. Until one day, Sean Connery (in his most celebrated role) penetrates the Vortex – which isn’t as sexy as it sounds (depending on how sexy you find a ponytailed 007 running around in a red nappy).
Following the success of the brilliant Deliverance, filmmaker John Boorman was given the freedom to write, produce and direct this 1974 sci-fi movie. If only he’d also been given some money, Zardoz (pronounced ZAR-DOZ!) could have been a compelling fantasy film. Instead, the $1m budget, baffling narrative and bizarre costume choices leave you scratching your enormous stone head.
Every aspect of this film is so completely bonkers that it’s difficult to know where to start. Let’s try the beginning. A disembodied head with facial hair scribbled on in biro bounces around the screen saying something about God and Zardoz and Merlin. According to his DVD commentary, Boorman added this intro at the last minute to help people understand the film. He adds: “It didn’t work.”
Rebounding from a stalled Lord of the Rings project, Boorman juggles a number of interesting ideas (to do with knowledge, religion and death) but manages to drop them all quite spectacularly. It all defies belief, from the design to the performances – notably by Charlotte Rampling and Sean Connery. After Burt Reynolds fell ill, Connery (struggling to find work post-Bond) was hired for just $200,000 and acts like it was much, much less.
Is this really the same John Boorman who gave us Deliverance and Charley Boorman? Filmed on the land behind his house in Ireland, the movie is notoriously bad, certifiably insane and never booring – how could it be? It features James Bond wearing a wedding dress and a giant floating head that shouts: “The penis is evil!” If Monty Python had made Zardoz, it would be hailed as comic genius.
Zardoz is probably one of my favourite films of all time. It’s just insane, and is so confident in its own weirdness. It would never be made nowadays. I love it!