It is the year 2293 and in the Outlands on Planet Earth there arrives from the sky the huge stone head of Zardoz, god of the Brutals who live in the region, proclaiming to them "The gun is good! The penis is evil!" and vomiting a whole artillery of rifles, pistols and bullets onto the upturned faces of those who worship it. But today, its blessing is different because someone has stowed away inside its cavernous mouth, a Brutal called Zed (Sean Connery), hidden under the grain that is given to Zardoz and emerging to have a look around. He sees naked bodies wrapped in plastic, but one man is alive, so Zed shoots him because that is his nature...
The films Sean Connery made in the nineteen-seventies after the James Bond gig was left behind are a varied lot, but at least they displayed a willingness to experiment far more than any other actor who had taken the role, up until the casting of Daniel Craig at any rate. However, for every fine movie where he demonstrated a desire to stretch his talents, if not his accent, there were the inevitable missteps, and those did not come any bigger than Zardoz, the work John Boorman threw himself into after his substantial success Deliverance, with the general reaction either a baffled "huh?" or hoots of laughter as that dreaded word "pretentious" raised its head.
Sometimes no other word will do, of course, and with the would-be intellectual musings on display here which began with a, shall we say, unusual take on life and ending in barely comprehensible running around, this was one of the most ambitious follies of its era. With Alejandro Jodorowsky's efforts there was the attraction of seeing true novelty, if not comprehensibility, but Boorman's designs here were noticeably tough on the eyes, with production design and costumes (concocted by his wife) presumably hoping to look futuristic but ending up not appearing to be anything anyone would wish to live in or wear, even if it was the seventies. Or the twenty-third century, for that matter.
Once Zed - Connery clad in a memory-searing bright red loincloth and little else - has wound up at his destination, he takes a look around, and before he knows it is an object of fascination for the Eternals who live there, bound by their own set of rules but blessed with psychic powers and the ability to, as the name suggests, never die. Among them, Friend (British sitcom star John Alderton) is, as you might expect, more amiable than the others, showing Zed around and explaining the society, May (Sarah Kestelman) wishes to experiment on him, and Consuella (Charlotte Rampling, another risk-taker) wants him destroyed forthwith before he brings chaos to them - according to this, women become a lot more violent if they don't need to give birth anymore. That last is more savvy than she knows, though Zed finds himself attracted to her as we see in the embarrassing sex education sequence.
But then, a lot of Zardoz was embarrassing as Boorman did his best to articulate his concerns about what he saw the globe heading towards, which according to this was an elite of overprivileged snobs manipulating the underclass into doing their bidding, but becoming so bored in the process they crave the deaths they cannot achieve. In the process of this new arrival's disruption they discover that they were being manipulated themselves by a higher force, but also that the best thing available to them is violence, not a very intellectual conclusion although Boorman certainly made it his mission to render it that way. With all this linked to the explanation behind the movie's title in a real groaner, you begin to ponder that if it had been made as a prog rock concept album, or even an album cover, it would have been a lot easier to get along with, it was the right time for such things and tedium would not have set in so quickly. The most damning thing you could say about it would be it was precisely the sort of film the Eternals would have made. Music by David Munrow, with added Beethoven.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.