Zardoz: Take a look behind the scenes of Sean Connery’s strangest movie

Yes, that is a plaited ponytail. Yes, those are thigh-high boots. Any other stupid questions?

In 1974, director John Boorman unveiled his newest passion project.

Hot off the massive box office success of “Deliverance”, Boorman has been given a blank cheque by 20th Century Fox to produce the futuristic sci-fi epic “Zardoz”.

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The film starred Charlotte Rampling and Sean Connery, in only his second feature since leaving the Bond franchise he had helped become a cinematic phenomenon.

The Exterminators really should have coordinated properly beforehand, because embarrassingly, they’ve all turned up in the same outfit; the classic combo of handlebar moustaches, red bandoliers, knee-high boots - and not much else.

Could “Zardoz”, set nearly 300 years in the future, prove to be his next big hit?

Well, no. To understand why, just look at the opening scene.

In a bleak and misty landscape, dozens of figures - some on foot, others on horseback - assemble high up on a heather-covered hillside.

And this is where it goes off the rails.

See!? I told you there was a floating disembodied stone head - you didn't believe me! Oh, it also stars Charlotte Rampling.

High above, a giant floating disembodied stone head, as big as a house, gradually descends toward the figures.

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The stone head is Zardoz, and the figures are his “Exterminators” - a group who rule over the ordinary people in this post-apocalyptic world, known as “Brutals”.

The head stops a few feet from the ground and a booming voice addresses the crowd from inside.

“ZARDOZ SPEAKS TO YOU, HIS CHOSEN ONES,” it bellows.

Nice dining room Sean, I love what you've done with the place.
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In a response reminiscent of a certain scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the Exterminators cry back: “We are the chosen ones!”

“YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED UP FROM BRUTALITY TO KILL THE BRUTALS WHO MULTIPLY AND ARE LEGION.

“TO THIS END YOUR GOD ZARDOZ GAVE YOU THE GIFT OF THE GUN.”

Okaaay - a bit quirky but we can live with it.

Ebert declared that Connery “wanders” through the movie “with a slightly bemused expression on his face”.

“THE GUN IS GOOD,” the stone head booms, as his followers gleefully brandish their rifles.

“THE PENIS IS EVIL” - Sorry, what? I must have misheard you, for a moment I thought you sai-

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“THE PENIS SHOOTS SEEDS, AND MAKES NEW LIFE TO POISON THE EARTH WITH A PLAGUE OF MEN.”

Ah, right... Agree to disagree?

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The scene ends with a pleasingly on-the-nose inversion of biblical scripture, as Zardoz orders the Exterminators to “GO FORTH AND KILL,” before guns and ammunition begin pouring out of the stone head’s mouth onto the ground below.

As the Exterminators rush forwards to collect their new prizes, Sean Connery’s character, Zed, appears in shot, holding a revolver.

In a moment that surely must be a nod to his time as 007, Connery turns towards the camera, aims the gun out at us, the audience, and pulls the trigger. Cut to black.

It’s fair to say that this sets the tone for the rest of the film.

And if you think that opening scene couldn’t get any weirder, I haven’t even told you what they were all wearing.

The Exterminators really should have coordinated properly beforehand, because embarrassingly, they’ve all turned up in the same outfit; the classic combo of handlebar moustaches, red bandoliers, thigh-high boots - and not much else.

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But titter ye not - and remember ye this: Zardoz was shot on location in County Wicklow - Ireland’s Amalfi Coast - where temperatures can reach up to single digits in the summer months.

Braver men than I would refuse to bear so much flesh under the circumstances.

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In any case, the plot marches on.

Zed soon realises he and his Exterminator comrades have been conned into believing in a false god when he discovers an ancient copy of The Wizard of Oz and scrutinises the title (Wi-ZARD [of] OZ - get it?).

It would be a shame to spoil the rest of the story, but a good elevator pitch for the film might be: “Conan the Barbarian meets a kilo of THC.”

Despite the well-known cast and acclaimed director, ZARDOZ DID NOT GIVE THE GIFT OF HUGE BOX OFFICE RETURNS, and critics were not bowled over either.

In his two-star review, Roger Ebert said: “John Boorman’s “Zardoz” is a genuinely quirky movie, a trip into a future that seems ruled by perpetually stoned set decorators.

He found the film all-too-often resembled “an exercise in self-indulgence”, adding that Boorman “puts a lot of heavy concepts into “Zardoz”, but seems uncertain whether he takes them seriously himself.”

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And what of the lead’s performance?

Ebert declared that Connery “wanders” through the movie “with a slightly bemused expression on his face” - same here mate.

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In all honesty, Connery’s performance is not bad at all - but it is hard to take anyone seriously in a red nappy and a waist length plaited ponytail.

It’s a look that even shomeone ash shexshy ash Sean Connery cannot pull off.

The film’s mixed reviews followed a bumpy - and at times violent - production.

Director John Boorman was injured on set while filming a cameo, when wadding fired from a blank round in Connery’s revolver embedded itself in his face.

Later, a fight broke out on set after Connery was forced to re-shoot the same arduous scene three times due to technical errors.

Boorman said Connery flew into a rage at the prospect of re-shoots, and claimed: “it took three Grips to restrain him” when he threw himself at a crew member.

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Despite these hiccups, the film is not unwatchable.

Elements of its set and costume design may not have aged well, but its exploration of religious and ethical themes is still worth your time.

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The film has taken on something of a cult following in recent years after its opening scene was parodied in the hit comedy series “Rick and Morty”, and with the news of Connery’s death, a re-evaluation of his work is inevitable.

New fans should not be afraid to explore some of his lesser-known work.

While “Zardoz” is far from Connery’s best film, it is also far from his worst (I have five words for you: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

One thing is for certain, however; it is definitely his weirdest.

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