The 1970s sci-fi movie scene was rife with trademarks that defined the decade, including (but not limited to) trippy visuals, weird special effects, and introverted storylines with dark subtexts that mimicked the public’s lack of optimism. Not until the mammoth hit Star Wars hit the scene in 1977 did things start turning around with a more positive outlook.
In the middle of this nihilism was Zardoz, a sci-fi romp featuring Sean Connery as a wacky everyman in a devastated future world who suddenly comes to grips with the fact that his God is nothing more than a ruse concocted by bored, immortal humans. It’s locked in the decade, but its cult status is absolutely undeniable. Read on to find more about what really went into this crazy sci-fi caper.
10 Insulting The Audience
In what may have been a dead giveaway regarding the studio’s faith in the movie, executives apparently wanted an introduction sequence tacked onto the film that gave some exposition. This was so audiences could understand the film better.
It’s never a good sign to signal that one’s audience is group of unthinking dunderheads who can’t figure things out by themselves, but that’s the movie business. While clearly a mind-trip, Zardoz is not incredibly difficult to decipher.
9 Connery On The Cheap
Sean Connery took the role of Zed largely out of desperation and a lull in the actor’s career. It had been a few years since he appeared in Diamonds Are Forever, and audiences began to forget about Connery’s 007 role. This left him in an unfortunate predicament.
Director John Boorman managed to score Connery for the role for a mere $200,000 dollars, which would have been unheard of at a later point in his career. Thankfully Connery’s acting roles would experience a massive resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s before he called it quits as an actor in 2003.
8 It Replaced Lord Of The Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien once said famously that Lord Of The Rings was “unfilmable,” and that was a correct statement by 1970s standards. John Boorman wanted to take a stab at it, but the deal fell through and his dreams of directing Lord of the Rings were squashed.
Boorman decided to film Zardoz after the cancellation was announced, perhaps to soften the blow. Meanwhile, Lord of the Rings would lie dormant as a live-action property until Peter Jackson turned it into a critical and commercial smash success trilogy beginning with 2001’s The Fellowship Of The Ring.
7 The Reliable Irish
For scenes involving a multitude of extras, John Boorman relied on the local Irish to capture the scenes. According to Boorman, the Irish were incredibly reliable and very pleasant to work with. They showed up on time, didn’t complain, and helped sell the scenes with real-world plausibility.
In fact, Boorman believed that the Irish extras in question fit the look he was going for – people who lived what he called an “outdoor life.” These salt-of-the-Earth people gave key scenes a much needed believability boost amidst the backdrop of such looney 1970s sci-fi storytelling.
6 Performance Issues
Actress Charlotte Rampling played Consuella in the film, and she must have had a massive crush on Sean Connery thanks to his suave bad-boy role as James Bond which propelled the franchise to commercial stardom. As such, she looked forward to her love scene with Connery with great enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite her way on the day of filming. The scene was filmed successfully in short order, putting a premature end to her roll in the hay with the good Sir Connery.
5 Connery’s Professionalism
Sean Connery had a reputation for helping out on productions whenever he could, regardless of their budgets or the cast attached to them. He would frequently defend directors against studio execs, stick his nose into the production process to eliminate inefficiencies (which wasn’t always appreciated), and help keep costs down by swallowing his own pride.
The latter came into play during the production of Zardoz, which was running on a limited budget. Rather than be driven to the set each day, Connery drove himself in his own vehicle in exchange for just 50% of the costs set aside for a chauffer. In addition, he stayed at the Boorman family house and paid rent to the director’s wife in exchange for hosting him.
4 Connery’s Lechery
While Connery was a class act when it came to pitching in for the sake of the film, his on-set antics were a bit more dubious. According to legend, Connery’s contract involved a clause that allowed him to pursue longer-than-required love scenes with female actors on the bill.
This bizarre clause might have been meat and potatoes in comparison to some of the craziness that went on during the 1970s, but it’s a bit ominous to say the least. Multiple women corroborated the story, though it’s unclear just how much turmoil – if any – it created on set.
3 Scathing Reviews
Zardoz is difficult to comprehend on a good day, but it has gained a significant sci-fi cult following over the years, particularly for the inventive and wacky lens it uses to examine the nature of the human condition. That doesn’t mean it scored well on the critical scale.
While Zardoz was essentially panned or met with indifference, Daily Express reviewer Ian Christie took it a step further by saying “If this is intellectual thinking, the Donald Duck deserves the Nobel Prize.”
2 Zed’s Revolver
Zardoz has no qualms when it comes to guns. Indeed, their fictional God seems quite happy to spill out thousands of firearms and ammunition so that the lowly humans may prey upon one another in a world gone completely off the rails. One such firearm however, is quite unique.
Zed’s revolver is a .455 Webley-Fosbery, notable for its famous action by which the upper receiver shunts back after firing in order to re-cock the hammer, thereby rotating the cylinder. This was considered quite a breakthrough in hand-held firearms technology back in 1901.
1 Skeletal Blunders
The final act of Zardoz shows Zed and Consuella turning into skeletons in a series of dissolve shots before vanishing completely. This scene suffered several blunders which forced John Boorman to reshoot it three times, much to Connery and Rampling’s mutual irritation.
First, the film of the original take was damaged, necessitating a reshoot. Second, an assistant exposed the negatives by accident which blew the shot. They finally got it right on the third take, but the massive amount of transformative makeup work meant that Connery and Rampling had to endure the torment several times.
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