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john boorman's " zardoz " is a goofy cinematic debacle so fundamentally misconceived and laughably executed that it takes on a bizarre enjoyment quality all its own .
not since the rampant bumblings of one edward d . wood jr . has a movie been so silly and so serious at the same time .
of course , wood's career can be explained by two things : he had no money and he had no talent .
boorman , on the other hand , cannot court such excuses to explain " zardoz " ( or his follow-up film , the equally awful " exorcist ii : the heretic " ) .
boorman obviously had a sizable budget , a matinee idol movie star ( sean connery ) in the lead role , and although you wouldn't know it from this film , boorman does indeed have talent .
this is the man who made the slick modern masterpiece " deliverance " ( 1972 ) , as well as the autobiographical world war ii drama " hope and glory " ( 1987 ) , the slightly over-conceived arthurian epic " excalibur " ( 1981 ) and the father-son jungle adventure " the emerald forest " ( 1985 ) .
his films all show that boorman is never lacking in imagination , but sometimes that comes at the cost of coherence and taste .
if boorman is anything , he's ambitious , and when he succeeds , it's in grand fashion .
unfortunately , the bigger they are , the harder they fall , and when boorman falls , the resounding impact can be heard for miles around .
" zardoz " is meant to takes its place among the grandest of mystical movies , an obsession of boorman's .
his screenplay tries to elicit the same mythological connotations of the arthurian legends or even " the wizard of oz , " a book which figures into the movie's plot .
but , despite all this reaching , the resulting movie is more unintentionally funny than intentionally enigmatical or compelling .
the events take place in the distant year 2293 , but there is little of the typical futuristic movie-ness to be found .
in fact , things seems to have moved backwards , with people riding horses , shooting old-style guns , and living in large victorian mansions .
it's more middle ages than space age .
the world of " zardoz " is divided into two distinct hemispheres : the outlands , where all the poor , pathetic people live , and the vortex , where a select group of wealthy intellectuals live in comfort and everlasting life .
these immortals never grow old , they never engage in sexual activity , they possess psychological powers , and they live in a sort of quasi-utopian marxist society where everyone is equal , and everyone contributes equally to the society .
however , if one breaks the rules , that person is punished by being aged so many years .
if someone breaks the rules enough , he or she is aged to the point of senility , and imprisoned to an eternal existence in a geriatric home with others aged criminals .
one of the immortals , arthur frayn ( niall buggy ) , a squirmy man with a mustache and goatee tattooed on his face , is charged with keeping order in the outlands and forcing the residents to farm so the immortals can be fed .
like " the wizard of oz , " he adopts a god-like status among the people by flying in to their part of the world in a giant stone carved like a menacing head .
( this flying head is one of the movie's opening images , and it's a dead giveaway of the lunacy to come . )
calling himself zardoz , frayn gathers a bunch of outlanders and makes them into a group called the exterminators , whose purpose is to kill most of the other outlanders so they can't procreate and take up more resources .
from inside his giant , stone head , zardoz bellows seriously laugh-inducting statements like , " the gun is good .
the penis is evil . "
that line alone is worth the movie's cult following .
one day , an exterminator named zed ( sean connery ) , sneaks into zardoz's flying stone , pushes frayn out , and goes back to the vortex .
once there , the immortals label him a " brutal " and study him like a lab rat , taking great , perverse care in exploring his sexuality , which is a mystery to them .
they seem especially interested in his ability to gain an erection , and there is one downright hilarious sequence where a bunch of scantily-clad female scientists show zed erotic footage on a video screen in an attempt to determine what gets him worked up .
i say " hilarious " because that is exactly what " zardoz " is .
it is obvious that boorman did not intend it to be so ; he made this film with the straightest of faces , although i have a hard time believing that as production moved forward , he didn't get even the slightest inkling of how patently ridiculous it was becoming .
just looking at connery is enough to give one the giggles - he spends most of the film running around in a red loin cloth that resembles a diaper , a mane of hair braided halfway down his back , a wyatt earp-style handlebar mustache , and a pair of thigh-high patent leather boots that would look more appropriate on a cheap hollywood hooker .
boorman made the film right after the critical and financial success of " deliverance , " which is the only reason i can imagine a studio would green-light this effort .
he attracted some rich talent on both sides of the camera , including cinematographer geoffrey unsworth ( " 2001 " ) , whose striking visuals are about the only good thing in " zardoz " besides the inadvertent humor .
sean connery had made his last james bond film in 1971 , and perhaps he was looking for a change in pace .
he got exactly that in " zardoz , " and it's a wonder it didn't end his career .
i'm sure boorman intended for this movie to make some grand statements .
is it a treatise about the infallibility of eternal life ?
is it a condemnation of those who consider growing old to be a bad thing ?
or is it a social statement , something about the inherent negativity of class distinctions and the violence it creates ?
karl marx might like it if he were more like timothy leary .
come to think of it , maybe boorman made it as an extended lsd trip .
people high on illicit substances are the only ones i can imagine enjoying this asinine silliness as anything more than a completely unintentional comedy .