Saturday, 3 September 2011

Frankly Wrong

Sci-Fi Now
Alan Frank
Octopus Books, London 1978

"A major film maker who failed entirely when he attempted a science fiction movie was John Boorman. His tendencies towards significance at the cost of his material, already increasingly obvious in films such as Hell in The Pacific and Leo The Last reached full flower in the dire Zardoz.

Boorman's film postulates a bleak, depressing and intellectually pretentious future. In the year 2293, the world is divided into two regions, separated from one another by an impervious, invisible wall. On the inside of this barrier is the Vortex, a lush and tranquil world inhabited by the Eternals, all equal to one another but superior to the Renegades, a rank of non-conformists cast out from the body of the Eternals and the Apathetics, people unable to withstand the pressures of eternal life, taking refuge instead in breakdown and catatonia. On the other side, where the land is a barren wasteland, live the Brutals, humans who (unlike the Eternals, who have made both sex and reproduction obsolete) procreate with a vigour that makes it necessary for the Exterminators to kill them with a religious fervour in order to keep their numbers down.

The Exterminators are given their orders via an enormous flying godhead, Zardoz, from whose mouth there spews not only orders and propaganda but also the guns needed by the Exterminators for their task of thinning the ranks of the Brutals. Into this bizarre status quo Boorman introduces the Exterminator Zed, an educated killer who, suspecting that there is something fishy with the flying godhead, stows away in Zardoz and breaks into the intellectual commune of the Eternals, ultimately to prove the catalyst that destroys them.

Clearly Boorman, as writer, producer and director of this farrago, intended that Zardoz should stand as the sort of personal cinema statement that would confirm him as an auteur film maker on the level, say, of Fellini. What he in fact succeeded in doing was to make one of the most boring, self-indulgent and pretentious films of the genre, filled with shallow philosophy and inept echoes of much better movies that clearly had influenced him.

Even the presence of such a powerful and charismatic actor as Sean Connery as the Exterminator Zed was unable to do anything to save Zardoz and the film (deservedly) failed at the box office. And it is not, one should hasten to say, the sort of film that will be exhumed at some future date (say 2293) and hailed as an unrecognised masterpiece: Zardoz will remain rubbish - on a monumental scale."


Thirty-three years later, the perceptive Mr. Frank is now employed for his talent as dvd reviewer for The Daily Star. His mother must be very proud.


  1. I've had that book since it came out, read and re-read, long wondered about the inaccessible items in its pages, dreaming on my remote, frugal pre-everything island, an index of a treasure trove, items from which might fleetingly turn up late on Friday night's TV beach in the 80s, then be snatched away again. The writer never struck me as someone who really liked SF cinema, came across as begrudgingly accepting. Which brings me to -

    A lost marvel
    Of lost marbles.
    Lucky Alan being frank
    derides the peculiar treasure as total wank.

  2. I bought that book from a local newsagent in 1980 for the pricely sum of a pound. It smelt so bad that I covered it in brut to get rid of the smell!

  3. God, I haven't thought about that book in... decades, probably... amazing find.

  4. This is spot on -

    BTW I like the way the writers of the first 'Star Trek' film nicked Boorman's idea of a vast movement/form being predicated upon the corruption of a title: Wizard of Oz->Zardoz vs Voyager->Vger.

  5. Mr.Frank can be seen here on this cringeworthy debate with Sam Raimi trying to defend himself against daft MP's.
    About 6 mins in if you can stomach it.