Monday, January 22, 2007

Weekly Double Feature Zardoz and Outland

Post-James Bond and pre-stately elderly gentleman of respectable films, Sean Connery’s middle career was populated with a half-dozen sword-and-sorcery epics and sci-fi sagas, from B-movies like Highlander and Meteor to Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and the elegiac Robin and Marian. Lest we forget the Z-grade Sword Of The Valiant, the horrendous version of the Arthurian legend “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” with Miles O’Keefe portraying Gawain as a pageboy-sporting dandy.

Two films from this era in Connery’s corpus opi stand out, Zardoz and Outland, sci-fi adventures set in futuristic dystopias pitting Connery against insurmountable odds that only a brave heart and a thick Scottish brogue can conquer.

Zardoz (1973)
“And I have looked into the face of the force which put the idea in your head. You are bred and led yourself.”

Screenwriter/director, John Boorman followed up Deliverance with this sci-fi disaster flick set in 23rd Century Earth. Zed (Connery) is a member of what he believes to be the ruling class, The Exterminators, a force of highly-trained assassins. Following directives from their giant stone god Zardoz, The Exterminators wield their might over the Brutals, the supposed uncivilized lower class. A series of inconsistencies leads Zed to challenge his belief in Zardoz. After further investigation, he discovers that, indeed, Zardoz is not a true god, but rather a smokescreen for the Eternals, a society of immortals with heightened psychic abilities who use their intelligence and mental powers to exploit the other denizens of Earth. Armed with the truth, Zed attempts to divulge the secrets of the Eternals, hoping to incite and overthrow of their rule and stop a plague that threatens the Exterminators and Brutals both. This is 1970’s science fiction at its best, surrealistic visuals, cheezoid effects and heady allegorical themes abound. Zardoz ranks up there with the Heston triumvirate (Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man).

Outland (1981)
“Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man.”

A contemporary film of Blade Runner and Alien, screenwriter/director Peter Hyams’ Outland was the unsung hero in setting the look, feel and tone for science fiction films of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Adapting High Noon as a space adventure (complete with digital clock tickdown), Hyams updated the Miller gang from maverick outlaws to mercenary killers in the employ of an evil mega-corporation who runs a corrupt mining operation (and drug ring) on Jupiter’s moon, Io. Connery is the Marshall--herein, O’Neil, rather than Gary Cooper’s Kane--who has every opportunity to flee the ultraviolent moon with his wife and bypass the impending showdown altogether, but duty beckons. Abandoned not only by the missus, but also his would-be deputy co-workers, Marshall O’Neil waits on the satellite alone, preparing for the ultimate face-off with the hired assassins. While primarily a visually compelling film, the phenomenal production design and effects are supported by terrific performances by Peter Boyle as Sheppard, the chief Baddie von Nogood and Connery’s 12-guage shotgun-toting (in space, no less!) Marshall O’Neil.

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