Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: 'Zardoz' by John Boorman (with Bill Stair)


1 / 5 Stars

'Zardoz' (1974) is considered nowadays to be of dubious worth as SF cinema, but at the time of its release it got reasonably good reviews and box office receipts.

In some ways the prominent costuming of Sean Connery in a red 'pudsuit' gave many people the idea the film was frivolous even before they saw it. Those sci-fi fans of my acquaintance who are under 40 years of age think Zardoz is 70's cheese / kitsch culture personified.

This paperback novelization of Zardoz (Signet, 1974, 127 pp.) is based on Boorman's script which he began creating in 1972; according to Boorman's Introduction, Bill Stair was brought on to "...help rationalize the visions that threatened to engulf me."

The novelization follows the film's script quite closely and there are no revelations here that do not appear in the film; however, some of the more confusing elements of the film - and in my opinion, these are large in number- do get more fleshing out.

To synopsize: following the collapse of civilization, small bands of lotus-eaters, termed The Eternals, have retreated to lives of boredom within high-tech communities known as Vortexes.

Outside of these enclaves of plenty, the country is peopled by barely civilized tribes of mutants known as Brutals. Bands of armed raiders, termed The Exterminators, possess firearms and with these, and heavily applied doses of violence, keep the Brutal population in check.

An enormous flying stone head, representing the god Zardoz, regularly flies around the countryside, and when it touches down the Exterminators and the Brutals fill it with grain and other comestibles harvested from the land.

Zed (played in the film by Connery) is the premiere Exterminator; in the midst of pillage and rapine, he wonders why Zardoz necessarily must solicit foodstuffs from the countryside. Zed decides to covertly secrete himself within Zardoz, and when the stone head returns to its Vortex of origin, Zed encounters the Eternals. Soon he is caught up in their intrigues and power plays. But Zed, however uncouth his appearance, has his own ideas of how to liberate the country from serfdom to the Eternals...

As a novel, 'Zardoz' is mediocre. The prose style overdoses on New Wave SF mannerisms; for example, the narrative frequently creaks to a halt to indulge in figurative and symbolic passages designed to showcase the existential angst of the Eternals. 

There are too many sentences that try for Profundity, but instead come across as stilted and empty. The computer-controlled machinery that makes life in the Vortex possible is described in quasi-mythological terms, and comes across more as magic than technology per se.

The verdict ? Only truly die-hard fans of the film will want to read this novelization.

1 comment:

Zardoz said...

"Those sci-fi fans of my acquaintance who are under 40 years of age think Zardoz is 70's cheese / kitsch culture personified"

Those people are called "Squares".