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The Bizarre Sean Connery Sci-Fi Movie You've Never Seen

Over the course of his illustrious career, Sir Sean Connery — who passed away at the age of 90 on October 31, 2020 — played all sorts of characters. From originating James Bond in 1962's Dr. No, taking on the role of the swordsman Don Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez in 1986's Highlander, playing Colonel Arbuthnot in 1974's Murder on the Orient Express, starring as Indiana Jones' father in 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and leading movies like The Untouchables and The Hunt for Red October, Connery did it all during his time in the limelight. 

But there's one cinematic feat many may not know Connery pulled off, a strange flick starring the late Scotsman that you probably have never seen: Zardoz, released in February 1974.

A sci-fi fantasy film from director-writer-producer John Boorman, Zardoz is set in the year 2293 following an apocalypse that sees the humans of Earth split into two sects: the Eternals and the Brutals. The Eternals are immortal, rule over the Brutals, and live in an area known as the Vortex; meanwhile, the Brutals spend their lives growing food for the Eternals. In this future Earth, there's also a third group that links the Eternals with the Brutals: the Brutal Exterminators, whose job is to torture and/or murder Brutals as instructed by Zardoz, the Eternals' god who appears as an enormous head made of stone and gives the Brutals weapons as a trade-off for the work they do. Under Zardoz's conditioning, the Brutals are taught that they're natural killers with low intelligence.

That status quo is challenged when the Brutal Exterminator Zed, played by Connery, manages to hide out inside Zardoz one day. He meets an Eternal named Consuella (Charlotte Rampling), and eventually discovers how life truly is for the Brutals and the Eternals, as well as what Zardoz actually represents.

Zardoz continues to spark conversations to this day

When Zardoz hit the silver screen in 1974, it generated quite a buzz. Some thought Zardoz was a work of movie magic, while others felt it was lacking depth and finesse. 

"[Zardoz] is science-fiction that rarely succeeds in fulfilling its ambitious promises. John Boorman, who directed the exemplary Deliverance, wrote, produced and directed this fantasy set in 2293 on Irish locations, merely proves that its major attributes are technical. His melodrama about a harried world order of the future is a good deal less effective than its special visual effects," wrote The New York Times' Nora Sayre in her February 1974 review of Zardoz. "[The film] is more confusing than exciting even with a frenetic, shoot-em-up climax. [...] Mr. Boorman's intentions are obviously noble but he and his cast make Zardoz a fiction that raises questions about man's fate but doesn't offer satisfying answers."

Variety staff wrote in a late December 1973 review (ahead of the film's theatrical release) that Zardoz is strong in some ways but weak in others. "Zardoz is a futuristic, metaphysical, and anthropological drama testing John Boorman in three creative areas," the review reads. "The results: direction, good; script, a brilliant premise which unfortunately washes out in climactic sound and fury; and production, outstanding, particularly special visual effects which belie the film's modest cost."

The conversation around Zardoz has yet to die down, despite the fact that it came out 46 years ago now. In a 2019 retrospective review of Zardoz, Jonathan Rosenbaum at The Chicago Reader praised the movie as "probably John Boorman's most underrated film — an impossibly ambitious and pretentious but also highly inventive, provocative, and visually striking [sci-fi] adventure with metaphysical trimmings."

That doesn't mean Zardoz is for everyone, though, as the folks at Gone with the Twins gave the movie two out of ten stars in their 2020 review. They said of the film, "Zardoz is, if nothing else, approached with an admirable seriousness. It's instantly difficult to take seriously, what with all the visual oddities and Connery clothed only in belts of bullets and a red loincloth (and a braided ponytail), but the intentional comic relief is minimal, and the actors refuse to betray their own disbelief at the pervasive weirdness. [...] The plot is so spectacularly offbeat that it's never boring, though it's routinely idiotic."

If you haven't already, try Zardoz on for size. Rick and Morty fans may be especially pleased with it, given that the animated series gave a nod to Zardoz on the episode "Raising Gazorpazorp."