In March of this year, Paramount Pictures and Sky got together to restore two British films for a Hi Def release. Those films were "Zulu" and "The Italian Job".
The former was originally shown following its restoration on Sky's Hi Def TV channels and has now made it to Blu-ray. Originally this was to have been an HD DVD release back in June but like so many others with that format's abrupt termination, "Zulu" is now belatedly out on Blu-ray.
"Zulu" is one of my favourite films of all time. It is one of the very best war films to ever come out of the UK, indeed, some maintain it to be the greatest of all.
It tells of the heroic stand by just over 100 British troops at an isolated mission station called Rorke's Drift in 1879 South Africa, following the annihilation of a British Army at Iswandlana by the Zulu Nation.This army of 4000 strong Zulu warriors then headed to Rorke's Drift to dish out a similar fate to the small British force stationed there....
What follows is a sustained battle, the ferocity of which will linger long in the viewer's memory. "Zulu" boasts an all star cast headed by Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, and in his first film role - Michael Caine.
The subject matter could have been a minefield to film but "Zulu" just shrugs this off and portrays the Zulus with awe and respect, depicting them as almost a force of nature against whom the British Army look small and almost frail....
The film boasts a thunderous score courtesy of John Barry and although this is not in 5.1, the stereo mix is still very good, indeed, and does what it is supposed to do with aplomb.
However, the picture itself is most definitely the star on show here. The restoration to Hi Def is nothing short of astounding and I can only assume that a 70mm print was used. From the old Paramount logo at the beginning of the film itself, the viewer is treated to a visual spectacle that simply could have been made yesterday. This is akin to and even possibly better than seeing a pristine 70mm print of this film in a cinema. Light and colour are gorgeous and the clarity is unbelievable.
Flies land on the face of Jack Hawkins' preacher as he tries to persuade Stanley Baker's commander to release his wounded men. The stunning Natal scenery is simply three dimensional and you can see every blade of grass and rock on the mountainsides. The uniforms almost glow with detail and are incredible to see. The huge marriage dance at the beginning of the film in King Cetawayo's Kraal is simply unbelievable though, restored to a detail so clear that it simply leaves you wondering how they got it to look that good.
My only gripe with the disc is that they did not provide a 5.1 soundtrack. That said the remixed stereo soundtrack is more than adequate and does the job.
Visually though this film takes Hi Def to a new plateau. It is simply unbelievable that this was made in 1962, again it has the look and clarity of a film made yesterday. It's Hi Def picture exceeds that of even the highly acclaimed "Black Narcissus", in fact I cannot think of any film on either BD or HD DVD that can rival "Zulu" in Hi Def.
Films like "2001" and "Bladerunner" are great Hi Def transfers but "Zulu" simply betters them.
Is this the best Hi Def transfer to date? I seriously am beginning to think that it is. Treat yourself to this incredible Hi Def experience and pick up a copy of this disc without delay.
Believe me, the end result will exceed your expectations, it is that good.
on 26 November 2002
At last, Paramount Home Entertainment has produced the finest release in almost 40 years of Zulu -- one of the greatest historical action movies ever made, and one of the great war movies. Zulu is based on what historian Michael Glover terms "the most highly decorated battle in British history", the defence of Rorke's Drift during the Zulu War of 1879. Eleven of the defenders received Britain's highest award for military valour, the Victoria Cross. The movie is a landmark in the art of cinema for its extraordinary combination of location, cross-cultural engagement, a real story, good script and fine cast. This 1964 film never looks tired, despite my many years of rerunning it in 16mm, the Criterion laserdisc, the stop-gap Front Row Entertainment Inc. DVD, and now the excellent Paramount DVD. Anecdotally, military colleges have used Zulu to show the power of directed massed musketry, and leadership and teamwork in combat.
Zulu is the greatest achievement of the career of British (Welsh) actor Stanley Baker, who co-produced with US-born, formerly blacklisted director Cy Endfield. Nothing else in the war movie genre really measures up, including Endfield's so-called "prequel", Zulu Dawn, or other epics based on British colonial wars, such as Khartoum. It was filmed on location in the grandeur of Natal, South Africa, with descendants of the Zulu warriors who took part in the original action portraying their forebears. The prominent Zulu politician and traditional chief, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, plays the Zulu leader, his distant relative Cetewayo. Mass Zulu participation in the project guaranteed the uplifting dignity and authenticity of cross-cultural characterisations of the film. Early magnificent scenes with masses of Zulu extras show the Zulu royal kraal, with a mass wedding of warriors in progress as news arrives of the annihilation of a strong British force at Isandhlwana. These unique scenes probably never could be filmed again because of social and cultural change. The nearest conceptual comparison in the war genre that comes to mind is the cross-cultural aspect of Tora! Tora! Tora!
Stanley Baker believed so strongly in Zulu that he sank much of his own money into it. Playing a British Army engineer officer thrust by events into leading a desperate defensive action following the disaster of Isandhlwana, he heads a strong cast, including a young Michael Caine somewhat incongruously cast as an aristocratic infantry officer. There are wonderful cameo roles by Jack Hawkins as an alcoholic missionary; Nigel Green as the imperturbable Colour Sergeant Bourne, always ready with a calming order or a bayonet; James Booth as Private Hook, portrayed as a malingerer who is perhaps the least likely Victoria Cross winner; Patrick Magee as Surgeon-Major Reynolds, continuing up to his elbows in surgery even as Zulus try to break in. The narration by Richard Burton is very fine, and in character with the Welsh origin of the British soldiers. Welsh and Zulu singing on the cinematic battlefield is spine-tingling.
In the Paramount Home Entertainment Zone 2 release this film at last has received the digital restoration and DVD transfer that it deserves. DVD image and sound quality are equal to current state of the art for a classic film restoration.
The Paramount DVD includes a wonderful two-part "The Making Of Zulu" documentary. It features extraordinary insights and reminiscences by Stanley Baker's widow, Ellen Baker, actor James Booth ("Private Hook"), second unit director Robert Porter, actor Glynn Edwards ("Corporal Allen"), and actor/stuntman Joe Powell ("Sergeant Windridge"). This DVD is THE video release for which I have waited almost 40 years. No true cinema fan or war movie buff should be without this DVD.
Michael Glover's book, "Rorke's Drift" (Wordsworth Editions 1997) is recommended reading for anyone with a detailed interest in the historical background as compared to the movie drama.
Update in September 2011: The Paramount Blu-ray release of Zulu is magnificent in every respect. Colour is vibrant; detail sharper than any previous video release; sound excellent. Extra features and interviews, including extended commentary by second unit director Robert Porter, round off a Blu-ray disc that every enthusiast for this great film will want to own.
Based on a true story in British History in South Africa, this is absolutely one of the best films of all times. The late Sir Stanley Baker (whose superb performances are mostly lost to past few generations), same with the late Jack Hawkins (Ben Hur), James Booth and Nigel Green, it was the film that introduced Michael Caine to the world, showing what a natural actor he was from the start. (Caine, who originally tried out for the role of Hookie but lost to Booth, was almost fired from the film because the American backer, Joseph E. Levine, did not think Caine knew 'what to do with his hands'!! Caine was imitating Prince Albert!!). Fortunately, Baker ignored him.
Produced by Baker and Cy Enfield (of the Hollywood Blacklist fame) and written by the great historian John Prebble (Lion of the North - he also did the screenplay for Mysterious Island, another of Enfield's productions), the main focus of the film tells the story of a small pocket of British soldiers at Rorke's Drift on the edge of ZuluLand in 1879. These soldiers were left there for two purposes: some were sick with fever so were in hospital, the posting commanded by Gonville Bromhead (Caine), and the rest to build a bridge across the Buffalo River commanded by royal engineer, John Chard.
Just 10 miles down the road a force of over 4000 thousand British Solders camped on the hill of Islandlhwana were slaughtered by 10,000 Zulus. The worst defeat in British history of a modern army facing a native force. Over 4400 Zulu arrived too late for the attack, so they turned their attention to Rorke's drift and the little band of 100 men left there to defend it.
Baker and Caine (though not close in real life) worked magnificently together, giving powerhouse performances, with a great supporting cast of relative unknowns. The filming of South Africa is breathtaking, the enormity of what the soldier faced having 100 to 4400 odds, and how they held out until the main force of Chelmsford's army arrived, is an epic, but also a personal story of two men who stood resolute in the face of terror with a stiff upperlip and did what had to be done.
Moving Scoring by John Barry (Bond films, Raise the Titanic), with a foreword from Sir Richard Burton (a friend of Baker's both being Welsh).
In 1979, a prequel was filmed Zulu Dawn, nearly rising to this level, starring Burt Lancaster, Simon Ward and Nigel Davenport, that tells the story of the the massive defeat at Islandlhwana. It is a shame they are not presented as a set.
Interesting note, at the start of the film showing King Chetewayo of the Zulus at Ulundi, Chetewayo is played by the real Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who is involved in South African Politics today.
Zulu is one of those films that left an indelible impression of the unique power cinema can have on those of us who saw it on the big screen as children. Intellectually and emotionally other films may have the advantage over it, but as a purely cinematic experience Zulu is unbeatable.
Siege epics were curiously popular in the Sixties - 55 Days at Peking, El Cid, Khartoum, The War Lord, The Alamo among them - but perhaps none have quite such a hold on the public's affections as Zulu, particularly in the UK. It's a celebration of national courage (but not nationalism) with its eyes wide open. The besieged men aren't there to build empires but because it's their job - "Because we're 'ere. There's no-one else," as Nigel Green's memorable Colour-Sergeant puts it to a young soldier.
It's a film with dignity on both sides of the conflict but no self-importance, it manages to extol heroism without glorifying war. It's also one of the few films to show the sheer physical arduousness of prolonged battle - it ends not with triumph and jubilation but with sheer exhaustion.
The narrative construction is deliberate and belongs to the days when films built up to a climax instead of throwing them in every ten minutes to keep the audience awake. John Prebble and Cy Endfield's script is strong, its subtle clash of egos between Stanley Baker and Michael Caine never over-emphasised and surrounded by memorable vignettes among the rank-and-file that gives the film a depth beyond the superbly handled battle scenes - Nigel Green struggling to maintain his composure as he takes the final depleted roll call, drunken missionary Jack Hawkins' truly irritating Bible-bashing unnerving a young private, Neil McCarthy's concern for a sick calf taking precedence over the ongoing battle.
Co-producer Baker was never to get (or give himself) so good an opportunity in a mainstream movie again, and nor were Endfield and Prebble (the three had previously collaborated on the terrific 1957 thriller Hell Drivers). Mention in despatches to Green, making the most of the part of a lifetime as the steady Colour Sergeant, and Gert Van Den Bergh as a Boer fighting alongside the Welsh too among a splendid cast from the days when you could still fill a regiment with memorable British character actors.
John Barry's epic score perfectly sums up the heroism and bloody turmoil without lapsing into jingoistic cliches, while Stephen Dade's superlative photography benefits from a good widescreen transfer (that said, the first appearance of the Zulus loses some of its impact even on a large widescreen TV).
Definitely one to add to your collection, but there's not enough in the way of new special features on this new 2-disc edition to give it a whole-hearted recommendation for upgrading from the single-disc version if you already have it (the best of them is the featurette on John Barry's score, but it's quite short). For first-time buyers, though, it's definitely a must.
on 17 November 2007
'Zulu' has been released on dvd in various countries with varying transfer quality:some have been widescreen letterboxed,others anamorphic widescreen.All have had considerable flaws in the transfer.This release fixes all the problems and gives fans of this magnificent film the chance to own the reference version.This anamorphic widescreen release has excellent colour rendition,detail,contrast without encoding flaws.The best there is,the best there ever will be........
In 1879, 20,000 Zulu warriors wiped out to a man nearly 2,000 British regulars and auxiliaries at Isandhlwana in what was then Zululand. Immediately afterwards, 4,000 of the warriors set out for Rorke's Drift, a small British outpost manned by 100 soldiers. The soldiers were led by Lt. John Chard, a civil engineer trying to build a bridge, and Lt. Gonville Bromhead, an inexperienced product of the upperclass. Chard had seniority and neither had ever been in a battle before. This is the setup for Zulu, which tells the story of the battle for Rorke's Drift, where more won the Victoria Cross than in any single action before or since.
The movie's a rouser. The fighting scenes are extended and brutal, but the tactics of both the attackers and the defenders are kept clear. The Zulus used charges of massed warriors in sweeping flanking attacks, combined with rifle fire from the surrounding heights using guns captured at Isandhlwana. The British used firm discipline, a high rate of massed firepower, plus strategic retreats. Although only 500 Zulus were used, the producers were able to believeably create the impression of 4,000 before the days of CGO. Baker, who produced the movie, is decisive, practical and firm. Michael Caine, in his breakthrough role, starts out as an upperclass twit and becomes a brave and quick thinking officer. He looks great as a blond. The movie treats the Zulus with a great deal of respect. There's little of the condescension that you often find in movies with brave soldiers and natives who attack. The movie also is a bit long, with the scenes involving Jack Hawkins as a preacher who becomes unhinged being, in my view, extraneous.
All in all, this is a movie that's fun to watch more than once. It's aged very well.
For those interested in more background, there's an oustanding history by Donald Brooks called The Washing of the Spears. It goes into readable detail about the British/Zulu conflict and the inevitiable British victory to incorporate Zululand into South Africa. For those who like British regimental names as much as I do, the defenders are from the 24th Regiment of Foot of the South Wales Borderers. As a side note, while Chard and Bromhead both received Victoria Crosses, neither had a successful military career afterwards. Chard was never accepted by his fellow officers because he came from middle class stock and was an engineer by training. Bromhead turned out to be a lightweight without much military talent.
After defeating the British army at 'Isandhlwana' killing 1200 servicemen along
with several hundred native soldiers back-packers and guides, the 'Zulu' forces turned
their attention to the mission at 'Rorke's Drift'
There were around 100 regulars at 'Rorke's Drift' mainly Welsh recruits of the 24th regiment,
who were about to face around 4000 'Zulu' warriors.
The 100 prevailed against overwhelming odds.
'Lt John Chard'(Stanley Baker) a military engineer took command of the small force with
'Lt Gonville Bromhead' (Michael Caine) (in his first film-role) second in command.
Neither had any experience of military action prior to the events at 'Rorke's Drift'
11 Victoria crosses were issued as a result of the outstanding bravery shown 'January 22nd
-23rd 1897 which included (as portrayed on screen ) serial malingerer 'Private Henry Hook'
(James Booth) who had more than stepped up to the mark, in no other single encounter have so
many VC's been awarded.
The film remains one of my all-time favourite movies which I first saw around 50 years ago
when first released,( can't tell you how many times I've watched the film....never tire of doing
so )....surely standing the test of time, the film harbours many outstanding performances.
The transfer to Blu-ray is impressive given the films age.
on 16 May 2002
Zulu is the wonderful tale of how a small regiment of British soldiers withstood four thousand Zulus and eventually triumphed against enormous odds , but there is more to this film than that. It is wonderfully acted with Michael Caine , Stanley baker and Jack Hawkins outstanding in their roles. It has an absorbing and witty script with some great lines along the way (Bromhead - 'Sixty , we dropped at least sixty' Boer zulu expert - 'Well that leaves only three thousand nine hundred and forty' ), and the battle scenes are among the best and most effective ever committed to screen. The Zulus are terrifying as they charge in their native attire towards the brave Britons who are armed only with
bayonets capable of one shot at a time(in 1879 there was no such thing as a machine gun , which causes one to wonder how much more gory the film would have been if it had been set in a later period .It may have ended up being like the bloodbath that was BLACK HAWK DOWN).
Zulu is one of my favourite films of all time because of the way it stimulates the senses and treats the viewer with stunning performances and cinematography, with the beautiful South African landscape (the South African tourist board could do well out of this film ! ) arguably the star of the show. In short Zulu is a magnificent motion picture that has stood the test of time and justifies its status totally. No film buff can afford to be without this in their collection. THE GREATEST WAR FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN !
on 4 September 2012
Is "Zulu" my favourite film? It could well be. Five stars for the original film then, without question. Does the Blu-ray look good? Yes, although the colours are unnaturally vivid now, a bit like the post-"conservation" Sistine Chapel ceiling. Whether you like your redcoats positively glowing is a matter of taste (I'd prefer the picture toned down a little bit), but it is a handsome print and again worthy of five stars. Why then the one star review? Because this version of the film, like one of Surgeon Reynolds's unfortunate patients, has had the knife taken to it. In one of the most thrilling scenes Swiss Corporal Schiess, nursing a bandaged leg, leaves the relative safety of the hospital and launches on a solo rampage, bludgeoning Zulu warriors with his crutch and bayoneting them left, right and centre. Coming to Chard's rescue at the crucial moment, as John Barry's rousing music soars, Schiess's wild killing spree culminates in a quite extraordinary climax with his turning triumphantly to the camera, laughing deleriously at the slaughter with a hideous and terrifying glee. I don't remember anything quite like it in the whole of cinema but now the memory is all that is left because the Paramount censor has taken it upon himself to clean up not just the print but also its content. Now, as Schiess, facing away, begins to turn towards the camera, the scene suddenly breaks off to Chard, lying wounded on the ground, depriving the sequence of its disturbingly deranged conclusion. Why? Has Paramount taken fright at the prospect of a lawsuit brought by a sensitive Swiss soul, objecting to the portrayal of one of his countrymen as a goggle-eyed maniac, revelling in bloodshed? No idea, but the Paramount 90th anniversary "special edition" DVD of 2002 suffered the same cruel cut. Let Paramount issue an uncut version of the film on Blu-ray, complete and unabridged, and my one star will instantly become five, but until then does anyone know where an uncensored version of the film is available?
on 23 March 2010
After the British Army's heavy defeat at Isandlwana on the morning of January 22nd 1879, 139 British soldiers successfully defended a mission station at Rorke's Drift, near Natal in Africa, against several thousand formidable Zulu Warriors. It resulted in the award of eleven Victoria Crosses, the most ever awarded to a single regiment.
`Zulu'; Cy Endfield's terrific account of courage and inspired tactical leadership in the face of insurmountable odds really needs no introduction. It boasts truly epic battle scenes, memorable dialogue, a great score from the legendary John Barry and has a wonderful cast including Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, a young Michael Caine in one of his first roles and literally hundreds of Zulu extras and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi as Zulu King Cetawayo. The film is not about glamourising British Imperialism, but respectfully celebrates the magnificence of the Zulu Army, and from the Brirish point of view, one of the most famous military defences of all time.
That all goes without saying, but my reason for writing this review is with regard to the terrific blu-ray release. I usually expect the picture quality of a blu-ray release to be an improvement, but the degree of this improvement varies a great deal from film to film. It is easy to tell, particularly with the older films, when there has been a proper effort to enhance the definition to the best possible degree or where there has been a rushed job. The transfer for Zulu is simply astonishing for a film of its age; it is striking, vivid, and easily the most impressive of any I have seen, particularly with respect to those long panoramic shots of the African landscape. The colours, such as the red of the British Army uniform, are deep and rich. This is a remarkable restoration of an already remarkable film. It is a triumph for Paramount Studios, and undoubtedly a benchmark to all others.