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.
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.
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.
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.
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........
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 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.
on 21 January 2016
The really good thing about this movie is that it is not gung ho or racist,it portrays the Zulus as equally as brave as the British,and as great strategists .Apparently in '60's apartheid South Africa,the lad from the Welsh valleys Stanley Baker,and Cockney Michael Caine,crossed swords with the authorities after being told they should not associate with the Zulus off set,or give them money for their part in the film.In Zulu society success was gauged by the amount of cattle you owned,so the producers of the film (including Mr.Baker) paid the Zulus with livestock !!
Some of the actors like Michael Caine and Nigel Greene had done military service in real life,so were not entirely unfamiliar with the subject matter of the movie.Contrary to popular belief,this was not Michael Caine's first movie,as he'd had bit parts on British T.V.,and I recall seeing him in British war movie "A Hill In Korea"(1956). It was undoubtedly his first major role,and made him an international star.
This was one of the last films Jack "Cruel Sea" Hawkins spoke in as he succumbed to throat cancer,and in later films he made he lip synced to the voice of British actor Charles Gray (The villain in "The Devil Rides Out"),who had a very similar voice.A great tragedy for such an icon of British and Hollywood films,but Jack was fantastic in Zulu;"Die,Die,You're All Going To Die" !!!
With the exception of Michael Caine (now in his mi 80's), I think the rest of the cast are nearly all dead.Zulu was an outstanding British film awash with great British acting talent,well known support actors as well as leading stars.It was not only a great war film ,it was/is a great piece of British cinematic history.
I saw this film at least five times and every time I liked it more. Below, more of my impressions, with some SPOILERS.
1. The battle of Rorke's Drift
On 22 January 1879 the central column of British Army which just invaded Zulu kingdom was divided in three parts. The main force under Lord Chelmsford (2500 men) advanced deeper in the country, searching for the main Zulu army with intention to engage it and conclude the campaign early with a decisive victory. In order to advance faster Lord Chelmsford left his train under protection of approximately 1700 men (roughly 700 regular British soldiers and 1000 colonial and native auxiliaries) at an unprotected camp at Isandlwana. Further south a smaller detachment of roughly 300 men (half regulars, half native auxiliaries) was guarding a supply depot and field hospital at Rorke's Drift.
On that fateful day the main Zulu army of 24 000 warriors skilfully avoided British main force and attacked by surprise the camp at Isandlwana. A little bit later the same day Zulu reserves counting around 4000 men attacked also the post at Rorke's Drift. At Isandlwana the battle ended in a total defeat for British, who were overwhelmed and lost 1300 killed (including almost all regulars). At Rorke's Drift however, where the Zulu had an even larger numerical superiority, things turned out very, very differently...
This little British garrison was composed of a company of regular infantry, a small group of engineers and a handful of colonial and civilian auxiliaries. There was also a company of Native Natal Contingent (indigenous auxiliaries) and a cavalry company of Natal Native Horse who managed to escape from Isandlwana, but all those men fled (commanding officers and NCOs included...) before the battle was joined. What remained was a force of 140 regular British soldiers (infantry and engineers) and 15 colonial and armed civilian auxiliaries - a grand total of 155 men. As Rorke's Drift was a field hospital, possibly as much as ten of those men were from the beginning too sick or too badly wounded to fight... Against them advanced a force of 4000 well trained and disciplined Zulu warriors, mostly armed with traditional weapons but some of whom had also various firearms - even if those latter were mostly smooth bored flintlock muzzle loaders...
The battle began at 4pm on 22 January. Zulu commanders launched a series of charges against British positions, which by moments had to be fought off by bayonets - when in the same time those warriors who had firearms (possibly as many as 200) maintained a harassing fire from neighbouring hills. The battle ended on 4am on 23 January and soon after the exhausted and disheartened Zulus retired. The butcher bill was heavy for both sides with 17 British defenders and no less than 351 Zulus lying dead. The retreating Zulus carried also away hundreds of wounded with them - when at the post almost all defenders suffered some kind of wounds, 16 of them very serious.
In both battles British troops fought hard and well, fully aware that there was no escape, that their enemies didn't usually take prisoners and also knowing, that Zulus willingly tortured wounded captives before murdering them. But the defenders of Rorke's Drift did much better when facing even worse odds and survived, when their comrades at Isandlwana, who were more numerous and even had two field guns and a battery of Congreve rocket launchers, were almost all destroyed. The main reasons why it happened are the following:
- unlike at Isandlwana, at Rorke's Drift the defenders were NOT surprised - they learned around 1pm about the disaster at Isandlwana and an advancing Zulu army and therefore they had about three hours to prepare themselves to battle; those three hours made a lot of difference
- unlike at Isandlwana, where the camp was in the middle of an open plain and there was not even a circle of wagons available, at Rorke's Drift the defenders have prepared a defensive position; it was of course NOT MUCH of a defensive position, as it was composed of a grand total of two buildings, a small enclosure for cattle (a kraal) made from low (easily climbable without help) stone walls, couple of reversed wagons and a barricade made with biscuit boxes and bags of grain found in the depot; but still it was much better than nothing
- unlike at Isandlwana, the Zulu commanders committed their troops piecemeal, with different "regiments" and "companies" attacking SUCCESSIVELY from different directions, allowing the desperately outnumbered and very hard pressed British to defeat them nevertheless one after another; this incompetence of Zulu commanders which prevented them to launch a simultaneous all azimuth attack with their whole force was possibly the decisive factor in this battle
- unlike at Isandlwana, where at the crucial moment of the extremely intense battle there were problems with opening the tightly packed munition boxes, which resulted in an interruption of fire, at Rorke's Drift there was not even one moment of problem with munitions; all men received an ample supply before battle and more munitions were carried and distributed during the battle, mostly by those sick and wounded soldiers who were not fully able to fight themselves.
- finally, unlike Lt. Col. Pulleine and Lt. Col. Durnford at Isandlwana, Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead and Assistant Commissary Dalton (civilian working for the army) who commanded jointly at Rorke's Drift managed to organise their limited resources in their improvised diminutive redoubt in possibly the optimal way, not only mounting an efficient all azimuth fixed defence but also creating a mobile reserve used successively in those sectors where a crisis developed.
Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders of Rorke's Drift, which was an exceptionally high figure for such a small engagement - although not, as commonly thought, the most awarded in a single action or the most in a day, as 16 were awarded at the Battle of Inkerman, on 5 November 1854 and 28 were awarded during the Second Relief of Lucknow, 14-22 November 1857.
2. The film.
Made in 1964 "Zulu" is a quite faithful reconstruction of this incredible battle, although, this being a film and not a documentary, the director changed some things. Possibly the most significant change concerns the ending of the battle, as in the film the departing Zulus salute the defenders with a song - such a thing of course didn't happen but it makes one helluva beautiful scene! Also, in the film the Zulus are ordered to attack Rorke's Drift by their king Cetshwayo himself - such a thing didn't happen and in fact the attack of this small British position was the own initiative of two "idumas" (princes) commanding Zulu reserve force.
We are also told in the film that Zulus used at Rorke's Drift numerous modern Henry-Martini rifles captured at Isandlwana - well, it absolutely DIDN'T happen and it is a very fortunate thing for the British defenders, because then they wouldn't survive the battle. The low quality of fire arms and especially munitions used by Zulu shooters at Rorke's Drift was the main reason why their prolonged harassing fire killed only five British soldiers - with Henry-Martini rifled breech-loaders that would be a completely different story...
The role in the defence of Rorke's Drift of Acting Assistant Commissary Dalton, a civilian from Commissary and Transport Department, was diminished in the film - in real life he was actually amongst those who received Victoria Cross for his part in the battle, a rather rare thing for a civilian, even under military command...
Finally, the film devotes a surprisingly large part to the character of Reverend Otto Witt, Swedish missionary who warned British defenders about the approaching Zulu army and encouraged them to flee. Not only this episode is given too much time, but it also portrays this courageous and respectable missionary in an extremely unflattering way... I admit that this part of the film is actually the only thing I don't like about "Zulu". At all.
There are some other changes, like the age or character of some participants, but I don't want to give too much spoilers.
The most important characters were of course Lieutenants Chard and Bromley, who are played here respectively by the greatly regretted Stanley Baker (he was not Sir Stanley Baker yet) and young Michael Caine, for whom it was the first major role and THE big break which launched his great career.
The film has also three main supporting characters: Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne (Nigel Green), an extremely impressive NCO, Private Henry Hook (James Booth) who begins the film being under arrest and Private Owen (Ivor Emmanuel), who is not only a darn good soldier but also a gifted baritone... Bourne and Hook are real characters - the former was the last defender of Rorke's Drift to die (in 1945, aged 91) and the latter was amongst those who received a Victoria Cross. Private Owen on another hand is a fictitious character - but I am very glad the director created him...)))
"Zulu" mixes a lot of drama and extraordinary tough fights with a lot of top quality humour. Also, the music is simply AMAZING!
Bottom line, this is one of the films that EVERYBODY should watch at least once in life. One of the greatest and best war films EVER. To buy, watch, keep and pass to children. Enjoy!