Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time: ZULU on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Twilight Time: ZULU on Blu-ray

ZULU (1964; Cy Enfield)
As Twilight Time's Blu-ray realease of KHARTOUM reminded me, so too does this film recall a time when films were truly allowed to be epics. We certainly have long films playing in cinemas to this very day, but the epic feeling is a different now than it was then. One part of that has to do with the way epics of this period used to use something of a 'travelogue' kind of opening sequence that was meant to establish the location that the film was about to immerse you in. In the case of KHARTOUM, it's kind of a soaring montage, but ZULU's opening is a little different. The very opening is an amazing shot of a ravaged battlefield, littered with dead British soldiers. A Powerful shot. What follows is a quite extended sequence of a Zulu tribal ritual as observed by two outsiders. It is, as I said, a very long scene that would perhaps border on boring some contemporary viewers. I think that would mostly be because modern day audiences just aren't used to this kind of immersion-as-introduction anymore. As obvious as it is to say, the pacing of films at this time and especially of the "epic" films was glacially slower than they are today. I, for one, sometimes long for the kind of 'breathing room' that this kind of pace paired with lengthy introductory sections used to bring to movies. While it can be exciting and engaging to be brought into a film abruptly, there's something to be said for allowing an audience to ease into a narrative. In its purest form, entertainment and a film like this, which takes place in an exotic locale can be extremely transportive. It really allows you to get lost emotionally and psychologically in the location with the characters as we are slowly and subtly introduced to them. There's also something to be said for old school film making in the sense that it affords things like a panoramic shot of a huge line of Zulu warriors atop a hill about to attack the missionary station where the small clan of British troops have made their stronghold. It's a pretty spectacular shot and not one we'd see today with real extras. This shot comes after an hour plus of buildup as the British have been doing what they can to prep for the potential onslaught by the Zulus. The 'take your time' epic school of pacing is a lost art and it really is a shame because folks today miss out on the payoff of a great single shot like that. I think I'm just a fan of stories like this as well. Men facing insurmountable odds, isolated, with no real way to escape. That sense of claustrophobia and mustered courage  (& cowardice) in the face of certain death is  remarkably compelling. 

As for the disc itself, this transfer is sumptuous and breathtaking. The British soldiers' uniforms for example are bright red and nearly blindingly so in the way they pop on this Blu-ray. Equally sumptuous (& exhilarating) is John Barry's score for the film which is also included on an isolated track here. Additionally included on the disc is a commentary by screenwriter Lem Dobbs and Twilight Time co-founder Nick Redman. Like the track on the TT KHARTOUM Blu-ray, this one is also excellent. Dobbs and Redman are old friends and relate to each other in an easy, comfortable way which makes for a good track. They are both also incredibly knowledgeable about the film, the process behind making it, the actors and filmmakers involved and the historical context of the story. They both deem ZULU one of their personal favorite films very early in the commentary and that affection is made clear through heaping mounds of details and insights. Great stuff. If commentaries from these gentlemen become a regular fixture of these Twilight Time Blu-rays (& them seen to be cropping up a lot this year), I for one will b a happy cinephile. 

The ZULU Blu-ray can be purchased via Twilight Time's home site - Screen Archives:

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