Saturday, May 16, 2009

Zulu Dawn (1979)

Somebody once said that Richard Attenborough's Ghandi is 'not a movie, but a laboriously-illustrated textbook' (thanks, World's Greatest Hollywood Scandals!). For all the croaking people do about Hollywood's free-wheeling take on history, there are times when a movie gets so entangled in historical minutia that it forgets to be, you know, a movie. Which brings me to Zulu Dawn.

Made 15 years after the original Zulu, today's feature tells the tale of the battle of Isandlwana, which took place prior to the battle of Rorke's drift. Isandlwana was the single greatest defeat the British suffered during their empire-building heyday. The fact that it occurred at the hands of a primitive people probably wounded their pride a whole lot, and they've spent the century since trying to figure out exactly how such a thing was allowed to happen.

Director Douglas Hickox remains scrupiously fair at re-creating and re-analysing this famous event. In the film, many officers (including Peter O'Toole and Bob Hoskins- repeat offender!) are shown contributing to the British downfall at Isandlwana, and there's no easy decision to be made regarding who was at fault. Because of this, the movie feels a little flat, especially compared to its predecessor. There are no characters to root for in quite the same way as we did for old Hooky and his gang in Zulu.

On its own merits, Zulu Dawn would be considered a classic historical movie. There's endless shots of the South African landscape being all majestic, and endless scenes of troops and cannons crossing rivers, but for some reason it's all a bit dull. The campaign seems complex and muddled compared to the simple scenario in Zulu. I have no doubt that the campaign was complex and muddled, but that's not always what makes good cinema, as stated above. Because of its illustrious ancestor (which I will review one day, damn your eyes!), I feel this film is destined to remain just an interesting relic.

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