on May 3, 2002
Zulu is one of the greatest historical action movies ever made, and one of the great war movies. It 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 valor, the Victoria Cross--the rarely awarded counterpart of the US Medal of Honor. The movie is a landmark in the art of cinema for its extraordinary combination of location, cross-cultural engagement, a real story, good script, fine cast and great production team. This 1964 film never looks tired, despite my many years of rerunning it in 16mm, the Criterion laserdisc, later the Front Row Entertainment Inc. DVD, and then the Paramount DVD and Blu-ray discs. 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 actor Stanley Baker, who co-produced with US-born, formerly blacklisted director Cy Endfield. Nothing else in the 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! [Blu-ray Book]
Stanley Baker believed so strongly in Zulu, despite difficulties in raising finance, 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 as an upper crust 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 (controversially to his descendants) as a malingerer who is perhaps the least likely Victoria Cross winner; Patrick Magee as Surgeon 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. As John Bender says in his attached comment, the musical score by John Barry enhances the grandeur and drama.
Michael Glover's 1997 book, Rorke's Drift (Wordsworth Military Library) is recommended reading for anyone with a detailed interest in the historical background. Amazon stocks several other titles related to the Zulu Wars that I can't vouch for, but that other reviewers have rated highly.
Alan and Peter Critchley launched in 2000 an informative 'Rorke's Drift VC, 1879' military history enthusiasts' website which can be found by online searches. The website has extensive information I've seen nowhere else about the actual historical personalities portrayed in the film. This includes a magazine article published in 1905 about the account Alfred Henry "Harry" Hook VC (1850-1905) gave of the battle of Rorke's Drift; an account of the battle by Surgeon-Major James Henry Reynolds VC (1844-1932) published in 1928 by the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps; and a transcript of a radio broadcast in 1936 by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Bourne OBE, DCM (1854-1945) - who was the real Colour Sergeant Bourne played by Nigel Green in the movie.
The filming location used the escarpment of the Drakensberg mountain range as a backdrop - a more picturesque setting than the actual battlefield. The actual site of Rorke's Drift, only about 100 miles northeast of the filming location, can be seen in satellite imagery and visitor photos in Google Earth at coordinates 28°21'0.00"S, 30°32'0.00"E . Although the actual battlefield was not in the film, it is a tribute to the production that fans of the movie may be surprised by how familiar and understandable the terrain appears.
This film originally was released in 70mm. It deserved the very best frame-by-frame and soundtrack digital restoration and DVD transfer that technology can provide, working from original material. It finally received that treatment, first with Paramount and MGM DVD releases about 2002, then with Paramount's Zulu [Blu-ray] in 2008. See attached expert comment by John Sellars dated Sep 29, 2011 10:10:40 AM PDT for technical background drawn from his work on these transfers. I could not now recommend any releases of Zulu other than these from Paramount and MGM. 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.
on January 7, 1999
In January, 1879, a column of British soldiers comprised primarily of the 24th Regiment of Foot, South Wales Borderers, was wiped out at the base of the mountain, Isandhlwana, in Natal, South Africa. A large contingent of 4,000 Zulu warriors then moved on to the undermanned expedition base at Rorke's Drift. This movie tells the incredible true story of the subsequent battle, and of the victory of the 90 some British soldiers, many of them sick, who held their post in the face of overwhelming odds. See Donald Morris' definitive book, _The Washing of the Spears_, against which this film account compares most favorably.
This neglected classic was filmed at a time when it was still just possible to associate the word "glory" with military victory-- without a sneer. The makers of the film avoid preaching and just let the battle tell the tale of the men of both sides. The British soldiers are not the "good guys" nor are the Zulus "bad guys," and the lone derogatory comment about the fighting ability of the Zulus is instantly rebuffed by a tough Boer cavalryman who says, "And just who do you think is coming to wipe out your little garrison, the Grenadier Guards?" This is a soldier's story about a soldier's fight.
Did the Welsh really sing "Men of Harlach" as they manned their mealie-bag barricades?
Did the Zulus really render a warrior's salute as they broke off the action on the second day of the battle?
It doesn't matter. The film is accurate in the historical basics that really count.
Beautifully filmed on location, with an outstanding, stirring score by John Barry, this film features solid but appropriately understated performances by Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, and Jack Hawkins.
I hesitate to mention the hideous, politically correct pre-quel, _Zulu Dawn_ which was released almost 25 years after _Zulu_, but any viewer who has the unhappy experience of seeing _Zulu Dawn_ should not be put off from seeing _Zulu_, which shines in comparison.
Whether one is interested in military history or a "movie for men who like movies," _Zulu_ is a worthy addition to a film library. From first to last, it is a compelling, superior film.
on September 20, 2000
January 22-23 1879 will go down as one of the greatest and bravest days in British military history.
The battle at Rorke's Drift, or as the Zulus called it "Jim's Place" is magnificently portrayed in this 1964 epic filmed on location in Natal.
Michael Caine perfectly plays the part of Lieutenent Gonville Bromhead, a gentleman and professional soldier who along with Lieutenent John Chard of the Royal Engineers (played by Stanley Baker) masterminded the defence of the small missionary station at Rorke's Drift.
80 men of the South Wales Borderers 24th Regiment Of Foot defended the missionary station and it's 36 wounded men in the hospital against 4,000 zulu warriors.
The Natal scenery and costumes of both the British soldiers and Zulu warriors are a highlight.
The battle scenes were graphically ahead of it's time and the narration by Richard Burton (himself a welshman)certainly adds to the drama that would unfold.
One criticism is levelled at the characterization of Private Alfred Henry Hook, who in the movie is portrayed as a drunken malingerer. He was in fact a gentleman and small landowner who was a well regarded soldier. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in evacuating the sick and wounded from the burning hospital.
Overall, as an avid historian on the Zulu War of 1879, I found this a compelling movie classic which has been watched over and over again by me and my 3 brothers( Tom, Chris and Sam)
James Hulston from Sydney, Australia
on October 29, 2002
The massacre of nearly 1,500 British soldiers of the 24th Regiment of Foot on January 22nd, 1879 at Isandhlwana, Natal Province by warriors of the Zulu Nation is on record as the worst disaster ever inflicted on a modern army by a primitive one. After the battle at Isandhlwana, the Zulu warriors turned their attention to Rourke's Drift, a lonely Missionary station where the 24th had set up a supply depot and hospital. It is the desperate and courageous defense of this remote station by 140 British soldiers against the determined attacks of 4,000 Zulu warriors that is the subject of this film.
Zulu is a historically accurate reproduction of the Defense of Rourke's Drift. Every detail is painstakingly accurate: the uniforms of British Infantry and Engineers, the Martini-Henry rifles and Webley revolvers, foil sealed cases of ammunition, and the tactics that were used by the besieged British to fight off the Zulus.
Extraordinary acting performances are given by Michael Caine as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, the arrogant, aristocratic officer who is humbled by his experience of the battle, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that this was Caine's first film; Stanley Baker, the Officer of Engineers who takes command of the detachment and leads the heroic defense; Nigel Green as the brave, correct Colour-Sergeant Bourne, the rock-solid pillar of Britishness; and James Booth as the rebellious Private Hook who turns hero and saves many of his comrades.
Narrated by Richard Burton and featuring spectacular cinematogrophy filmed on location in Natal, Zulu is a masterful telling of one of the greatest stories in the annals of Military History, and a shining moment in the history of British arms. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to defenders of Rourke's Drift, and this film is a worthy tribute to their heroism. It should be in everyone's DVD library.
on January 21, 2000
Zulu is an excellent movie. It contains good acting, great scenery, an interesting plot, and lots of action with a minimum of gore. I would recommend it to almost anyone. The DVD is of poor quality. The widescreen version that I have seen on PBS stations is of considerably better quality and makes the film much more spectacular. I recommend the film highly, but perhaps the widescreen VHS is a better choice than this DVD. Definitely a high quality widescreen DVD would be the best.
on September 3, 2008
BLU-RAY DISC REVIEW--UPDATED JUNE 12, 2009: "U.K. Blu-ray Disc will play on standard U.S. Blu-ray Disc players"
This review should be placed under the Blu-ray listing of "Zulu"--but as per Amzon's rules, I have to place it here.
This is a review of the Blu-ray version of "Zulu". I will not review the plot--although it is truly a masterpiece, a classic with an A-list cast, based on the true story of a small group of British soldiers defending a remote outpost, against thousands of Zulu warriors in colonial South Africa in 1879. If you have never seen this great movie, you will not be disappointed with the plot, the acting, the directing, or any other aspect of this dramatization of actual events.
For some reason, this Blu-ray was only released in Europe as a "region-free" disc. I was skeptical that it would play on my U.S.-sold Sony Blu-ray player (that I purchased in Nov. 2008 and in which I have not installed any software updates). The seller assured me that it would play OK--and it did! No problem whatsoever with the video or audio playback.
And what a picture! The video quality is as good as any other Blu-ray that I have seen--even including the new blockbusters on Blu-ray--crystal sharp details--almost a 3-D look to the vistas and other images. The redcoats are fire-engine red. There is no evidence of grain and the outstanding images are remarkably consistent throughout the film. There is simply no comparison of the Blu-ray image to the previous DVD version of "Zulu". The audio is fine (other reviewers have complained about the sound--but, the original was mono--it's perfectly fine, in my opinion). If you are as picky as I am about upgrading your movie collection to Blu-ray, you will not be disappointed with this upgrade.
Unfortunately, this item is only for sale on Amazon through a limited number of marketplace sellers. There seems to be a constant trickle of offers from these sellers. I spent about $15 more on this disc than the usual Blu-ray purchase--but it was worth it. Highly recommended!
Listed below is my previous review, based on the standard DVD release.
I almost did not purchase a DVD of "Zulu" based on the mostly negative comments (by other Amazon reviewers) regarding the quality of the video and sound transfer to DVD. Well, I took a chance--and wow! The transfer to DVD is excellent! The format is anamorphic widescreen, enhanced for 16 x 9 large-screen, high-definition TVs. My comments are based on the Region 1, May 2003 DVD release by MGM. The DVD cover artwork is a painting (not a photo) that shows a likeness of Michael Caine in his British uniform. There are apparently older versions or knock-offs that might be the source of those other negative comments regarding the picture quality.
I have a high-defintion TV and I am very particular about the quality of the transfer of old films (like this, filmed in 1964) to DVD. I watched "Zulu" on a 46-inch Samsung high-def, LCD TV, played via a Toshiba 1080p HD DVD player. The picture is crystal clear (I did not notice any grain or dirt), the colors perfect (good flesh tones--and the British red coats are their true bright red, not washed-out orange as another reviewer commented), and the sound is also good. If you have a high-defintion TV with surround sound, you will not be disappointed. This DVD edition of this 1964 classic is highly recommended!
on June 16, 2003
It obviously doesn't take much effort to write a movie review here. The reviewer of "Zulu" on June 8th proves my point.
She entitles her piece "Not very realistic." She goes on to say "I expected to see some kind of standoff and battle that might have taken place in the real world. Instead, I was treated to a spectacle that had no relation to reality." After making a comment like that, you'd expect to hear why the movie has no bearing to the real world. We'd then be treated to a point by point refutation of where "Zulu" erred, backed by the author's foray into historical research.
Instead of this however, we are treated to inanities like: "The whole premise of this movie was absurd. The British contingent was on a mission to build a bridge across a "stream" the flow of which was no wider than if you drained your bathtub. My first question was, "Why are they building a bridge there?" No sane person would build a bridge there. You don't need a bridge to cross a trickle of water you could walk across without getting your shoes wet."
The river in question is the Buffalo River, dear. It formed the border between Natal and Zululand. While the river as shown may have been a "trickle" at the time, rivers DO flood. Ah, well. A little mistake, you say. But wait, there's more...
"Then, the Brit commander was totally dense. Everyone was telling him to pack up and pull back; but no, he had to make a stand. Against all odds. What was the principle involved? Sheer stupidity. Anyone with half a brain could see there was no value in making a stand. Is there value in watching a half wit do something that any sane person would reject outright? That's what this movie is all about. Watching some dense military commander risk the lives of his troops for no good reason. You want to jump out of your seat, grab him by the throat, and ask him why he's being such a dumba--. In Viet Nam, he would have been fragged by his own troops for pulling a stunt like that."
Here, in delivering her opinion of standing fast versus retreating, the reviewer shows her total absence of military skill. The commander of the garrison at Rorke's Drift had about 140 men total; 105 effectives and 35 sick men. Even if they loaded the wounded into wagons and marched off smartly at the first inkling of trouble, they wouldn't have gotten far. The rate of wagon movement was about that of the normal British march rate: c. 2 1/2 miles per hour or 12-15 miles/day. Contrast that with the normal Zulu movement rates (circa 5 mph or 40 miles per day), and its easy to see that the Zulus would have quickly caught the fleeing column and massacred them.
So perjoratively accusing dead heroes like Chard and Bromhead leaders of the garrison) of being "stupid" and 'insane' is not only unkind, it's downright foolish. In this case having "half a brain" might be better than having a whole, unused one.
'Standing fast' behind fortifications (however makeshift) where the barriers offered protection from shot and spear was the only prudent thing to do. It ultimately saved the small garrison, and allowed them to hold over about 40 times their number. In real life this course of action was recommended to the commander by Commisary Dalton, a veteran retired NCO who quickly recognized the 'sanity" behind digging in. For the key role he played at the battle in offering this advice and for other actions, Dalton was later specially recognized by the Crown. (Alas, in the movie he was reduced to a somewhat weak characterization.)
Are there historical inaccuracies with "Zulu?"
Yep, plenty. There's no evidence the British troops sang, for example. Some of the tactics are flawed. There was no cattle stampede. But what movie has ever been made that's been totally realistic?
Is Zulu a great war movie? Yes, it is. Can information on the battle at Rorke's Drift be easily researched on the internet? Yes, as this rebuttal review proves.
Is Lauren a seemingly lazy, self-absorbed reviewer who fails to properly research a topic before offering her staggeringly ignorant opinion?
on December 19, 2005
This film is, quite simply, one of the greatest war films ever made. There is some stilted dialogue, but the thousands of extras, the quality of the acting and the climactic scene in which the two sides attempt to out sing each other before the Zulus launch a last attack, more than make up fo this. The battles themselves, along with the last fight in Seven Samurai and the battle of Borodino in the Russian version of War and Peace, are some of the greatest filmed without the use of CGI technology.
By the way, 'Lauren', you say that the film was unrealistic as so few of the British died, because the Brirish win against overwhelming odds, and because their supposedly 'idiotic' commander refuses to withdraw.
1)This film is based on a true story
2)More of the defenders die in the film than in reality actually did (13 people died at the battle)
3)The Brtish did win the battle, there were about 150 ofthem and 4000 Zulus.
4) Let us suppose that they had decided to withdraw. Thy could not simply have been airlifted out; they would have to have marched all the way back to British territory, carrying their wounded, whilst being chased by thousands of Zulus trained to run tens of miles in a day; in short, if they had tried to flee they would have been all killed.
on February 3, 2004
This is my favorite movie. I have watched it over and over again and it is the most exciting action drama I have seen. It is riviting to watch because it is almost too much to beleive as you watch the battle at Rorke's Drift unfold. They say that sometimes true history is more exciting than fiction. In the case of the stand by the British against the Zulus, it most assuredly true.
I am a history instructor and I have written several papers and delivered numerous oral presentations regarding this historical battle. Producer and star Stanley Baker has done his homework on this subject. The two hours you will devote to this epic tale will thrill and amaze you. Why? Because it is almost exactly depicted as it really happened in 1879.
In a period of about 30 hours on the 23rd and 24th of January 1879, 142 British soldiers held off over 4000 Zulu warriors in a battle for survival than will live forever in the annals of history. These few British soldiers killed or wounded approximately 2000 Zulus while losing only 17 of their own. There were eleven Victoria Crosses and three Distiguished Service Crosses awarded for this action.
The uniforms, weapons, costumes and even the location it was filmed at are true to fact. The story line follows the actual battle report made by the original participants almost to the letter. If you want to see a true life action filled history story on film that is actually factually correct, this is the movie.
Stanley Baker, Michael Caine and Nigel Green are perfectly cast as the main characters in this true story.
on November 10, 1999
This story concerns the battle of Rourke's Drift during which a company of British soldiers, derelicts, and misfits held off five thousand Zulu warriors in South Africa. The movie was filmed on location at the exact spot where the incident took place. Real Zulus were used in the cast which includes Stanley Baker as an Engineer officer and introducing Michael Caine as a upper-crust British officer/gentleman. The film depicts how this band of men held out for three days against incredible odds, after a much larger force had been massacred at Isanlawada. Brilliantly acted, by a cast of well known British journeyman actors the action is non-stop. Recommended as one of the best war movies ever made.