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A prequel to the war epic "Zulu", this dramatic story recounts the breathtaking defeat of British forces at the hands of a 25,000 strong and relentlessly determined Zulu army in 1870. The all-star cast, and extravagant production quality make Zulu Dawn a spectacular film with a guaranteed place in the list of Hollywood Greats.
Sweeping Battle...Top-Flight Cast... An Eye-Catching Film. -- The New York Times
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"Zulu Dawn" chronicles the vents leading up to Lord Chelmsford's ill-fated expedition into Zululand where 20,000 Zulus overwhelmed a poorly situated garrison of British troops on the slopes of Ishandlawana hill. The film is a prequel to the classic "Zulu", which depicts the battle of Rorke's Drift that took place later that same day. (These two films make for an awesome double feature.)
While this film never achieves the artistry of "Zulu" (which is visually stunning and properly regarded as a classic.) it is a well-paced, well-produced epic in its own right. Unlike "Zulu", this film sticks pretty close to the historical events and some of it was filmed at actual locations. And, whereas "Zulu" used visual tricks to create the impression of massed Zulu armies, this film went the full nine yards, employing the venerable "cast of thousands" for the sort of spectacle that is too expensive to do today, unless it is computer generated, which never looks the same. Tremendous cast of top British actors and Burt Lancaster.
Recommend watching this before "Zulu". For younger viewers, be aware that while this 1979 film has a modern pace, "Zulu" was produced in the early 1960's and has a rather leisurely build up to the actual attack as it sets up its situation and characters. The action sequences make it well worth the wait.
As I stated before, the movie itself gets only three stars. I believe the Producers and Directors must have watched the "original" Stanley Baker ZULU (battle at Rorke's Drift) and then left directly to shoot this film. It is a poor imitation. The movie even starts the same way with Zulu dance and song and a brutal death of a Zulu warrior on the King's whim. The missionary's not there but he shows up soon after. And believe me, there no comparison to any actor in this film to the job the young Michael Caine accomplished in the earlier film. Bob Haskins is a good actor but his role as a Sergeant pales in comparison to Nigel Green as the indefatigable "Colour Sergeant Bourne" -- a solider I felt I would follow anywhere after watching in the first film! Eventually the film gets "going" and the battle scenes that follow are good. As it was shot before CGI it is great to know that every person shown in the battle was really there on the set.
Comparing the two films is fair. This film was created in part to take advantage of the eventual success of the first film (which is of course about what happened "a day after" the events in this movie.) If one really wants to know about the disaster of Isandhlwana I might suggest a book rather than this film.
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