One could easily imagine Otto Witt yelling, “The Zulu are coming! The Zulu are coming!” as he approaches the British troops like a mid-day Paul Revere—ironic, eh?
Of course, this statement does take some liberty a 1964 film that recounts a January 1879 historical confrontation between the British army and a South African tribe. The plot of the movie sticks to the simple, but true, narrative that the South African tribesmen, known as the Zulus, were not overly keen by the British aggression making its way into their homeland. With nowhere to run, the British army is forced to make their stand, a battle ensues, some good folks on both sides die, and in the end, both sides agree to call the battle a “draw.” The movie lays out the plot and follows the foretold script dictated and written by the real events of January 1879 battle. In this regard, the movie is a smashing success, but will the rest of the film reveal the same success?
Yes and no.
Yes, the 1964 film does masterfully achieve recounting the historical battle. Shot on location close to where the real struggle occurred years before, along with incorporating actual descendants of the Zulu into the film offers a high dose of realistic authenticity. Additionally, an exceptional cast, which features a young up and coming to Michael Caine, yields superior results. Unfortunately, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour feature spends far too much time focusing on the beginning tribal dance rituals and upon the battle itself. The battle scenes take up too much that could have been used more wisely or efficiently. If one were to re-write the same clash for a feature film (someone like myself that is), here are suggestions to improve upon the original 1964 Zulu.
The first suggestion, utilize the realism that is available to offer an authentic recount—authenticity works. Secondly, keep the Zulu war songs but nix the British countering of the Men of Harlech with a delivery that does not indicate “War is Hell” but comes across in a manner befitting of a poor imitation from The Sound of Music. To re-clarify, keep the songs, but lose the upbeat nature of the British singing their song. After all, they would be battle-fatigued with an alertness that their likely death was imminent, as such they would sing accordingly—which one could imagine sounding similar to “Amazing Grace” at a loved one’s funeral. The third suggestion, use the film’s time more wisely.
In almost two and a half hours, the original barely utilizes the great cast playing interesting real-life characters. These folks were interesting people, living interesting lives, and they should be the basis for developing an audience connection to the intended message delivery. The human spirit shines through at the highest, lowest, best, and worst moments of life—this concept should be the primary focus of any future re-telling of the January 1879 battle. Also, the likely confusion of the British soldiers should be explored as they ask, “Are we the good or bad guys?”
Stay tuned for more!