Kino Lorber // 1969 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 19th, 2013
A British superspy comedy with Pop Art aesthetic!
London was the place in the 1960s. Between the British Invasion and the glut of European filmmakers traversing the globe, England's capital earned the nickname "Swinging London." Companies, eager to cash in on Anglophilia, the youth market, and loosening sexual attitudes created an entire genre of "Swinging London" films. Like other youth-oriented genres (think the beach film, or even the '50s monster movie), Swinging London films had similar plots (usually about a playboy or a young woman being corrupted by the big city), low cost (just a cheap set or two plus location shooting in the city), and plenty of titillation (whether in the form of pop soundtracks or miniskirts and nudity). Like most genre cycles, the Swinging London film eventually devolved in self-parody and became an object for humorous films, especially as the '60s turned into the '70s and pop stars were revealed as decadent drug users. Zeta One was released at the tail end of the craze, not long before the Stones played their infamous set at Altamont, and it encapsulates everything that was weird and not-so-wonderful about the era. Kino Lorber has released Zeta One (Blu-ray) under its Jezebel imprint.
James Ward (Robin Hawdon, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) is a superspy investigating his very own supervillain when he stumbles upon a race of beautiful alien women controlled by an intergalactic space goddess, Zeta (Dawn Addams, A King in New York), bent on nefarious purposes.
Not content to spoof a single genre, Zeta One tackles spy capers in addition to the Swinging London flick. This is the stuff that makes Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery look like a Shakespearean production. Throw in aliens and you've got a bona fide sci-fi flick, too. The film obviously owes a debt to flicks like Casino Royale (the original, not the Daniel Craig one) or Barbarella, and it hopes that audience will find it "so bad it's good."
Zeta One is not without its charms. The late 1960s have a look to them that went away with changes in film stock and preferences for actors and actresses. A lot of the cast for Zeta One has been recycled from similar low-budget fare, and for those who like their ladies from the era before waxing and surgical enhancements, there are plenty of assets on display here in lovely "alien" costumes that usually involve tight clothes and pasties. The film also has a certain naïve innocence born of the late 1960s that has a certain charm, even if this is obviously a ruthless attempt to cash in on a market segment. It's also an interesting film to return to in the wake of Austin Powers, which seems like a pretty wild spoof, even if watching Zeta One shows that it's not as "far out" as many viewers might assume.
Of course, if the swinging '60s vibe and scantily clad alien babes are the creamy center of Zeta One, you've got to chew through a lot of crap to get there. The plot it lackadaisical at best, and ludicrous at worst. Perhaps the greatest feat of Austin Powers might be adding a decent plot onto the tropes of films like Zeta One, because most of what happens in the film is just setup after setup for scantily clad ladies to appear. Though there are aliens and a spy to keep things moving, James Ward is the world's worst spy and Zeta the world's most boring alien.
In the film's defense, at least the Zeta One (Blu-ray) release is decent. The 1.66:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is taken from the 35mm negative. It's in surprisingly good shape for a forty-year-old film, with minimal print damage. It's not the sharpest-looking film ever, but that's probably the fault of the negative and not this transfer. Color reproduction is spot-on, and I couldn't detect any serious digital manipulation or over-processing. The DTS-HD mono track does a fine job with the film's dialogue and groovy soundtrack, keeping everything balanced. The only extra is a trailer for the film, which is a nice time capsule in itself.
Zeta One is a nice little piece of nostalgia worth tracking down for fans of spy spoofs, late '60s T&A, and those with a penchant for Swinging London. What you'll find is a pretty terrible movie that may or may not be redeemed by its ridiculous aspects and rampant lack of full clothing. For those who do track the film down, the Zeta One (Blu-ray) release is a great way to see the film, showcasing a solid transfer of a well-maintained print. Though the lack of extras might be off-putting, if you really want to see a flick like Zeta One, this is the way to do it.
Guilty on purpose.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated