DVD Review: Shaka Zulu

Sections: Movie Review, Movies, TV

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Our friends out at A&E sent over a little slice of retro television that serves as a slice of television history as well. They sent over a copy of the thoroughly sweeping epic that is “Shaka Zulu”, and for history buffs, and those who just want a shot of television history at its greatest, this is one you’ll want to check out.

“Shaka Zulu” is based on the life of the African king from the 19th century, the illegitimate son of royalty who built an army and took on the greatest force on Earth at the time, the British Empire. “Shaka Zulu” will take a look at the life of the man who created a great African empire, from his birth through to his exile and deposing as king. It won’t be in order, oddly enough, but there will be plenty to see nonetheless.

This is absolutely extensive stuff. After all, this particular miniseries has a run time of right around nine hours–eight hours 40 minutes, more exactly–and that’s a whole lot of ground to cover. The end result may not be a hundred percent historically accurate, but it’s still a very interesting–very exciting–look at a time and culture that wasn’t frequently examined. That makes it interesting enough, especially in an environment where originality isn’t exactly highly prized, where it’s treated as less like a base and more like a spice, a small bit of extra flavor in a familiar dish.

“Shaka Zulu” is wide-ranging, surprisingly compelling by dint of its sheer unusual nature, and very much worth watching for all the things that make it rare and unique. This was also one of the most controversial productions ever put out for its era, owing largely to its reflection of black people and the connection to South Africa, so you’ll also be getting a look at a slice of television history right here to boot.

A slice of television history cannot be judged in the conventional sense, but “Shaka Zulu” is not only exciting for what it represents, but also for what it is. The story is deep and complex, powerful stuff to say the least, and well acted.

As for special features, A&E has included a fair quantity of them, including a series of interviews regarding the original construction of “Shaka Zulu” with the author of the original book William Faure, who directed, and Dudue Mchize, who played “Nandi”. The interviews seem original to the mid-eighties, based on the style of dress and the somewhat grainy quality of the video that even DVD upconverting can’t quite cover up. There’s also a French language track for those who’d rather not see it in English.

As movies go, “Shaka Zulu” is impressive in its own right, and the historical bent is hard to deny. It’s well worth watching for a variety of reasons, but be sure you’ve got plenty of time cleared on your calendar to get the full impact.

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