Shaka Zulu (Miniseries)(5 Disc) (1984)

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Released 6-Aug-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Interviews-Cast & Crew-Dudu Mkhize (Actor) And William Faure (Director)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 548:30
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (5)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By William C. Faure
Harmony Gold
MRA Entertainment
Starring Edward Fox
Robert Powell
Trevor Howard
Fiona Fullerton
Christopher Lee
Henry Cele
Dudu Mkhize
Roy Dotrice
Gordon Jackson
Kenneth Griffith
Conrad Magwaza
Patrick Ndlovu
Roland Mqwebu
Case Gatefold
RPI ? Music David Pollecutt

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Shaka Zulu is a gripping and exciting miniseries that tells the legend of one of Africa's greatest kings - a Macbeth-style story of a prophecy of an 'illegitimate' boy who would one day command a vast empire. Filled with supernatural elements of Zulu witchcraft, great battles fuelled by greed and hate, inter-tribal and family conflict, plotting, and back-stabbing (literally), and a spear that was believed to wield great power, the legend of Shaka Zulu is a King Arthur-like epic, stretched over many years.

    Shaka Zulu is based on a true story: Towards the end of the 18th century, small, previously peaceful tribal groups began amalgamating into larger communities across Southern Africa. This period of history, known as the difaqane, was by no means a peaceful process, but usually the result of invasion and war.

    Shaka was the 'illegitimate' son of the Zulu chief Senzangakhona and a young girl, Nandi (a member of another clan). As a young man, Shaka joined the army of a rival clan, Dingiswayo, and with his drive and military genius, Shaka soon became its highest commander. Under Shaka, the Zulu territory expanded phenomenally, and at the beginning of the 19th century, Shaka had become a king and created the most powerful kingdom in the whole of southern Africa. Driven by hatred and vengeance, through incredible atrocities and cruelties, Shaka gained control over a number of Zulu clans, and over a period of about 12 years, this obscure tribe of herdsmen would wield a Spartan Army over 80,000 strong.

    It is important to note that this miniseries was shot entirely on location in South Africa, and the lavish sets and costumes all appear to be very authentic. Indeed, having all the Zulu female actresses in traditional dress (topless) was considered very daring and controversial in the 1980s by the very conservative American and South African television networks. Furthermore, despite being largely financed by the US, South African Director William Faure insisted that all Zulu roles were played by Zulu actors, so there are no imported American Negro actors with silly accents. Fittingly, the notable British roles all seem to have gone to British actors, such as Edward Fox, Robert Powell, Trevor Howard, Gordon Jackson and Christopher Lee.

    Disc One

    Episode One (54:54): Opening with an epilogue at the end of the Zulu wars, Queen Victoria meets a defeated and exiled Zulu king. We then travel back in time to Britain's Cape Colony in 1823, where the British Colonial Governor (Trevor Howard) is starting to get very nervous about the growing Zulu threat, and desperately asks Britain for help. In response, Lord Bathurst (Christopher Lee) decides diplomacy, and not soldiers, might be the best solution, and despatches Lt Farewell RN (Edward Fox) to meet with the Zulu king, Shaka. Farewell takes a small group with him, including Dr. Fynn (Robert Powell).

    Episode Two (55:16): Shipwrecked on the wild Natal coastline, Farewell and his men are taken prisoner by Shaka's soldiers and escorted to Shaka's Royal Kraal. Shaka is uninterested in their gifts, but very interested in what he can learn about the British and their 'powers'. When Dr Fynn saves the life of a young Zulu woman thought dead, he is forced to repeat the 'miracle' or face death himself.

    Disc Two

    Episode Three (54:50): Farewell and his men are introduced to the cruelty of Shaka's royal court. Having learned about their host, Dr Fynn then begins to narrate the back-story of Shaka, and we travel back in time to 1786 when the Zulus were a small and insignificant tribe. A young Zulu Prince, Senzagkona (Conrad Magwaza) falls for Nandi (Dudu Mikhize), a young lady from another clan. While both are promised to others in arranged marriages, the two form a relationship which results in a baby, Shaka.

    Episode Four (54:56): It's now 1787, and Senzagkona has become king. To appease public opinion after the death of his 'legitimate' son, Senzagkona is forced to marry Nandi and acknowledge Shaka as his heir. Senzagkona publicly describes Nandi as "the whore who trapped the mighty leopard", and openly humiliates her and her son. Fearing for their safety, Nandi and a young Shaka escape, beginning their many years as fugitives.

    Disc Three

    Episode Five (54:55): Senzagkona and many others start to believe that Shaka could be the boy mentioned in a prophecy, which causes them considerable fear. So in 1802 Shaka is invited back to be proclaimed heir, with a view to controlling the young man. Shaka returns, insults Senzagkona and flees for his life. Now a grown man, Shaka and his mother remain fugitives pursued by Zulu impis, but find refuge with a rival clan, in Dingiswayo's Kraal.

    Episode Six (55:06): Deep in a forest, Shaka is given a spear believed to hold great magical powers. Unimpressed with the ceremonial nature of battles, Shaka seeks to revolutionise the way Zulu wars are fought and develops a short stabbing spear, and new tactics. Given just 50 men to train, Shaka defeats a small army of Senzagkona's men, and Shaka's killing rampage follows. After Senzagkona's death, Shaka kills his half-brother to take Senzagkona's Crown.

    Episode Seven (54:46): We now return to 'the present', and Farewell and Dr Fynn witness an assassination attempt on Shaka's life. Dr Fynn is again called upon to work a 'miracle'. When Shaka's life is saved, Farewell is given a large part of the coastline of Natal, and made a Chief as reward.

   Disc Four

    Episode Eight (54:34): Now 1827, Shaka insists that Farewell joins his campaign against a long-standing rival. We travel back in time again for the back-story of the long-standing feud between these clans. At the battle, Farewell and his men are sent out to face the enemy alone.

    Episode Nine (54:34): Following their lucky 'victory' at the battle, Farewell's men want to leave and return home. Farewell convinces Shaka to allow them to build a ship to return to Cape Town, to negotiate a treaty. The relationship between Shaka and Farewell sours, and Shaka insists that many of Farewell's men, including Dr Fynn, be left behind as hostages. Farewell and the Zulu ambassadors arrive in Cape Town and are treated poorly, the Governor seeing them as "savages".

    Episode Ten (54:39): In 1828, following the death of Nandi, Shaka proclaims a year of mourning. Thousands of Zulus are massacred, and many more die through starvation as harvests are banned. Farewell and the ambassadors return to find Shaka a broken man -- now believed to be mad. His Empire in chaos and misery, Shaka faces the treachery of his half-brother's ambition.

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Transfer Quality


    The very grainy transfer is quite disappointing, largely due to the age and condition of the source material.

    Made long before the age of widescreen digital television, the transfer is presented in the old-fashioned aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    The image is very soft throughout, for example the ceremony at 4:09 (Episode 3). The shadow detail is dreadful throughout. For example, virtually nothing at all can be made out during the dark scene inside a hut at 32:18 (Episode 3), as the screen looks almost completely black. The colour is dark and desaturated throughout, especially during interior scenes. There is a brown haze of dust covering every image, which gives the series an almost sepia tone appearance.

    While there are no serious problem with MPEG artefacts, such as the screen breaking up into blocks, many scenes do appear pixelated, such as the smoke through the forest at 9:16 (Episode 3) or during the battle at 43:09 (Episode 8). Film-to-video artefacts were not a problem. Film artefacts appear throughout. Most are small, but some are large, such as at 8:53 (Episode 1), or the black vertical line that lingers onscreen at 4:20 (Episode 7).

    There are no subtitles present, and these are dual-layered discs, with relatively smooth layer changes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    With a poor dynamic range, the audio is very tinny and flat, with almost no bass. Indeed, the audio usually sounds mono.

    Not surprisingly, there is only one audio options on this DVD: English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s).

    The dialogue quality is reasonable, but the audio sync is out sometimes, such as at 30:46 (Episode 4) and 19:40 (Episode 9).

    The musical score is credited to Dave Pollecutt, and it also features a lot of Zulu traditional music.

    While the surround flags are set, there was no use made of the rear speakers.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Beautifully packaged and presented in a gate-fold box with slip case, there is a fifth disc that holds the extras.


    Simple menus, they are static and silent.

Trailer (21:37)

    Running for over 20 minutes, this is surely the world's longest trailer! Indeed, it was almost an episode itself. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital stereo audio.

Slide Show

    A series of photographic stills, mainly publicity shots, set to music from the series.


    A television interview (running for just over 10 minutes) from the mid-1980s with South African Director William Faure, and Zulu actress and series star Dudu Mikhize. As this was recorded at the height of the Apartheid regime, I found Faure's comments very interesting: He bluntly pointed out White South Africa's ignorance and denial of its black history, and what led him to be so passionate about this project.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Shaka Zulu was released on DVD in Region 1 in October, 2002.

    The Region 4 DVD misses out on:

    The Region 1 DVD misses out on:

    I would call it even, but personally, I favour the R4 for our superior PAL formatting.


   Shaka Zulu is a beautifully made miniseries with a great attention to detail.

    The video quality is disappointing.

    The audio quality is also disappointing

    There are a few extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Brandon Robert Vogt (warning: bio hazard)
Friday, June 11, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using S-Video output
DisplayGrundig Elegance 82-2101 (82cm, 16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationSony STR DE-545
SpeakersSony SS-V315 x5; Sony SA-WMS315 subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R1 - penguin