Stars: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg , Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau
Director: Roger Vadim
Released by Paramount
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
In 1968 graphic novels and Japanese Manga had not arrived. Marvel and DC comics, Mad Magazine and Creepy held sway with most teenagers. There were a few who read the imported French long form comic adventures of Tin-Tin that were collected in hardbound editions. The new Jane Fonda film was going to be based on the science fiction exploits of a sex crazed adventuress named Barbarella as told in the racy French comic strip of the same name. None of us here had seen this but we conjured up visions of bawdy panels as if drawn by a mind like R. Crumb. There was no telling how far this one would go. Jane’s husband Roger Vadim would direct. Occasionally pictures would leak out of Jane Fonda dressed in the most revealing and outrageous costumes. Many were disappointed that the film came out with a PG rating. We wanted the goods, but the word on the street was very strong on this. Critics may have been nonplussed but Barbarella arrived with cult hit written all over it.
The word that best describes this film comes from the same late sixties era. Camp. Camp is kinda corny but very cool. Something that is camp would be considered lame if you weren’t among the hip that knew how to look at it just right. The film starts with its famed non-gravity striptease as Barbarella sheds her bulky space suit while floating inside her spaceship. Credits swim out of her discarded helmet and gather round her naughty parts. It’s a very daring and risqué bit that is lots of fun. Her ship is decorated in deep shag run style and appointed with all kinds of gadgets. She gets an assignment to track down Duran Duran. Not the band but the guy the band got their name from. This scientist has turned rogue and taken his mysterious new weapon with him and fled to the city of Sogo. Barbarella is baffled why anyone would even want to create a weapon. What follows is a Wizard of Oz like quest with few plot details and a lot of wild colorful fantasy like sequences.
The entire film has a very theatrical look to it. Sets are built on soundstages and decorated an op–art and mod style. The backdrops and horizons are often created with the same kind of techniques that made up the light shows at the Fillmore concert halls. Splashes of color ooze and percolate in mind-blowing patterns. Every wall, piece of furniture and set piece has a kind of Lost in Space kitchiness to it. It is obviously fake, even tacky but still charming in its psychedelic colors and attitude. The sets have the feel of a modern dance space or an elaborately presented stage show. The costumes are also pushed to the extreme. When we first meet the stunning Anita Pallenberg she’s dressed in black feathers and has a horn atop her head. She calls Barbarella Pretty, Pretty with clear Sapphic intentions. That’s the same Anita Pallenberg who was Keith Richard’s girlfriend at the time and also appeared in Performance. John Phillip Law plays a topless angel, an angel with large wings that can really fly. It’s not just the leading characters either. You’d do well to pay attention to the vast array of background performers, even the ones who simply adorn and dress the set. Almost every woman we encounter is dressed in a state of brinkmanship. One set features a giant hookah. A bevy of girls smoke from the hoses, as a man appears to slowly drown inside it. Barbarella takes a hit. She likes it. It’s the Essence of Man.
Paramount is to be complimented on presenting this film in a state where all the opulent colors and fantastic designs can really be appreciated. Seeing this on TV or in previous editions does not do it justice. This Blu-Ray edition is a big brimming box of eye candy. Jane Fonda looks gorgeous throughout. Her hair must have been professionally tousled for every shot. There is a dazzling sexiness about her performance. Once you see the title sequence you can’t take it seriously. The Bob Crewe songs smack of the establishment trying to sound hip like the kids sing today. Ernest voices carry the title song, Barbarella Psychedella. How cool would it have been if Burt Bacharach had done the soundtrack. Alas he was busy at the time scoring raindrops to fall on someone’s head. While it’s certainly of its era, it was a great era and this new Blu-Ray edition is a blast. The film is housed in a regular Blu-Ray pack that is nestled into a cardboard slipcase that features the Boris Vallejo artwork that was used in a re-release of the film. However it can be opened to reveal a gatefold representation of some of the original release artwork. That’s a nice touch as both images are terrific old school paintings.
2.40:1, 1080p. Gorgeous syrupy sweet eye candy. While some people would be satisfied with Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, visitors to this site would do well to indulge their sweet tooth with a dollop of Barbarella Blu-Ray. The publicity pictures used here do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray image.
Dolby mono track presented in English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish as well as English SDH. All is clear and easy to follow.
There’s a trailer.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good/Excellent