I remember getting copies of various sci-fi/fantasy catalogs when I was a teen and seeing ads for all sorts of movies, books, and games. Inevitably Barbarella was one of those that was highlighted. Because of that, I’ve always been a little bit curious about it. It was not even close to what I imagined...
A voluptuous outer space agent travels to another galaxy in search of a missing inventor in this science fiction send-up. Barbarella (Jane Fonda), an interstellar representative of the united Earth government in the 41st century, is dispatched to locate scientist Durand Durand, whose positronic ray, if not recovered, could signal the end of humanity. Outfitted in an array of stunning Star Trek/Bond girl outfits and cruising around in a plush, psychedelic spaceship, Barbarella travels to the Tau Seti system and promptly crash-lands. She then spends the rest of the film discovering the joys of interstellar sex with a keeper of feral children (Ugo Tognazzi), a blind, beatific angel (John Phillip Law), and an inept revolutionary named Dildano (David Hemmings). Slowly but surely, she also finds her way to Durand Durand by moving from one exotic, Wizard of Oz-style locale to another. Along the way, she meets the kindly Professor Ping (a surprisingly verbal Marcel Marceau), a Eurotrash dominatrix named the Great Tyrant (Rolling Stones gal pal Anita Pallenberg), and the Concierge (Milo O'Shea), a strangely familiar lackey of the Great Tyrant who tries to destroy Barbarella with his great big organ of love. Jean-Claude Forest, who created the character Barbarella in 1962 for V-Magazine, served as visual advisor on the adaptation. (from Rotten Tomatoes)
As I said, i was unexpected for what I encountered. I expected a cheesy sci-fi romp, and it was that, but I did not expect the truly bizarre landscapes, outlandish costumes, and just plain odd characters. It is very much a movie of its time, full of psychedelic visuals and off the wall writing.
The film, while visually interesting does seem to drag in spite of its 98 minute running time, and Barbarella’s passivity definitely does not match the image indicated by the evocative poster art. On the other hand, there is a definite sense of whimsy and wacked out fun throughout the movie, in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way, and like Alice, Barbarella’s exploration of the strange and dark world is full of an innocent confusion and a curious wonder.
The plot is completely ignorable, since it serves only to allow Jane Fonda to change outfits frequently, and to explore weird landscapes, and have sex (mostly just hinted and teased at) while doing so. The characters are remarkably one dimensional, and while the dialogue can be witty, the pacing is sometimes off, and scenes are dragged out more than necessary.
What saves Barbarella (the movie, not the character) is the deliberateness of it. The filmmaker, actors, set designers, etc were all working really hard to create this movie, and to do the best job they could, while at the same time realizing that this was a campy sci-fi exploitation flick, and for all of Barbarella’s passivity, Jane Fonda absolutely makes the movie.
Feral children with attack dolls
Giant magical hooka that allows one to smoke the essence of anything (or anyone) contained within
Mathmos - the corrupting evil liquid that is contained beneath the city