Judge Brett Cullum knows the secret password is "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!"
The Great Tyrant: "Hello, pretty pretty."
Do you want classic vintage Sci-Fi with visionary special effects and mind-bending themes? Check out the original Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey. You want a zero gravity striptease, costumes that fall off at a moment's notice, and a spacecraft with wall-to-wall shag carpeting traveling through a lava lamp? Barbarella fits the bill perfectly. One of the best examples of a "so bad it becomes good" flick, this fun ride leaves out any depth or pretension. Finally on Blu-ray, the 1968 film that Jane Fonda wants everybody to forget about is the same one that made her an international sex symbol. A pioneer in the comic book movie genre—as well as a sexy campy classic—Barbarella brings the swinging '60s to outer space and spreads the "make love not war" message across the galaxies.
Facts of the Case
Based on Jean Claude Forest's sexy French comic strip for adults, Barbarella follows the adventures of a lusty astronaut (Jane Fonda, Klute) as she searches for missing scientist Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea, The Verdict). Crash landing on a primitive planet full of sex and violence, she's surprised to find she rather likes the former. Soon she's helped and bedded by a hirsute hunter (Ugo Tognazzi, La cage aux folles), the leader of a rebellion (David Hemmings,Gladiator), and an honest-to-God angel (John Phillip Law, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). Her nemesis appears in the form of a horned dictator named the Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg,Performance) and the very scientist she's looking for. Can Barbarella save the universe and manage to look good doing it?
Steeped in trivia and history, this Dino DeLaurentiis production laid the groundwork for his other major sci-fi epics, Flash Gordon and Dune. The Franco-Italian formula is firmly in place, featuring an internationally known cast, kooky set design elements, extravagant costumes, popular rock score, and a comic tone. Since the whole concept was "Brigitte Bardot in space," it only made sense to have director Roger Vadim onboard who was at one time married to the French sex symbol. Virna Lisi and Sophia Loren were front-runners for the titular role, but both Italian stars turned the project down. Of course Vadim ultimately chose to cast his then wife Jane Fonda in the lead, essentially forcing his first wife's image on her. Jane passed up the chance for leads in Rosemary's Baby and Bonnie and Clyde to do this project, and created a minor hiccup on her path to becoming a serious actress.
Barbarella was filmed simultaneously in French and English, and the French track is available here as an alternate audio option. Two of the actors are completely dubbed including Marcel Marceau (who was not understandable in English) and Anita Pallenberg (voiced by famous English actress Joan Greenwood). The tone of the film is quite purposefully over the top, given that David Hemmings was brought in for reshoots when the original Dildano gave "too serious" a performance. Upon its 1968 release, the film bombed, but there were a couple of late '70s re-releases (capitalizing on the popularity of Star Wars) that proved more successful. Time has been kind to the film.
Technically, Paramount has taken Barbarella up a notch over the visually faded and washed out DVD presentation. Detail level has been upped and colors are rendered with far more vibrancy. Dirt and scratches seen all too frequently on the previous standard def release have all been wiped clean. The psychedelic sets look better than ever, and skin tones are finally natural in appearance. There is a touch of filmic grain and I also detected a little digital noise, though not too much. Barbarella (Blu-ray) looks great in comparison to any incarnation of the film I've seen on the big or small screen.
In the audio department, we get a TrueHD 2.0 track which is actually just an English mono mix given a touch of depth. It sounds flat at times, and even muddies the music a bit. It's clear enough, and is period exact to the experience of the film. There's nothing artificial about the manipulation of what was always a rather tinny one channel affair. If you want something with more punch to listen to, there are nice CD pressings of the soundtrack available, but this works just fine for the movie experience.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My biggest beef with Barbarella (Blu-ray) is that Paramount supplies no bonus features save for a vintage trailer. Does that even count nowadays? Where is the commentary? Where are the featurettes? Why not showcase a couple of versions of the film? There is mysterious lost footage of a seduction scene between Barbarella and Great Tyrant which has vanished over time. Jane Fonda also recently has started talking about the film, so it seems she might be willing to provide some insight Fans may be able to track down her interview from the CNN Piers Morgan show, for a frank assessment of what she currently thinks, but it's not made available here. This is Paramount bare bones, which is a damn shame given the cult status of the film.
Barbarella is about as serious as the late '60s Batman television series. All that's missing are the "Biff! Boom! Pow!" title cards. Eschewing the same tone found in erotic comic books of the time, the film never takes anything seriously; groovy lava lamp sets, see through plastic clothing, and a Bob Crewe soundtrack that reeks of lounge hipness gone wrong. The performances are never grounded in reality and Jane Fonda comes off as both silly and sexy. There's nothing quite like it. There are rumors of a television series in the works, but they won't compare with Jane Fonda paying homage to Brigitte Bardot in a space ship with wall-to-ceiling shag carpeting.
A guilty pleasure, but one that makes the planets all stand still.
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