Barbarella? I’d never heard of it until a reader requested that it be reviewed. After watching the film, I am sort of at a loss on what to write. Some scenes in Barbarella remind me of Caligula’s world (like a huge hookah filled with water and a man floating around being smoked by several women as “essence of man”). I could see Caligula embracing something akin to the human hookah seen in Barbarella; then there is another completely campy side to the film like when some strange children start sending remote control dolls with razor sharp teeth to torture and presumably kill her. Strange, yes, weird, yes should you watch it on LSD or mushrooms? Not a chance.
We are treated to an opening scene where Jane Fonda (our hero Barbarella) is provocatively stripping off her space suit during the opening credits. This striptease will be one of many outfit changes throughout the film. After she is done taking off her space suit inside her gold shag floor to ceiling carpeted spaceship command center, she gets a call from the President of the republic of earth—who tells her not to bother putting on any clothes for the video call and she agrees. The President assigns Barbarella to retrieve the evil Doctor Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) from the planet Tau Ceti in order to save the Earth. Apparently, Durand Durand invented a Positronic Ray, a weapon that could to fall into the wrong hands and destroy earth.
Barbarella finds the planet and crashes her ship. She is soon knocked out by two strange girls that hit her with a snowball filled with ice and capture her. Barbarella is pulled behind some sort of stingray like creature that the girls use as a sled dog and is taken to the wreckage of a spaceship called the Alpha 1 (presumably, this is Durand Durand’s ship. Barbarella’s own vessel is the Alpha 7). Inside Alpha 1, she is tied up and a gang of insane looking children emerge from the shadows and set out several dolls which have razor sharp teeth to bite her. Barbarella faints but is rescued by Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), a “Catchman,” that patrols the ice looking for these deviant children. The grateful Barbarella offers to reward him for saving her. Without batting an eyelash, Mark Hand asks to make love to her. Barbarella is dumbfounded after she realizes he means using “the bed” or “the old-fashioned way.” Barbarella reveals that people on Earth no longer have traditional sex, but make love by consuming exaltation transference pills, and pressing their palms together when their “psychocardiograms are in perfect harmony.” Hand prefers the bed, and Barbarella agrees, insisting there’s no point to doing it that way. Hand’s vessel makes long loops around Barbarella’s crashed vessel while the two make love (off screen), and when it finally over Barbarella is in a state of grace. Hand repairs the ship, and Barbarella departs, promising to return, and agreeing that doing things the old-fashioned way is best.
She takes off and upon emerging from her ship, Barbarella is knocked unconscious by a rockslide. She is found by a blind angel named Pygar—the last of the ornithanthropes, but he has lost the ability to fly. Barbarella discovers this labyrinth is a prison. Pygar introduces her to Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau), who offers to repair her ship. Ping points out that Pygar is capable of flight, but can’t for mental reasons. Barbarella shows her thanks by making love to Pygar who has regained his will to fly. Pygar flies Barbarella to Sogo, a decadent city ruled over by the Great Tyrant and powered by a liquid essence of evil called the Mathmos.
Barbarella is caught by some sort of creature and is to be pecked to death by parakeets. Barbarella is rescued by Dildano (David Hemmings), leader of the resistance to the Great Tyrant. Barbarella eagerly offers to reward Dildano, and begins to remove her torn suit, but Dildano says he has the pill, and wants to experience love the Earth way (literally a hair curling experience for Barbarella). Dildano offers to help Barbarella find Durand Durand in exchange for her help in deposing the Great Tyrant. Barbarella is given an invisible key to the Tyrant’s bedroom the only place she is vulnerable.
Barbarella is captured by the Concierge, who announces it is his turn for some fun. She is placed inside the Excessive Machine, a device played like an organ and when played, increases pleasure and her clothes start flying out of the machine. The Concierge tells her when he reaches the crescendo, she will die of pleasure. However, the machine overloads and burns out, unable to keep up with Barbarella. We then discover the Concierge is none other than Durand Durand, aged thirty years due to the Mathmos.
The Great Tyrant then releases the Mathmos, which consumes all of Sogo and Durand Durand with it. Barbarella is protected from the Mathmos by her innate goodness and finds Pygar (who, having rejected the Tyrant’s earlier advances, had been thrown in the Mathmos, and who was similarly protected by his own goodness). Pygar then flies Barbarella and the Tyrant away from the Mathmos. When asked by Barbarella why he saved the Tyrant after everything she had done to him, Pygar responds, “an angel has no memory.”
Barbarella was probably the hardest summary I’ve had to write in the three years I have run JPFmovies. This film is straight out of the 1960’s sexual revolution. The film was directed by Fonda’s then-husband Roger Vadim and is based on a French comic—which explains a lot but is a variation on Alice in Wonderland. The only possible explanation why Fonda did the film. As you can see from the clips, the effects are outright crazy making think you are on an acid trip.
Apparently, the film has developed a cult like following and there was even a talk of a remake as late as 2009. However, the remake was shelved because the $62,000,000 budget was enough for the directors’ et al, as they wanted $80,000,000. I don’t why they wanted that much money to remake the movie, as the original film looked like it cost $10,000. The film was flop both at the box office and critically. At the time, no-one seemed to like it or would pay to see it. Like the phoenix, the film seems to have risen from the ashes through its cult following and near remake with a studio putting $62,000,000 on the table for the project. Either you love this film or you hate it—that is the bottom line.