Barbarella
 
         
   
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy and Adaptation
Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.
Release Date: October 10th, 1968
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Roger Vadim
Actors: Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings
 
         
"It's nothing but a gigantic mess, from its style to its performances to its blatantly inappropriate music."
   
 
             
 
Theatrical
2/10
 
DVD
N/A
 
Blu-ray
N/A
 
             
 
 
A while back, I saw Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and came away thinking how justified the claim of "Worst Movie Ever Made" was. Everything about that film was bad, and it single handedly redefined how wrong things could go when trying to tell an effective story. However, my opinion of it changed after seeing "Barbarella." Make no mistake; "Plan 9" is still awful. However, I eventually came to see that, for all its shortcomings, it at least managed to stay true to what it set out to accomplish: to give a social statement in the guise of a science fiction story. Had the makers of "Barbarella" even attempted to do this, it might have been an enjoyable and campy romp.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. In my humble opinion, "Barbarella" ranks right up there with "Plan 9," and not in the way you might be thinking; at least the latter was so bad that it was good. "Barbarella" was just plain bad, from the very first frame to the last.

This erotic science fiction/fantasy-based on the stories of Jean-Claude Forest is one of Jane Fonda's earliest film roles. Maybe she wanted to get this film out of her system before tackling more serious, or at the very least, less ridiculous projects. I would certainly be embarrassed if I were in her place, especially since she has gone on to become a highly respected actress (with a couple of Academy Awards to show for it). In all likelihood, she was cast only because she was at that time married to the director, Roger Vadim. I suppose everyone has to start somewhere (but at least it should be somewhere worthwhile).

The plot is simple, if even relevant. In the incredibly distant future, Barbarella, the "Queen of the Galaxy," is recruited to track down the brilliant earth scientist, Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea), and recover a secret weapon of his design. During her quest, she crash-lands on a planet ruled by the Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), a dominatrix type woman who constantly refers to Barbarella as "Pretty, Pretty." Barbarella also meets Pygar, a blind angel played by John Phillip Law (who was obviously picked for his looks rather than his talent). From there, it goes from one silly, half naked escapade to the next, culminating in an ending so excruciatingly ill-conceived, it's not even funny.

 
 
 

Barbarella Movie - Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings

Barbarella Movie - Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings

Barbarella Movie - Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings

 

Barbarella Movie - Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings

Barbarella Movie - Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings

Barbarella Movie - Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings

 
 
The overall look of the film made me want to punch the production designer square in the face. Absolutely everything was tacky and cheap. The worst looking shots were those of outer space, if they can even be described that way at all. Instead of the common representation (an inky backdrop dotted with twinkling stars), we are shown a formless mass of viscous goo photographically combined with sparklers and various lighting effects. It's not genuine space; it's a universe trapped in a container of hair gel. And let's not forget the interior of Barbarella's ship, which was covered from floor to ceiling with dingy shag carpeting.

Describing the characters would require a lengthy reach and a boatload of speculation. This is because there is absolutely no character development; everyone in this film slides through as heartlessly as a ride vehicle passing through a room in a funhouse. Indeed, a funhouse is exactly what the film feels like (albeit, it's a heavily drug-induced funhouse).

The best one has to work with are the characters' physical appearances, which amounts to nothing more than sexy eye candy. Case in point: Barbarella. There is no question that Jane Fonda had the body for this part, and the filmmakers certainly wasted no time in somehow showing it off. The very first scene is of her stripping out of a spacesuit while floating in zero gravity. While certain risqué glimpses make their way through, most of her body is covered with the jumbled letters of the opening credits. The rest of the film has her shifting from one skimpy costume to the next, being that she somehow keeps conveniently losing them. One of them was bitten away by demonic dolls with a taste for human flesh (at which point I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of Disneyland's "it's a small world"). Another was sucked out through a pipe as she's being "pleasured to death" by an orgasm-inducing keyboard instrument. I may have lost count, but I think that by the end of the film, Barbarella had gone through seven costume changes, a trait reminiscent of Queen Amidala in "Star Wars: Episode I." Did any of it matter? Not really. It was only done to show off Jane Fonda's body: never mind adding something meaningful to the plot.

One of my biggest beefs with this film is its poster. It's annoyingly deceptive in terms of the film's genre. Seeing it automatically leads one to believe that the film is a classic science fiction adventure. True enough, we are shown distant planets, spaceships, and various weapons utilizing technologies that exist only in the imagination. However, it looks and feels too different; the continuous appearance of swirling psychedelic backdrops and exposed female anatomy makes it seem more like a sexually charged acid trip than a science fiction story. It was like going into the mind of Hunter S. Thompson and getting ringside seats for his private fantasy. Trust me when I say that that very quickly loses its appeal.

At this point, let me return to "Plan 9 From Outer Space" for just a moment. Is it a good film? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But is it at least mind-numbingly entertaining? Certainly. Its failure to succeed in every way made it fun. But "Barbarella" was no fun at all. It's nothing but a gigantic mess, from its style to its performances to its blatantly inappropriate music. I really can't help but feel that this is a film even Ed Wood would have laughed at.

- Chris Pandolfi

 
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