Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.
Release Date: October 10th, 1968 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Roger Vadim Actors: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau, Claude Dauphin, Veronique Vendell, Serge Marquand, Catherine Chevallier, Marie Therese Chevallier
t begins with an astronaut striptease as Barbarella (Jane Fonda) floats around in zero-gravity, slowly removing components of her spacesuit until she’s completely nude. When the President of the Republic of Earth (Claude Dauphin) calls her up with an affair of state, she’s even asked not to bother donning clothes, as his message is too pressing. The scientist Dr. Durand-Durand (Milo O’Shea) must be located, as his powerful invention, the positronic ray, must not fall into the wrong hands.
Since the universe has been pacified for centuries, it’s up to Barbarella to preserve the security of the stars. Traversing space with her shag-carpeted ship, and armed with a portable brainwave detector and various weapons loaned from the Museum of Conflict, she crash-lands (due to a magnetic storm) onto the icy planet where Durand-Durand’s cruiser wrecked. Immediately met with hostility, she’s taken captive and tormented by a gang of small children. When she’s rescued by the Catchman, Barbarella is given directions to the nearby, evil City of Night (governed by the Great Tyrant, played by Anita Pallenberg) – in exchange for sexual intercourse, which hasn’t been done in ages on Earth after it was deemed distracting and a danger to the maximum efficiency of society. Although she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to engage in such an outmoded form of entertainment, she complies, and so the Catchman repairs her ship.
This is just the beginning of many sexually-oriented misadventures (full of absurd philosophical undertones) as the largely unknowledgeable heroine cavorts across the planet, meeting strange denizens like the frizzy-haired Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau); the blind, winged Pygar (John Phillip Law) in the exiled wastelands of the labyrinth; and the fleshless, whip-wielding Black Guard leathermen. And most of these characters require sex to motivate them into aiding with Barbarella’s mission – a mission for which she seems woefully inadequate and under-equipped (save for the bartering tool of her body). She’s the most inept of infiltrators and combatants. From skiing across a frozen lake with a manta ray alien to attending a child’s tea party with carnivorous dolls to imprisonment in a glass dungeon of frenzied parakeets, there’s something weirdly erotic and simultaneously nightmarish about Barbarella’s endeavors, all for which she’s unprepared and not terribly useful.
Ultimately, “Barbarella” is just an excuse for Fonda to appear in various states of undress; even when she’s covered, it’s generally by futuristic garments (many resembling articles of bondage) that provide translucent pieces to ineffectively cover her breasts. The plot is essentially nonexistent, merely used to transport the title character from one exotic locale to another, where she’ll be fondled or tortured or attacked in increasingly silly manners – some tinged with a diverting level of comedy (in one particular execution device, rigged to kill by an overdose of pleasure, Barbarella inadvertently overloads and short-circuits the machine). As a result, intelligent science-fiction themes and ideas (at least, the “tongue box” translation device cuts through the language barriers) are ignored for random opportunities at psychedelic ’60s visual nonsense, interruptions by the groovy soundtrack, and outfit changes in every other scene. Even aerial battles, which have the potential to be mildly adventurous or amusingly choreographed, appear as circumstances for thundering music – which is, surprisingly, impressive – or acid-trip imagery, usually involving partial nudity. There’s really not much of a movie here.
– Mike Massie