Roger Vadim's 'Barbarella' is based on Jean-Claude Forest's comic of the same name. I've never seen the source material beyond a few out-of-context panels, but through limited research I have learned they were considered "adult" in the early '60s. Barbarella was a sexually liberated character as her adventures revealed. The comics must have had some redeeming value since they appealed to Vadim and producer Dino De Laurentiis, but the movie they made is an utter mess, bordering on worthless (aside from that famous poster of Jane Fonda).
As the opening credits run, Barbarella (Jane Fonda) does a zero-g striptease, writhing around in the air erotically. I was surprised Fonda, who oddly looks like Vadim's first wife Brigit Bardot from 'And God Created Woman' with her long blonde locks, got naked and showed off her breasts. But living in those liberating times, especially in France, and working with her husband, likely brought a level of comfort and trust.
Although I didn't notice it mentioned in the film, the packaging states the story takes place in the year 40,000. Though set the distant future, counterculture ideas from the 1960s are still present. Barbarella greets people with "love," weapons have become obsolete, and shag carpeting covers every surface of her ship's interior. The one major change is pills have replaced sex on Earth, because the act has been deemed too much of a distraction.
The President Dianthus of Earth (Claude Dauphin) tasks Barbarella with capturing Doctor Durand Durand because he has invented a Positronic Ray, which can be used as a weapon. (Yes, the band is named after him.) After landing on the planet Durand is on, it becomes obvious Barbarella isn't much of an action hero. Two twin girls easily capture her after she takes a rock-filled snowball to the head. They are then transported by a ridiculous-looking manta ray (puppet), which reveals the limitations of the budget and/or talents of the prop department.
Another example of Barbarella not being much of a hero is she needs Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), the Catchman, to escape the twins rather than coming up with a plan of her own. For his efforts, Mark wants to have sex with Barbarella the old fashioned way, which she finally agrees to, but instead of the anticipated European erotica her striptease suggested, the movie jumps past the act with Mark moving on and Barbarella left in an exhausted state of bliss, revealing the movie to be a sci fi sex comedy minus the sex. As Barbarella continues her mission, the movie continues to tease with other off-screen sexual escapades, such as when her lovemaking abilities give Pygar (John Phillip Law) the Angel the desire to fly again.
The screenplay doesn't flow well. The scenes feel like they have been taken from different comic storylines and forced together. The climactic scene, double entendre intended, suffers because it isn't very climactic and it's particularly boring by today's standards.
Vadim settles for poor performances from the actors, who had little to work with because of the weak characters. The movie's one saving grace is the production design, which is outstanding in most of the settings. Aside from a bit of nostalgic kitsch, this movie doesn't offer much for new viewers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount presents 'Barbarella' on a 50GB Region Free Blu-ray disc housed in a blue case, which in turn is housed on a cardboard sleeve with a gatefold that opens to reveal imagery from the movie. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
Though the movie is bad without becoming so bad it's good, at least for those who are willing to subject themselves to it, the A/V specs are pretty good. The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 2.35:1 and the movie's age isn't obvious from the quality of the high-def image on display. . A natural amount of film grain is evident.
The production design team used a color palette and made use of psychedelic influences; all are precisely rendered. Barbarella's ship provides good evidence of this. Its exterior is pink, and the shag rug is a rich, yellowish-brown. Blacks are solid and skin tones are consistent throughout.
Details are too sharp at times, contributing to some of the models and props looking like they came out of episodes of "Doctor Who" from the same era. Details are fine as seen in the beads of sweat on Barbarella's face as she endures the Excessive Machine. Depth is evident though some backgrounds can get soft, likely due to the source.
The audio is available in Dolby TrueHD Mono and sounds free of hiss or defect. Dialogue is clear, though ADR is obvious and flat, such as the opening scene with Barbarella and the President. Joan Greenwood dubbed Anita Pallenberg's part and her scenes suffer the same problem.
The subwoofer delivers good bass, noticeable during opening credits because the score had a strong bassline. The effects are given power as well, like when Barbarella's ship crashes through planet's surface. The audio also has a good dynamic range. The high-pitch whine of machinery working can be heard as well as the soft sounds of a hookah gurgling.
I can't recommend 'Barbarella' to new viewers. There's no pleasure to be had in its badness, and nude pics of Fonda from the opening can surely be found online at this point.
For those who are fans, the Blu-ray is well worth picking up. Producer Dino De Laurentiis would revisit this campy style of science fiction with 'Flash Gordon' (1980).