So a while back I figured what type of films got me the most views. It seems that the formula basically involves reviewing a film that is full of sexiness and stuff. This was figured out when I noticed that my review of Showgirls was by far and away the most viewed review I have ever done. Also, my Blue is the Warmest Colour review pulled in a load of views in its first day. That had sexy ladies in it too. So, before I start Godzilla month (oh yes, that’s happening) allow me to introduce you to one of my favourite sexy films of all time. That film is Barbarella. Which you probably guessed based on the title of this review… and the fact there’s a pic of Jane Fonda as Barbarella up there… Also, there’s a good chance you Google searched for “Barabarella with shirt off” to find this site. Click the link below to see if I provide such a pic!
Barbarella is a very, very 1960s French-Italian produced, English language, science fiction comedy that was pretty much slated by critics and ignored by the masses upon its release. Around 9 years later some film called Star Wars was a fairly decent success and the decision was made to chuck Barbarella back out in the cinemas, because the studio had it lying around and needed a sci-fi film to cash in with as soon as possible. The cut that was released was edited to hell down to a PG cert. I have never seen this version. I came across the film some 16-17 years ago when I was a teenager, which it turns out was the perfect time to discover Barbarella. Erm… because it had just been re-released uncut and that who real cinema fans watch films. No other reason. Thanks to Barbarella’s international influences (it’s based on a French comic) along with the decade within which the film is produced, you get what could easily be described as a concentrated extract of exactly what the 1960s was. The imagery is psychedelic. The characters are sexually liberated, or will soon be. The costumes range from bizarre to ridiculous. All of this is wrapped together with a paper thin plot and several large spoonfuls of silly.
What there is of a plot serves to be pretty much perfunctory. It is merely a goal for Barbarella to achieve as she is charged with the task of finding a scientist called Dr Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) who has created a weapon of potentially enormous power, which is quite a problem as Earth had established peace centuries ago. Barbarella heads off for the Tau Ceti region of space where he is believed to be hiding. She soon crash lands on an ice planet and then proceeds to have a series of adventures that involve either her clothes getting torn or her being brought to orgasm… not always in a traditional manner. If there is a lesson to be gleaned from Barbarella it is that all problems can be solved by being hot and having sex with either hairy men or bird men. This all sounds pretty sordid and nasty, and to be honest… sordid is about the right descriptive. That all said, the film is always jovial and is littered with sci-fi based satire.
So whilst the film is not the most complex and layered piece of story telling there has ever been it does have many positives going for it. The most striking element is easily just how plain imaginative it is. Space is depicted as a colourful undulating place. An effect achieved by using microscope lenses to film water molecules. A similar technique was used in recent years to create the space effects in The Fountain. It is obviously cruder here, but sits as a stark contract to the visualisation of space seen in Star Trek at the time. Not accurate at all, but who cares in a film like this? Barbarella’s space ship has an entirely shag pile carpet interior, all over the walls and ceiling. In one scene she is put to death by a flock of Budgerigar. A band of children, all twins, attack her with small robotic dolls. Literally every sequence in the film features some sort of bizarre threat, set design, theme or all three at once. Regardless of the film’s plot, there is never any moment that could be considered dull.
The film is also packed with a number of tiny details, mostly intended for humour. A password Barbarella is given by the subtly named resistance leader Dildano sounds like incoherent nonsense. That’s because it kinda is. The password is “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch”, which is a real village in Wales. Lord knows why they chose that, funny though. The city she ends up being brought to is called SoGo, an apt reference to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gun shoulder rests have small hands on them, for some reason. To add to this each set is distinct from the last with a visual variety many films struggle to come anywhere near attaining.
So whilst Barbarella is a treat for the eyes (the film and the character), and it also manages to provide some light hearted entertainment, it is not without many, many flaws. Barbarella is a largely ineffective protagonist, often relying on happenstance to save the day. She spends a lot of the film being captured over and over, only to randomly escape whatever predicament she is in… which leads to her capture again. Whilst the comedy is played in a camp fun way Jane Fonda herself only just manages to pull the jokes off. To her credit she does an amazing job maintaining the required tone of the film, it’s just her line delivery on the more jokey moments that’s an issue. She was clearly game for anything when this film was made though. There wasn’t many Oscar nominated actresses willing to short circuit an Orgasmatron through sheer insatiable sexuality on screen. They usually did that sort of thing in private then. The plot’s episodic nature is very apparent, which exposes the story as being dragged from multiple issues of its source comic. There’s some very rough ADR moments leading to very clearly dubbed dialogue.
Even with its flaws Barbarella is a joy to watch. It’s effects are kitsch by today’s standards, but are filled with charm and often very well done. The music is suitably “swinging” and “jive”. composed by Jean Michel Jarre’s daddy Maurice you know. This is one of those warts and all experiences that I would like to believe that no-one could truly hate. Surely everyone gets some level of enjoyment from a film that is this joyously silly and daft? I cannot, in good conscience, call Barbarella a poor film. This is a work of some kind of art and that is what matters. Its influence is spread everywhere from sci-fi, to music to even avant garde fashion designs. Barbarella is also the first science fiction comic book character to have a feature length film adaptation produced. Prior to this sci-fi comics had only been adapted as serials. When watching this film I am always reminded at how boundary pushing this must have been in 1968. It actually baffles me that the film is 46 years old this year. Regardless of actual technical quality, Barbarella is a bona fide (hehe… bona) cult classic of a film.