Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Barbarella Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Who can perform a zero-gravity striptease, seduce an angel and still have time to save the universe?   Sexy, sultry, space adventurer Barbarella, that’s who!  The terrifically titillating sci-fi romp Barbarella continues to entertain with its outrageous, out-of-this-world story and brazen sexuality.  Jane Fonda stars as the titular heroine who lands on the planet Lythion in the year 40,000.  Faced with robots, monsters and evil of varying stripes, she must vanquish her enemies, all while attempting—and failing—to keep her skin-tight spacesuit on.  Along the way she receives assistance from a variety of handsome men, each of whom receives her uninhibited appreciation.  Directed by Roger Vadim (Fonda’s ex-husband), Barbarella is a kind of sexual Alice in Wonderland of the future and the film is replete with psychedelic set designs, far-out characters and an outrageously entertaining story set amongst the stars.

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)

If you combined the camp of the 80s version of Flash Gordon with Austin Powers' zest for free love and added Andy Warhal's aesthetics, you would have a pretty good approximation of Barbarella.  This camp classic bombed when it was originally released in 1968, but the movie's so bad it's good appeal and I suspect Jane Fonda's sexy turn, have kept this movie in the public consciousness.  The movie is terrible by most standards, bad script, poor direction, bad acting, and cheap looking effects, but thanks to Jane Fonda it's still an imminently watchable movie. Fonda turns in a performance that balances on a razor's edge of being serious, while being tongue in cheek.  It's a tough balance to maintain but she pulls it off well.  The movie looks like it had about a $5,000 budget and it's filled with cheap looking props and effects, but at the same time there is some undeniable imagination at play here.  Sometimes you can look cheap but still succeed like the original "Star Trek" series which had poor effects but made up for it with compelling stories and characters.  Barbarella on the other hand, doesn't have a good story or characters, but it does have Jane Fonda doing a zero-G striptease which goes a long way.

Sometime in the future, the President of Earth (Claude Dauphin) orders Barbarella (Jane Fonda) to find Doctor Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea) who is rumored to have invented a new weapon called the Positronic Ray which is unthinkable in this universe full of peace and love.  Weapons are so outdated, that the weapons that are given to Barbarella came from a museum.  Setting coordinates for the last planet Durand Durand was last seen on, Barbarella flies her shag carpeted ship to Tau Ceti where she crashes.  Exiting her damaged ship, Barbarella encounters two young girls who view her suspiciously.  When they throw a snowball at Barbarella and knock her unconscious, she is taken to the wreckage of another spaceship called the Alpha 1 and tied up.  When she wakes up, she is surrounded by a group of feral children who sick some dolls on her that have razor sharp teeth.  She is rescued by a man known as the Catchman (Ugo Tognazzi) whose job is to catch the various children out on the ice plain.  For payment of his services, the Catchman asks Barbarella to make love to him.  She agrees, thinking it's the way it's done now with pills and just touching hands, but he says he wants to do it the old-fashioned way which she soon learns that she loves.

With her ship repaired, Barbarella burrows through the planet until she discovers a massive labyrinth full of people that have been exiled from the nearby city of Sogo.  After exiting her ship, she is knocked unconscious again by a rockslide, but this time she is rescued by a blind angel named Pygar (John Phillip Law).  Barbarella learns that this area is ruled by a being known as The Great Tyrant.  The Tyrant's enforcers are the Black Guards and they soon capture Barbarella before she is saved by Pygar.  To show her thanks, Barbarella uses her new-found form of payment and makes love to him which gives him the will to fly again.  Now that he can fly again, Pygar flies her to Sogo so she can find Durand Durand.  Once there they discover that the city is powered by a liquid essence of evil known as the Mathmos.  Barbarella is captured again and this time she is placed in a birdcage to die from bird bites and scratches.  She is saved again by the leader of the resistance against the Tyrant, Dildano (David Hemmings) whom she makes love to to thank him for her rescue.  To her disappointment, Dildano only wants to have sex using the pills and touching instead of the old-fashioned way.  

Afterwards, Dildano offers to help her find Durand Durand if she agrees to help him depose the Great Tyrant.  She is given an invisible key to the Tyrant's dream chamber, the only place that the Tyrant is vulnerable.  Barbarella is captured again (!) by the Tyrant's number two man, the Concierge, who straps her into a pleasure device known as the excessive machine.  The Concierge plays the machine like an organ and he informs Barbarella that she will soon die from too much pleasure.  Unfortunately for the Concierge, Barbarella can take quite a bit of pleasure and fairly soon she overloads the machine as it can't keep up with her.  Meanwhile, the resistance makes its move against Sogo, but the Concierge has plans to eliminate them once and for all.   

If it wasn't for the presence of Jane Fonda, this movie would be an utter disaster that would have been long forgotten.  The script by Terry Southern is repetitive and dull, with Barbarella getting either knocked out or captured continually and when saved, she sleeps with her rescuer.  Rinse and repeat and that's the entire movie.  With the lovely Jane Fonda though, the movie not only has some potent sex appeal and she also provides a performance that transcends the rest of the movie.  Fonda gives portrays a doe eyed sex kitten well, but she also adds a sly subtext to her role that makes the movie more enjoyable.  David Hemmings is also somewhat funny as the hapless and inept resistant leader with the suggestive name of Dildano.  Milo O'Shea is also interesting to watch as the Concierge who may or may not be something more.  The rest of the movie is filled with laughably bad acting and extremely cheap looking props and effects.  To be fairly honest, there really isn't much reason to recommend this film unless the viewer is interested in seeing Jane Fonda in various stages of undress.  I have no idea how this film received a "PG" rating with all of the nudity within in, as there's no way it would avoid an "R" rating today.  This is almost a time capsule from a time when peace and love were more prevalent, and the swinging sixties were just about to end.  

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer offers mixed results as far as quality goes.  The film's opening titles look really rough with a flickering image that contains a lot of print damage.  As the movie continues, the quality improves quite a bit which makes for a happier end result.  The image varies between looking soft and highly detailed, depending on the scene and it's easy to see the cheap sets and how the special effects were done.  That's always the danger in bringing these older low budget movies to high definition but I'd still prefer the sharper picture over not seeing how it was done.  Colors are everywhere and pretty well delineated.  Flesh tones look mostly natural throughout and the black levels are decent as well. 

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Barbarella offers an above average Dolby True HD Mono soundtrack that despite it's limited range it provides a clear and active track.  While the film's score doesn't always come through as clearly as it should, the dialogue is very crisp and clear.  The sound effects fare better and all sound precise and clean.  I doubt that the audio track will ever get much better than this and this sounds a lot better than I would have thought it would for an old low budget film.

Extras (1 out of 5 stars)

The only extras included is the film's theatrical trailer which is a shame since I would have loved to hear Fonda talk about the movie.

Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The movie has almost been remade several times and even Fonda wants to do a sequel so it will be interesting to see how the movie would turn out today.  This Blu-ray presentation is probably the best video and audio quality this movie will ever achieve, but it's a shame that there's no extras because they really could have added a lot of value to this Blu-ray.  This is a campy cult favorite that can be enjoyable in the right circumstances and with the right friends who were open to this film's brand of silly and yet sexy humor.

Order your copy today!

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