Thursday, June 21, 2012

REVIEW: Barbarella

Director: Roger Vadim
Year 1968
Barbarella is a trippy and sexy sci-fi adventure that begins with an anti-gravity striptease and ends with a bang. Set in a futuristic universe that is anything but normal, the narrative follows one lone astronaut woman as she embarks on a journey across the cosmos, encountering one strange thing after another. With a heavy sense of retro style and an abundance of groovy visuals, Barbarella is one science fiction film that truly sets itself apart from the rest of the pack.
The film follows a 41st century astronaut named Barbarella as she is assigned to the task of investigating and stopping an evil man by the name of Durand Durand. This insatiable torturer lives on the planet Lythion in the city of Sogo, where he delights in the fabrication of new sins and the mad construction of his various devices that inflict pain through pleasure. The mission seems simple, but Barbarella soon finds out that anything is possible on this strange new planet. Only after befriending the locals, namely a winged man named Pygar and a peculiar underground resistance, does Barbarella truly have a chance in taking down this vile man and his equally overbearing and sexy leader named The Great Tyrant. Welcome to the sexy and saturated world of Barbarella.

Jane Fonda plays the titular role of Barbarella and boy does she fill the role perfectly. Unabashed in an aura of sensuality, Fonda owns the character for everything its worth, making a role that is rather risky and turning it into something that is quite accessible. The endless wardrobe for Fonda’s character is astounding, partaking in every retro styled futuristic cliché the filmmakers can come up with but without making it feel familiar and tackled territory. The different variations of her garbs and the skillful way the filmmakers clothed her body, yet still left so much to not have to be imagined, was quite an achievement among the young male community at the time. It’s safe to say that Fonda’s portrayal of Barbarella, was without a doubt the sexiest astronaut to ever grace the screen from that point on and into the far flung future.
What’s great about Barbarella is that she is actually a strong and intelligent woman, and still there is this fun and bubbly side to her that makes you wish you knew someone as quirky as her. Fonda does a perfect job in projecting this odd balance and in this execution she allows her character to pop from the screen and be highly relatable even though she is so unique. The introduction of Barbarella must have been a reasonable shock to the masses, because you get an empowered female figure yet at the same time she is scantily clad throughout the entire picture. The conundrum is uncanny and to me it is part of the fun of this wacky and wild character. In respect to Fonda as an actress, she nails this part to perfection as she has the looks to pull off this sexy astronaut role, but also has the acting chops to tackle the surreal nature of the film and just have fun with it. The role of Barbarella might be a silly one in retrospect, but it is one that will go down in history as being the most enjoyable portrayal in the entire science fiction genre. Did I mention it’s sexy!

Now as wonderful as Jane Fonda looks and acts in this film, there are quite a few other characters that do an equally good job in bringing this obscure world to life. John Phillip Law plays the role of Pygar, the angelic winged man with a soft spot for scantily clad astronaut women. The character of Pygar is blind, so this enabled Law to really step up his game and replicate that same physical presentation of a man without sight. Law does a fabulous job in this most unusual role, and the sympathy that he is able to garner within the runtime of the film is astounding. In all aspects, Pygar is innocent and angelic and once introduced to the harsh environment seen within the city of Solo, we feel pity for this poor creature whose only crime was helping Barbarella on her perilous journey to find Durand Durand. Speaking of Durand Durand, he’s played by Milo O’Shea, a creepy bastard who seems to relish in the sadistic role of the sexual deviant. I enjoyed his goofy take as a sex torturer and thought that he made the character more enjoyable than it had any right to be. Another great character, but sorely under-used, was the role of The Great Tyrant played by the stunning Anita Pallenberg. Her wardrobe rivaled Barbarella’s in its audacity and overall strangeness, and that’s a feat on itself.
Much like the characters of this film, the world is equally expressive and diverse. As Barbarella lands on the planet of Lythion we are introduced to our first bit of strangeness in the form of an ice covered surface world housing odd demented children with equally obscure little toys that look born from nightmares. Oh yeah, did I also mention that they use floating stingrays to pull them around on the ice as a form of transportation. Anyway, after that rude awakening Barbarella delves deeper into the weirdness that is planet Lythion, ending up in a peculiar underground cavern that is home to the bird-man Pygar and an endless labyrinth filled with wretched creatures that could give the nightmarish monsters of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth a run for their money. After that we are given our first glimpses of the sinful city of Sogo, where Durand Durand and his aptly named sex device Exessive Machine dwell. It is also here where we first come face to face with The Great Tyrant in all her one horned glory. With each and every one of these locations, we are lambasted with a set design aesthetic that is simply out of this world. From The Great Tyrant’s dream chamber to the sin-infested corridors of the city of Sogo, the filmmakers spared no expense in creating a fully realized world with all of the decadent trimmings. It’s a pretty safe bet that once you jump into this wild film, you’ll never truly be the same. As for me, I’m perfectly fine with that notion, because Barbarella is one sexy cinematic production that you can’t help getting lost in.

Barbarella is a wild ride of epic proportions that blasts you with one crazy thing after another, all the while doing it in stunning style. The retro futuristic feel of the film is top notch, allowing for the plethora of sexually charged elements of the movie to blend in seamlessly with the visually potent look of the world. Jane Fonda as Barbarella is as delightfully breathtaking as she is intriguing, and you really can’t deny the magnetic pull that she has in this film.
As with Fonda’s portrayal of the sexiest astronaut in the universe, the rest of the characters bring their A game to the table in delivering an array of interesting beings to populate this cinematic realm. John Phillip Law as Pygar, Milo O’Shea as Durand Durand, and Anita Pallenberg as The Great Tyrant are all expertly performed and sizzle in their mysteriousness and ambiguous nature. As for the overall look of the film, you really can’t dismiss the absolute absurdity and awe-inspiring wonder that some of these sets project and the visceral feel of many of these fabricated locations seem plucked from a painting or lovingly replicated from some far away galaxy where such oddities like these actually do exist. In summary, the film is just a whole hell of a lot of fun and there is so much to like about this film that you really should just sit back and enjoy the ride. Did I mention that it is sexy as all hell? Oh, I did…. Good! Barbarella is a science fiction movie that is…..

Now where did I park that stingray?

This is what nightmares are made of.

Sexy... Sexy!

What are you looking at you blind freak?

This screenshot makes me want to, "Dance Magic Dance!"

This chick really likes feathers.

Send me a Pygar... Send me a Pygar... Right Now!

You see that machine over there. I'm gonna sex the hell out of you with it.

Lose the horn honey! That went out two years ago.

I'm not wearing pants again... am I?

High fives are awesome in the future!

My word that's some good shit!

So this is what it's like to live in a snowglobe.

This creepy dude knows what he likes.

Damn you evil parakeets! Damn you to HELL!

Kind of a weird sofa, but I'm not complaining.

Well you look pleased with yourself Pygar.


  1. What an absurdly great film. Nice review!

  2. I like that... absurdly great! That just about sums up the film. Glad you liked the review and thanks for checking out the site.

  3. Barbarella rules! My favorite part is where the birds get her. She says something like "Oh, how DARLING!" LOL... I saw this on the big screen once in a revival, totally worth it if you can find it.

  4. Awesome Groovy! I would love to have a chance to check this film out on the big screen. I imagine that it's quite an interesting experience, especially if you go along with someone who has never seen the movie before. If I get the chance, I'll take it for sure. P.S. That bird part is hysterical!