Barbarella

Even though it is set in the future, “Barbarella” the film is definitely encamped in the late 1960s. Based on the popular bestseller by Jean Claude Forest, “Barbarella” is so entrenched in the period that it was made that the film becomes nothing more than a curiosity piece. It is so outdated and silly that one wonders why John Waters hasn’t tried to remake it.


At least he would understand the camp appeal. That is not the case with director Roger Vadim, who delights in exposing his wife of the moment on screen. barbarella dvd coverShot in France by producer Dino De Laurentiis with an international cast, “Barbarella” is a live action comic book. It’s filled with day glow colors and colorful characters, but the script by Terry Southern isn’t nearly as colorful. It’s actually quite silly, but that wasn’t the film’s calling card back in 1968. It was Jane Fonda’s numerous nude scenes. Hollywood was still testing the limits of sexual content and nudity when “Barbarella” arrived, so the filmmaker’s made every attempt to jump on the bandwagon. The film opens with Fonda doing a striptease while floating about in her spaceship. Yes, it was sexy, but it also pushed the envelope (only some well placed on-screen credits obscure her furry little friend). Then Fonda stands around in the nude as her character receives a message from the President. Not that I mind, but the PG rating on the DVD is really a stretch. There is way too much sexual content and flesh on display to allow children to watch the film unsupervised. Honestly. Barbarella’s mission is to find a missing scientist in the far reaches of the Universe. She manages to escape every close call by bedding the bad guys, and just can’t seem to keep her clothes on the rest of the time. If nothing else, “Barbarella” is a reminder of a time that reveled in excess. 1968 was still a time of free love, so it only made sense that the film’s title character carry that message to other worlds. Barbarella’s ship is even a bachelorette pad, complete with a fur-lined interior that would be the envy of most low riders. Set in the year 40,000 (well, it could happen), “Barbarella” is both science-fiction and fantasy, with equal doses of humor and eroticism. Fonda plays the title character, an intergalactic female spy, with wide-eyed wonder. She has been dispatched to the outer regions of the Universe to locate missing scientist Duran Duran (imagine the nerve of the filmmaker’s to steal the name of a popular 1980’s rock group!). Her mission is sidetracked when her ship runs into an electrical field and crash lands on an icy planet. It is here where she encounters all sorts of strange inhabitants, including a band of children with killer dolls. Eventually she finds her way to the planet’s queen, a butch Anita Pallenberg, and manages to escape the madness that surrounds her with the help of a blind angel named Pygar (John Phillip Law, looking like he was tricked into taking the role). Fonda turns on the charm, and the rest of the cast seem to play along, but 31 years after its release, “Barbarella” is nothing more than a hoot that is most noted for Fonda’s hooters than its plot or special effects.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ X ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

First off, the original negative is abysmal. There are scratches and glitches everywhere. That said, the quality of the digital transfer is pretty decent considering the obstacles the technicians had to overcome. Particularly disturbing are the process shots of the blind angel and Barbarella flying. These are some of the worst images I have ever seen on a DVD transfer. Just dreadful. Luckily, the rest of the film isn’t nearly as bad, but there are issues throughout. The day glow colors in the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer are especially bright and vivid, but their saturation is too strong. Flesh tones are impressive, as well as depth of field. However, blacks don’t hold up well, and the whites and shadows seem weak due to the flaws in the negative. The DVD image has been enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions, but even this is not enough to make the images sparkle.

HEARING: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Functional English and French language Dolby Digital mono soundtracks. Not much here, except that the transfer makes it easy to hear the campy dialogue and tacky late 60s music.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The film’s original theatrical trailer (pretty grainy), plus main and scene access menus.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ X ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

The DVD is as good as this film is going to get, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not to pull the plug or plug in with Jane Fonda’s breasts.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated PG/98 Minutes/Color/19 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#068127

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: BARBARELLA

BIRTH DATE: 1968

HMO: Paramount Home Video



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