Blu-ray Review: ‘Barbarella’ is Stellar on Blu

It’s reassuring to know that given the benefit of time and age, Barbarella lead Jane Fonda has found the charm in her role as the sexually liberated astronaut. You actually have to extricate Fonda’s performance here from her later stories about her turbulent relationship with the film’s director (and her then-husband) Roger Vadim, whom Fonda has described as Svengali-esque, making all of the scenes of violence and depredation against Barbarella take on an extra layer of unintended meaning.

And the movie itself is one that suffers under the description of “camp classic” when really the people who label movies like that would like to apply the equally dubious “so bad it’s good” description. But there’s so much to like about Fonda’s work here and the movie as a whole: Fonda brings naivete and sweetness to a part that requires a certain level of comfort going bare onscreen, while the hostile planet Lythion is a parade of inventive and odd ways to imperil our heroine.

Paramount’s Blu-ray release does well by Roger Vadim’s 1968 movie in terms of basic presentation, but like the 1999 DVD, don’t go looking for anything in the way of archival material.

Barbarella, the “Queen of the Galaxy” is the invention of French writer and illustrator Jean-Claude Forest in a series of adult comics for V-Magazine in the early 60’s. Forest mixed her Flash Gordon-style space-age adventures in the far-flung future with copious amounts of sex with the many extraterrestrials she would meet. Like her film counterpart, comic Barbarella as unabashedly there for the whole male gaze thing.

Fonda’s adventure with the character begins with her being enlisted by the President of Earth (Claude Dauphin) to track to missing astronaut Durand Durand, who’s reportedly invented a Positronic Ray which could kickstart the who war and conflict thing that future humans don’t do. So Barbarella pilots her lips-shaped ship to the untamed planet Lythion where she’s menaced by a gang of sets of identical twins and their chattering dolls, and later the perverse inhabitants of the city of Sogo.

There’s a lot to appreciate here, from the numerous costume changes our heroine goes through in each scene (courtesy of Gloria Musetta, if IMDB is to be believed) to the numerous practical and miniature sets constructed for the film. They’re the product of unhinged minds, but in a good way. If, for whatever reason you get bored with Fonda blasting away at robotic leather men, the sight of their ships and the environments they fly in should at least keep your attention.

The cast are very aware of the kind of movie they’re in (which is to say, tongue-in-cheek cheesecake), and the performers rise to the occasion in their brief roles. An impossibly young-looking David Hemmings plays a sexually technologically-frustrated freedom fighter Dildano, while Milo O’Shea is the coldly cruel Concierge for the Black Queen (Anita Pallenberg, now a crush). Fonda herself could easily have been swallowed up by a role that simply asks her to be pretty and be molested by an orgasmatron, but she’s sweet and funny in the role (even if her character more or less saves the day by accident).

It’s not great art, but it’s a good movie, is what I’m saying, and definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of lusciously-rendered futures and 60’s sexual psychadelia.

Audio and Video

First, in terms of audio options, you’ve got a few in mono to choose from: English, Spanish, and French. Not bad, and the score by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox might not you know, blow your speakers out or anything crazy like that but it’s well represented here. It actually might have been worth it to have an isolated score soundtrack to hear their pop/psychadelia compositions on their own.

Visually, things are very good to good throughout. Some of the more pristine visuals when Barbarella touches down on Lythion are sharp and crystal clear, the colors vivid and veritably popping out of the screen. The opening title sequence is really the only weak link here, intermittently dark and with occasional grain. It’s not some grainstorm nightmare or anything, but it’s there and sets your expectations low for the ensuing movie which otherwise acquits itself.

Special Features

Besides the theatrical trailer (which shows a surprising amount of skin), nada.

Barbarella will be available on July 3rd from Paramount.

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