Barbarella 4K UHD
directed by Roger Vadim
starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, David Hemmings
An Italian adaptation of a French sci-fi comic doesn’t sound like a film that would have the staying power to still be influential over 50 years later, but Roger Vadim’s Barbarella is still influencing film, fashion, and design in the 21st century. In adapting Jean-Claude Forest’s comic series, director Roger Vadim teamed up with counter-culture writer Terry Southern (Candy) and his then-girlfriend Jane Fonda for a sexy, mod, and slightly mad science-fiction romp that is remembered today more for its design than its plot, while remaining a campy delight.
Wide-eyed innocent Barbarella is a space explorer tasked with finding rogue scientist Durand Durand, who has disappeared with a super weapon. The sometimes disjointed and episodic film (which has eight credited screenwriters) has our bouncy but intrepid heroine battling evil children and their steel-jawed baby dolls, escaping from the inescapable labyrinth of woe that surrounds the evil city of Sogo, and discovering the pleasures of physical love, which she employs to return the power of flight to fallen angel Pygar (John Philip Law). Eventually Barbarella will find Durand Durand and love will save the day, but the plot is hardly the point of the film. The point is to provide some lovely, trippy visuals and get Jane Fonda in and out of as many fabulous, if skimpy, costumes as possible, a feat that Roger Vadim accomplishes with glee, most famously in the opening credit zero-gravity strip tease.
The film was a hit when released in 1968 and even got a 1977 reissue as Paramount’s attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze. The reissue came with a new title: Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy and all of the nudity surgically removed to get a family-friendly PG rating. The new title stuck when it was released on home video, and the nudity returned everywhere — except on basic cable, where the film would get heavy rotation. The film was quite progressive for its time, but I’m not certain how well Jane Fonda’s hippy dippy space bumpkin is going to play with the younger set today, which is such an odd notion, as Barbarella was written to be an affront to the over-30 generation. Times have changed, and it sometimes feels like the chaste, pleasureless earth, where love is expressed through pharmaceuticals and finger touches, is uncomfortably prescient.
Barbarella on 4K UHD is an absolutely glorious bit of bubblegum pop. The film is accompanied by an entire Blu-ray of extras celebrating Roger Vadim’s cult classic. Among the bevy of extras, there is film commentary from Tim Lucas, plus a lengthy introduction from film critic Glenn Kenny, a two-hour in-depth discussion between film and cultural historians Tim Lucas & Steve Bissette on the impact and legacy of Barbarella, an interview with film fashion scholar Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén, as well as a collection of essays on the film from Anne Billson, Paul Gravett, Véronique Bergen, and Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén. It really is a film class in a box and a celebration of love for Barbarella.