Few films start out more promisingly than the 1968 sci-fi spoof “Barbarella,” when Jane Fonda performs a zero-gravity striptease, shedding a bulky space suit piece by piece while strategically-placed opening credits keep the audience from ogling too much of her — almost.
Directed by Fonda's first ex-husband, French filmmaker Roger Vadim, this galaxy-galloping sex romp succeeds in titillating and tickling the funny bone in a PG sort of way — which is all it sets out to do — while its colorful and wildly imaginative otherworldly studio sets and special effects never looked better than they do in Blu-ray, even if they are often cheesy and dated.
This Franco-Italian production was filmed at the height of the psychedelic era and certainly looks of its time. Barbarella's spaceship is lined floor to ceiling with orange shag carpet and most of the visual effects — even space itself — look like the inside of a lava lamp or a Jefferson Airplane light show.
Based on the French comic strip by Jean-Claude Forest, the screenplay by Terry Southern (“Dr. Strangelove,” “The Magic Christian”) is set in the 41st century, when Earth has long been a peaceful planet and weapons are almost unheard of.
Renegade scientist Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea) has invented the Positronic Ray, and the president of Earth (Claude Dauphin) calls on sexy space adventurer Barbarella to retrieve the doctor from the planet Tau Ceti. The president warns her that little is known of the planet's inhabitants.
“So they could still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?” Barbarella asks.
Indeed they are. The planet is ruled by the Great Tyrant (a striking, black-garbed Anita Pallenberg, before she was Rolling Stoned) who surrounds herself with the armored and deadly Black Guard, and holds thousands of cast-outs prisoner in a vast, hellish labyrinth.
As Barbarella evades the bad guys in her search for Durand Durand, she encounters all manner of strange beings, such as a blind angel who's lost the will to fly (John Phillip Law) and a bumbling rebel leader who keeps losing things (an amusing David Hemmings), and grants sexual favors to almost all the men she meets in exchange for their help.
When she finally comes face to face with her quarry, she's thrown into the “Excessive Machine,” a device designed to cause death from extreme pleasure. But Durand doesn't know what kind of galactic love child he's dealing with.
It's outrageously spacey fun throughout and a quaint piece of period camp, but its main claim to cult fame is Fonda in the flesh in the opening credits. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray's only extra is the film's original theatrical trailer in hi-def.
— Gene Triplett