Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Paramount, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], French Digital Mono, subtitles: none, single side-single layer, 19 chapters, theatrical trailer, rated PG, 98 min., $29.99, street date 6/22/99.
Directed by Roger Vadim. Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, Marcel Marceau, Claude Dauphin.
Barbarella is marked by the same audacity and originality, fantasy, humor, beauty and horror, cruelty and eroticism that make comic books such a favorite. The setting is the planet Lythion in the year 40,000, when Barbarella (Jane Fonda) makes a forced landing while traveling through space. She acts like a female James Bond, vanquishing evil in the forms of robots and monsters. She also rewards, in an uninhibited manner, the handsome men who assist her in the adventure. Whether she is wrestling with Black Guards, the evil Queen, or the Angel Pygar, she just can't seem to avoid losing at least part of her skin-tight space suit!
32 years after its 1968 theatrical release, there are a total of two reasons why the film Barbarella maintains any presence in the communal consciousness: 1) Pop group Duran Duran took their name from the movie's villain; 2) A young and very sexy, pre-workout and plastic surgery Jane Fonda stars, and she spends the picture either in skimpy outfits or none at all.
While some of the shots of Jane did in fact get my motor mildly revved up, neither of these factors comes close to redeeming this atrocious mess of a film. Inevitably, many parties will argue that Barbarella is one of those movies that's so bad, it's good. They're wrong. It's so bad, it's bad. In fact, it's so bad, it's terrible and almost unbearable to watch - only sweet Jane kept me in front of the screen.
Even that aspect of the film wasn't as hot as it could have been. Barbarella starts with a long scene of Jane stripping out of her space suit, but much of the good stuff is blocked by some cutesy title credits. Yeah, this was obviously intentional, but I still got peeved.
Anyway, as with fellow sci-fi craptacular Logan's Run, only some nice skin makes Barbarella even remotely tolerable. I suppose Barbarella deserves some credit in that it at least tries to be a comedy, whereas LR seemed to take itself rather seriously. But while Barbarella winks at the viewer throughout, that doesn't make it any more entertaining; whether intentional or not, this is one poor film.
The word "campy" doesn't do justice to this flavor of cheese. The acting is constantly atrocious. No signs of the Jane who would become an accomplished performer appear here; she just swoons her way through this tripe. Hell, we get stuck with Keith Richards' ex, Anita Pallenberg, in one role, and Marcel Marceau in a speaking part, for God's sake!
The story plods along as Barbarella pursues renegade Dr. Duran for reasons that become less and less interesting with each passing moment; once she finally meets him, I could not have cared less what happened. Of course, I never really had any interest in what happened prior to that.
Barbarella displays special effects that make the original Star Trek shows look like Jurassic Park. Most laughable are the terrible blue screen effects for the flying Angel, though the ugly and ridiculously phony sets give them a run for their money.
Admittedly, Barbarella is a bit harder to mock than films that are more unintentionally funny (ala Logan's Run; after all, it was cowritten by Terry Southern, who also worked on the script for Dr. Strangelove, and it clearly tries to spoof science fiction films and some of the hippy-drippy attitude of the era. If it did so with the least amount of success, that'd be great, but it's such a fruity and campy little piece of excrement that it has to be considered a complete failure.
Well, at least the DVD isn't too bad. Barbarella appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it's not a great-looking disc, the movie looks pretty good.
Sharpness generally seems acceptable; although the movie sometimes appears slightly soft, this is not severe and I didn't think it interfered with the image, really. Perhaps because of this softness, moiré effects seems completely lacking, even when Jane wears some outfits that look like chain mail; those should have gone nuts with shimmering but they seem stable. I also detected no evidence of artifacts that sometimes accompany anamorphic downconversions on my 4X3 TV.
The print itself was erratic but usually pretty clean. Some scenes displayed a lot of scratches, speckles and spots, but the film would then go for long stretches with no apparent defects. I didn't detect much grain, at least.
Colors looked quite vivid, although they tended to be a little too strong; a fair amount of oversaturation occurs and this gives the movie a slightly heavy look at times. Both black levels and shadow detail seemed perfectly adequate though not special. Barbarella offers its share of problems, but I still found the image to appear pretty decent.
Although the movie only offers a monaural soundtrack, I thought it sounded surprisingly lively. Dialogue often seems badly dubbed - the speech of Ugo Tognazzi appeared particularly out of synch with the action - but it nonetheless came across as clear and clean and always intelligible. The cheesy effects are reproduced decently, although some of the more high-pitched noises appear a bit shrill. The film's terrible lounge-lizard score seems decently crisp and it even pumps out some acceptable low end. Make no mistake - this remains a mono mix, so it's not going to thrill you. Still, it works well for what it is.
As remains typical for Paramount releases, the biggest failing of Barbarella on DVD is its almost complete lack of supplements. We get the film's silly trailer and that's it. I, for one, would have liked an audio commentary to hear someone try and rationalize this mess.
And a mess it is, a rather unwatchable one. Although Barbarella offers some cheap thrills via sexy shots of Jane Fonda, that's about all it has going for it. Paramount did a decent job with the sound and image of this DVD, though they neglected to feature many supplements. If this DVD included some cool extras, it might be more compelling; after all, some nice documentaries about Ray Harryhausen made a crummy movie like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad a DVD keeper. That's not the case here, so Barbarella deserves to remain on the shelves; avoid it at all costs.
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