A truly cult science fiction film from the 1960s, Barbarella is replete with sexual inuendos, costume changes and a pscychodelic style that has fans begging for a remake.
Most films try to find an imaginative way to get through the opening credits. Let's face it, we aren't really interested in who's holding the microphone boom on Tuesday in Studio 14 are we? - surely that's what the ending credits are for (when you can leave the cinema or turn the DVD player/TV off without missing any of the action). Telling us who's in the film is pretty pointless, too - that's why we're watching it! Anyhow, Barbarella cuts through all that nonsense as we meet her immediately the film starts, as we zoom in on her spaceship to find her undressing in zero gravity. Actually she's writhing about on a Perspex table whilst undressing, to be exact (we even see her kick away her helmet and boots!), but you only get to notice that after you've seen it a few hundred times. No, what you are thinking at this point is: "How much are we going to see of Barbarella?"
Well, we don't have to wait too long to answer that question as Barbarella first teases off her gloves. The wait is well worth it though, as the thigh-length space boots are tossed (sorry - kicked) away next, revealing Jane Fonda's shapely legs for the first time (we are now a whole minute into the film). As the inner protective shield of her helmet lowers ( it actually looks like a goldfish bowl draining of very dirty water - you have to clean those goldfish bowls out a lot more frequently than that, you know!), we get our first glimpse of her face. And boy we are not disappointed. Whilst Jane Fonda may want to be recognised for her later political life, it is certainly true that she was a very beautiful woman in her youth. With enough foundation and mascara to satisfy a host of contestants in a beauty pageant, she shakes her honey-coloured hair, as if rehearsing for a hairspray advertisement. At this point we know we are in for a treat. But then, after removing the rest of her attire until she is totally naked, we find that the damn credits artist has lost his mind, as letters swim through space in an attempt (not entirely successfully) to cover up all the naughty bits. The faint-hearted of you should be warned that there is partial nudity in the video, and whilst it did get a PG rating in 1977, please don't watch it if you think you might be offended by this.
At the end of the sequence (oh - and apparently there's a song during it), Barbarella turns the gravity on and falls gently onto a plush orange shag-pile carpet. Now I'm no expert on undressing in zero-gravity, but it seems to me that it would have been much easier if she had pushed the button much earlier! Suddenly the President of Earth is on the videophone. People are obviously broad-minded in the 41st century, as Barbarella stands up to receive the message, full-frontal, and neither he or she bat an eyelid, as her implausible mission is explained. There's just time for a costume change into a black number, with transparent breast and stomach plates. Clearly this was more comfortable than her spacesuit, which she just couldn't wait to get off!
The news was that a scientist called Durand Durand (from whom the pop band Duran Duran took their name) has invented a weapon, so obviously, as the bad guy, he needs taking down, and our aviatrix is the one to do it. She heads off and lo behold, and true to female stereotypes, she crashes on the planet Tau Ceti. Rather than call the emergency services, she quickly changes costume (one that sparkles and matches all the ice on the surface), and sets out to explore. Bad move, really as she is attacked by two small feral children. After knocking her semi-conscious with the old "rock-in-a-snowball" routine, they take her to another crashed ship and unleash upon her dolls that resemble piranhas. These dolls, with their razor-like teeth are able to bite her and, oops...manage to tear her costume to reveal bits of flesh!
Its a bit too early for the main character to die at this point, so unsurprisingly, she is rescued just before getting bitten to death, by the Catchman, who is a cross between a man and a bear - ok more of a bear. He rounds up these naughty children, and thinks that sex is a good reward for helping our heroine out of a sticky mess and fixing her ship (now I know why she didn't call the emergency services). But wait, sex in the utopian future is replaced by taking a pill and holding hands! The Catchman is having none of that nonsense as he prefers the ursine way of doing things, which is all off-screen, of course. The credits artist must have knocked off by now, I assume, so the film makers ask Fonda to throw something over her to protect her modesty. Luckily it must have been moulting season as there is a considerable amount of fur lying around that the Bearman must have shed.
Barbarella obviously needs a costume change, so she slips into something a bit more comfortable. No fashion-conscious adventureress of the 41st century would travel the galaxy without a Pepé Le Pew outfit, of course. Complete with extra long tail, it is a fitting example of environmental groups turning their back on smelly creatures in the future. Either the tail got caught in a machine part or the odour must have been too much for our beauty, because the ship crashes as soon as it takes off. Perhaps the Catchman wasn't such a good mechanic after all!
Anyway, in the need of sensible low-heeled space boots to explore the planet, Barbarella needs to change her attire again. What better than a pair of thigh-length waders, just in case she's landed in deep water?
What's more likely is that she's landed in deep trouble! Being the unlucky type, she is hit by a mini landslide as she departs her vehicle and falls to the floor. Oh for a hard hat and a pair of steel-tipped boots. But technically there weren't any warning signs around, so I don't think she fell foul of any Health and Safety laws on the planet.
Now along comes a sleazy guy on his way to a toga party, who takes advantage of our heroine by pretending he's blind. This gives him the perfect excuse to touch Barbarella where a sighted person wouldn't be allowed to. I wouldn't mind, but he also claims to be an angel called Pygar (yeh I bet he made that up in case the police got involved later). After a good grope, he attempts to redeem himself slightly by inviting her to his nest, presumably to meet his mother and have a nice cup of tea, but he obviously lives in a dodgy neighbourhood as Barbarella is attacked as soon as they get there. Pygar saves her and asks for sex as his reward - the cup of tea was just a tissue of lies, and now we discover his real motive for inviting her to his place. And he calls himself an angel! After they have sex we find out he can fly after all! Honestly, I have heard some chat-up lines in my time, but this one takes the biscuit!
And as for the state of his nest - well he could have made an effort, surely?
Having lost her clothes, its time for a quick change, into what I can only assume is her flying-with-angels outfit. Pygar turns out to be even more of a sleaze-bag, since he doesn't warn Barbarella that she shouldn't have worn so much white. You see, the city is evil and has a gooey substance called the Matmos flowing beneath it, and if you get it on your clothes, you'll never get it out - even with biological. In fact it stains so badly it could kill you! Having said that I think she looks incredibly sexy in this outfit and it's just how I imagine King Arthur's younger and trendier sister must have looked whilst on holiday in the Holy Land.
The rescue services finally arrive, but the bloke just takes a deep breath and tells Barbarella that it'll take a while to fix her ship. I can smell a rip-off coming up here and personally think she should have asked for a second opinion. The rescue mechanic, has a rather catchy alliteration - Professor Ping - so you know you'll be paying through the nose for all those TV adverts. At this point, Pygar starts to feel a bit guilty for misleading her, so he offers a lift to the city where Durand Durand might be.
After a few incidents in an alleyway of the city, Barbarella soon finds herself captured by what is known as the Great Tyrant, which is a fine way to describe a lesbian who dresses up like a turkey with an elephant's tusk wedged in the middle of her head. This Tyrant makes a feeble attempt to live up to her name, but shows an amazing lack of imagination, putting Barbarella in a cage full of budgies that peck her a bit, rather than just shooting her in the head like a real Great Tyrant would do. Luckily she is rescued by Dildano (funny how all these guys are always just around the corner, eh?) and guess what? Yep I think you've got the picture by now. Barbarella rewards him, but he's one of those modern men you keep hearing about (but never actually see) and he fancies the pill method. It turns out to be, quite literally, a hair-curling experience!
Strangely enough, Barbarella finds another costume to wear, this time a caped number. It must belong to Dildano, because I didn't notice any suitcases on the angel flight over to the city, and I certainly didn't notice any fashion boutiques open in the Labyrinth of the city. Actually, I don't know why she bothered changing anyway as she didn't have to take her clothes off for the pill sex, did she? All I can think off is that Dildano must have had a thing for kinky clothes. Barbarella is soon off again looking for Durand Durand when she is captured again (she's good at this!), this time by the "Concierge".
The Concierge is even worse than the Tyrant. How do I know? Well he's got an "excessive machine". This looks like a cross between one of them old-fashioned mini saunas that the Scandinavians find so much fun, and a slipper bath. He puts our heroine inside and for some unknown reason starts playing a nearby piano, to the tune of "Sonata for Executioner and Several Young Women" (no I've never heard of it either, but then it is the 41st century!).
As he does this, he smirks like the mad scientist he obviously is. If he was a good scientist, he would have made sure that the machine had been properly serviced, as it somehow catches on Barbarella's clothes, tears them off and then breaks down in a plume of smoke. It turns out that this so-called "Concierge" is the Durand Durand she has been looking for (yep - another Liar!). He's obviously kinky about clothes, too, as he lends Barbarella one of his old Robin Hood outfits.
Eventually Barbarella is saved from certain death because the goo, cannot penetrate her "goodness". It's clear the Matmos didn't know what Barbarella had been up to the last couple of days, because there's no way she's been a good girl recently! Anyway she flies off with Pygar to find her ship, ....then we have another song and those blasted credits start appearing on the screen...
I really can't understand for the life of me why some people knock this film. You know what you are getting after seeing the first 5 minutes! Its deliberately camp and sexy at the same time and should never be taken too seriously. I found Fonda perfect as the sexy space adventurer, enhanced by the many skimpy costumes she adorns, although not for very long, during the film. Of course the plot is simple and characterisation is limited to say the least, although David Hemmings and his useless travel tubes still gets a laugh every time I see it! But if you are looking for those things in this film then you have missed the point. Barbarella is a visual feast of funk and psychodelia, time stamping the sixties into the future as an era of sexual liberation and adventure.
The incredibly sexy and iconic costumes are credited to the renowned designer Paco Rabane and the kitsch set designs were by recently departed Mario Garbuglia, although Jean-Claude Forest, our Babe's creator, clearly had an overarching influence in both areas. For me, at least, Jane Fonda as a somewhat naive and hapless "heroine" only increases her attractiveness, and as I deplore political correctness, I find it refreshing to see her used unashamedly as a sex object by a film director who was clearly obsessed with beauty (he did also marry Bridgette Bardot and Catherine Deneuve).
This is not a sexploitation film or a film about fetishism, as some pundits would have you believe, and it's certainly not a film version of the comic book - its just a bit of fun! Watch it with that in mind and I am sure you will enjoy it!