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Featured Blu-ray Review: Barbarella

July 2nd, 2012

Barbarella - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Barbarella came out in 1968 and was a a bomb. It failed to impress critics and it failed to find an audience in theaters. However, it became a cult classic and there was even a talk of a sequel in the 1970s. People have been working on a remake since the 1980s, but they've never really gone anywhere. This week it is making its Blu-ray debut, but is it a film worthy of its cult status? Or were critics right the first time around? And if it is the former, is the Blu-ray worth picking up?

The Movie

Describing this plot is a little hard, as this is one messed up movie. Jane Fonda stars as the titular Barbarella, a... I don't know what she is. But she is contacted by the President of the Earth to go on a secret mission. A scientist, Durand Durand, has crashed on a distant planet, Tau Ceti. This is a major cause for concern, because he invented the Positronic Ray, a weapon. It's the first weapon invented in centuries, as the known galaxy has been at peace for that long. However, the people of Tau Ceti are unknown and if they were to get a hold of this weapon, they could be dangerous. It could result in war. The President gives her a device to detect Durand and several weapons, just in case.

When Barbarella gets to Tau Ceti, magnetic disturbances cause her spaceship to crash. She survives, but is almost immediately captured by two little girls, Twins, who tie her to a ski sled pulled by a... I don't know what it is, but I'm wondering how many drugs were consumed during the making of this movie. It does kind of look like a skate, so it could be a rather good pun, because it is carrying them across an ice lake. Ice skate? Or it could be the drugs. It's the drugs. They take her to Durand's crashed ship, but he's not there. There are several more children, all twins, who tie her to a pole and release strange dolls, which proceed to walk up to her and bite her with their metal teeth. She isn't harmed too badly when Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), the catchman, arrives. It's his job to capture the feral children when they get to a serviceable age. I don't know what that means and I don't want to know. Mark Hand offers to fix her ship, in exchange for sex. She's shocked, but not for the reasons you might think. No one has had sex for centuries, because it was found to be distracting. People now use drugs, unless they are too poor to afford them.

Now that her ship is fixed, mostly, Barbarella digs her way to Sogo, the City of Night, but crashes her ship, again. Upon emerging, she's knocked unconscious, again. When she awakes, she is being groped, in a non-sexual way, by Pygar, a blind angel, or ornithanthropes as he describes himself, but he's lost the will to fly. He lives in the labyrinth of Sogo, where the outcasts of Sogo are dumped. He was blinded and left in the labyrinth, but Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau) found him. Professor Ping says that Durand is in Sogo, but no one can leave the labyrinth. Barbarella's ship might be able to take her to Sogo, but it will take too long for Professor Ping to fix it. She asks Pygar to fly her there, but he claims his wings have atrophied to the point where he can not fly. Ping says it's just a matter of morale. You know what boosts morale? Sex!

Pygar is able to fly Barbarella to Sogo, although it is a dangerous journey. She is quickly captured by two men, but is rescued by by a woman who is wearing an eye patch. She escapes and is reunited with Pygar, only to wander into the chamber of the mathmos, the ultimate solution, which is used to execute those sentenced to death. She is rescued by the Concierge to the Great Tyrant, Black Queen of Sogo (Anita Pallenberg), although "rescued" is not quite the right term, as he captures Pygar and delivers Barbarella to the Great Tyrant herself.

That's a good place to stop the plot synopsis. As for the review, Barbarella is not a good movie. It is, on the other hand, for the most part, an entertainingly bad movie. It is a stylish film, but the style dates the film terribly. This is 100% a product of the 1960s. It has a 1960s sensibility to it (shag carpeting is very popular in the future) and the special effects are dated, to be generous. This was not a cheap movie to make with a production budget of $9 million. By comparison, Planet of the Apes came out the same year and cost less than $6 million. 2001 cost just over $10 million. Those films are light years ahead of Barbarella in terms of special effects. This film looks like an episode of Star Trek. The look, as well as the eroticism, is the number one reason to watch the movie.

The style is there to distract from the lack of substance. There's not a plot so much as a series of moments that make you ask, "What were they thinking?" Or more likely, you'll ask, "What were they smoking?" Jane Fonda is good in a role that is thinly written. Not much is asked of her in terms of acting, but she is able to supply the necessary charm and is appealing. On the other hand, her character is knocked out and / or captured more often than she actually does something to move the plot forward. As a result, the plot doesn't move fast enough and if you are not enthralled by the camp value of the film, you will be bored most of the time.

The Extras

The only "extra" on the Blu-ray is the original trailer. Granted, the movie is old enough that the trailer is actually interesting, because they don't make trailers like that any more. As for the film's technical presentation, it is surprisingly good. The film looks amazing. The level of detail is incredibly high, especially for a film that is more than 40 years old. (Although this does have its drawbacks, as it makes the weaknesses in the special effects even more obviously. You can see the string holding up her spaceship at one point.) Colors are just as strong, while the blacks are deep without swallowing details. There are no issues with digital manipulation, compression artifacts, etc. The audio is clean and there are no problems, but it is mono, so everything is front and center.

The Verdict

Barbarella is a camp classic and the Blu-ray looks surprisingly good. It looks good compared to many films less than half its age. However, there are no extras on the Blu-ray. Is the improved video and audio worth paying $15 for? I think so, but I'm a fan of campy movies like this. Even so, I can't be enthusiastic with my recommendation.

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Filed under: Video Review, Barbarella