Barbarella (1968)
Directed by Roger Vadim

Artistic Value: * * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Sometime around the year 40,000, the president of the Earth contacts Barbarella (Jane Fonda), a skilled and sexy astronavigatrix, and sends her on a mission to find a missing scientist, Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea), who has invented a deadly new weapon, the positronic ray. Barbarella rushes to the planet Lythion, where she believes the scientist to be, but is there attacked by a gang of vicious children, rescued by a hairy child-hunter, and taken to a labyrinth where all the good people of the city of Sogo are imprisoned. In this gloomy place, she meets the wise Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau) and a blind angel named Pygar (John Phillip Law). The latter takes Barbarella to Sogo, where she comes into conflict with its cruel ruler, the Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), and gets involved in a rebellion in order to find Durand Durand.

Roger Vadim's Barbarella, which is based on Jean-Claude Forest's comic book series of the same title, is a true delight. It is deliciously campy, gleefully sexy, and visually enthralling.


In fact, there is hardly a moment during which the viewer is not presented with some wild and wonderful image. The movie starts with Barbarella doing a zero-g striptease inside her spaceship, the floor, walls, and ceiling of which are decorated with orange shag carpet, and it just gets weirder after that. The director has included sinuous, almost art nouveau guns, a wagon-sized sled moved by a great sail, a maze filled with half-fossilized, yet still living inmates, candy-colored skies, a city like a bunch of burrs piled on top of one another, rooms alive with psychedelic projections and shimmering, abstract statues, and more. Even the beings the protagonist encounters are captivating to look at. There are killer dolls with snapping, metal-toothed mouths, mobile but empty suits of armor, a pair of malevolent little girls who ride upon skis pulled by a giant skate, and hosts of inebriated women smoking the "essence of man" from a gigantic water pipe in the bowl of which a man is swimming.


While I cannot deny that such images do give the movie much, even most of its appeal, the story the director relates is still entertaining. Barbarella's quest may not be anything particularly special, but it is still involving. What is more, it is presented in such a tongue-in-cheek way that it is consistently fun. Whether the heroine is shown expressing her shock that the folk of Lythion engage in physical sex, which is longer done on Earth, where a pill is taken that allows people to share some sort of ecstatic bond, or she is later depicted desiring to engage in just that sort of carnal union - when a local wants to take the Earthly pill with her - there is a gleeful silliness and sensuality that is always charming. Even some of the film's climactic moments, such as when the villain places Barbarella in a pleasure machine and her impressively strong sexual urges burn it out, have this playful lustiness. The story really is a joy.


Of course, it must be added that as amusing as all these incidents are, they are made far better by the trippy score accompanying them.


Lastly, I should add that while not much is expected of the actors, who generally give utterly hammy performances, most do bring a pleasant cartoonishness to the movie. Jane Fonda is always sexy, innocent, and brave as the protagonist. Anita Pallenberg is lusty and decadent as the Great Tyrant, and John Phillip Law has a sort of detached dignity as the angelic Pygar.


Barbarella is a genuine delight. It is easily amongst the most entertaining science fiction films I have seen. It is funny, visually appealing, and engaging.


Review by Keith Allen

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