John Phillip Law
BARBARELLA is an exercise in weird 60s psychedelic pop aesthetic, a movie that 100% puts Bohemian fashion and artistry over things like story and cohesiveness. There’s spaceships decorated with shag carpet and lava lamps, but zero characterization. Characters greet each other with “love” instead of “hello,” living in a hippie paradise future where the universe is completely pacified with zero conflict. There’s space rabbits, ice sting rays, bloodthirsty dolls and liquid evil. At best it makes little sense and at worst it’s complete nonsense.
But at its heart the film is essentially just a vehicle to show off Jane Fonda as Barbarella. There’s not so much a plot as there are different scenarios for the actress to get naked, have sex or at the very least wear different revealing costumes. Barbarella meets a hunter who helps her start her journey, so she has sex with him. She gets caught in an inescapable labyrinth and meets a random angel who’s lost the will to fly, so she sleeps with him and he magically has the will to fly her to safety. She is rescued by a resistance fighter who wants to have future sex with her (they take pills and hold hands) and the result is so good it literally curls her hair. And then in what is the film’s most memorable scene and perhaps its emotional climax, the villain hooks Barbarella up to his Excessive Machine, a device that gives you orgasms until you die. However, she ends up enjoying herself and breaking the machine. Are you sensing a pattern here?
When BARBARELLA was released in the 60s, I’m sure the filmmakers thought they were creating some rogue message about feminism and sexuality, but watching it now it’s mostly just embarrassing. If there's a reason it's at all entertaining thing it's for how poorly dated it looks and feels. Okay, and the nudity. (You’ll be able to gauge your personal tolerance during the opening credits, which features an increasingly nude Fonda floating in zero gravity while a happy pop song.) Ironically, probably the only genuinely good thing about the movie is the music, featuring guitar work by a young David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, which most of the time doesn’t fit the film at all.
Extra Tidbit: Fonda was married to director Roger Vadim at the time, which explains a lot.