In terms of badness, Barbarella is phenomenal. One could spend his or her time on the gender politics–someone must have in the last forty years. The film takes place in a post-gender future, where Jane Fonda’s titular character is the most relied upon person in the galaxy. However, the president (Claude Dauphin) spends the entire time he’s giving her a mission ogling her.
A few costume changes later–director Vadim’s approach to the film is to undress Fonda, put her in something scanty, tear off those scanty closes, get her undressed and then repeat–there’s some exposition explaining future sexuality. Fonda, and the boring people of Earth, are also post-sex. Luckily, Fonda comes across a real man, Ugo Tognazzi, who shows her the way.
Those sociological aspects aside, Barbarella‘s a complete bore. While the sets are enormous, they’re ineptly realized. Claude Renoir’s photography contracts them even more. Vadim’s direction is atrocious–he has dead space at the sides of his Panavision frame, can’t direct the sci-fi aspects, can’t direct the conversations, can’t even figure out head room. Barbarella would be funnier in its badness if the writing weren’t so terrible.
As the lead, Fonda’s bad, but she’s nothing compared to the rest. Tognazzi’s laughable, but John Phillip Law and Anita Pallenberg are much worse. Milo O’Shea is rather funny, presumably intentionally. One just feels bad for David Hemmings though, especially in those tights.
Barbarella‘s only surprise is its last line, a sublime (albeit obvious), profound observation.
Directed by Roger Vadim; screenplay by Terry Southern and Vadim, based on the comic book by Jean-Claude Forest; director of photography, Claude Renoir; edited by Victoria Mercanton; music by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox; production designer, Mario Garbuglia; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Jane Fonda (Barbarella), John Phillip Law (Pygar), Anita Pallenberg (The Great Tyrant), Milo O’Shea (Concierge), Marcel Marceau (Professor Ping), Claude Dauphin (President of Earth), Véronique Vendell (Captain Moon), Serge Marquand (Captain Sun), Catherine Chevallier (Stomoxys), Marie Therese Chevallier (Glossina), David Hemmings (Dildano) and Ugo Tognazzi (Mark Hand).