Ahhh, the cult classic movie that made Jane Fonda even more of a household name, and this is before her marriage to Ted Turner or the Vietnam controversy. I had seen the VHS case in video stores for years but I think the first time I actually wanted to watch it was due to a random comment a radio DJ had made about how the band Duran Duran got their name from this movie. Yeh, yeh, I know. “Joey this is a cult classic sci-fi movie. How could you have not seen it before then?” Just because it is a cult classic doesn’t always mean I want to watch it,…well that’s pretty much a lie but for whatever reason, this just never really struck my fancy. Still, I would eventually watch it and be entertained by it so during the MBBS (Mass Blockbuster Buying Spree), I decided to take advantage of it and buy a copy of Barbarella on the cheap.
The plot: Barbarella receives a call from the President of Earth and given a mission to track down a missing scientist named Durand Durand, who had disappeared in the uncharted area of the Tau Ceti region. The matter is of some urgency as Durand Durand had apparently created a weapon called the Positronic Ray, which could end up causing the entire region to end up in a war. As Barbarella enters the Tau Ceti region, her ship encounters magnetic disturbances and she ends up crash landing on the 16th planet of the region. As Barbarella goes outside to explore, she sees two little girls and attempts to talk to them, but as she is trying to use her translator to communicate with them, one of the girls places a crystal inside a snowball and hits Barbarella on the head with it. The two girls tie her wrists then take Barbarella to another wrecked ship, which happens to have belonged to Durand Durand. Inside, several other children emerge and they begin placing strange dolls on the ground in front of Barbarella. Suddenly the dolls begin moving and reveal razor sharp teeth which they use to begin attacking Barbarella. Before the dolls can kill her, Barbarella is saved by Mark Hand, the Catchman responsible for catching children. Mark Hand offers to take Barbarella back to her ship and fix her stabilizer in exchange for sex but when Barbarella offers him a pill to use like they do on Earth, he refuses it, preferring to do it the “old fashioned way”. Afterwards, Barbarella gets back onto her repaired ship but the stabilizer was placed in backwards and she ends up plunging into the ground and eventually ends up inside a giant underground labyrinth. As she leaves her ship, a rock slide occurs and knocks her unconscious but she is found by Pygar, an angelic creature who happens to be the last of the ornithanthropes. When she asks, Pygar tells her that he was blinded in Sogo, the City of Night, and thus lost the will to fly. Pygar then takes Barbarella to see Professor Ping, who explains that the labyrinth is basically a prison for everything good in Sogo and when she asks him, he says that he believes Durand Durand is somewhere in the city. Ping says that he will repair her ship but it could take weeks to finish. With no choice but to wait, Barbarella asks Pygar to take her to his place but as they are going, she is attacked and captured by one of the Black Knights that guard the city. Telling Pygar where her gun is, she is able to direct his aim so that he destroys the Black Knight. As thanks for saving her, Barbarella has sex with Pygar, which causes him to regain the will to fly and she offers to be his eyes if he takes her to Sogo. As they are flying towards the city, they are attacked by some Black Knights in flying ships and Barbarella is able to take out two of them but one of them briefly stuns Pygar and he and Barbarella start to fall until he is able to regain consciousness and halt there fall while Barbarella deals with the last ship. Entering the city, Pygar warns Barbarella to be careful about being with an angel and she tries to find something to hide Pygar’s wings but she is soon grabbed by two men. Before the men can do anything, she is saved by a one-eyed woman and Barbarella thanks her before going to find Pygar. She finds him surrounded by a group of people and manages to stop them from killing him but they end up in the Chamber of Ultimate Solution, a chamber where people go to commit suicide. Deciding to brave whatever fate lies in store for them, they prepare to go through one of the doors when they are stopped by the Concierge to The Great Tyrant. As he takes Barbarella to see The Great Tyrant, he explains about the Mathmos, a lake of liquid energy under the city that feeds on negative emotions. Pygar is carried away in a net and the Concierge shoves Barbarella down a pipe where she meets The Great Tyrant, who turns out to have been the one-eyed woman that saved Barbarella. The Great Tyrant shows Pygar tied up on a crucifix and Barbarella grabs a gun she hid in Pygars trunks and threatens The Great Tyrant unless she frees Pygar but the Concierge explains that the gun is out of power so Barbarella is taken away to a cage where she will be pecked to death by birds. As Barbarella is swarmed by the birds, she finds herself rescued by Dildano, the leader of a resistance movement against The Great Tyrant. Barbarella offers to thank him with sex but he wishes to do it the Earth way, as he has some pills to use. They use the pills but afterwards, Barbarella questions how he got them and realizes that the only was from Durand Durand. Dildano admits he got the pills from Durand Durand and says only The Great Tyrant knows where he might be so he gives her an invisible key into The Great Tyrant’s sleeping chamber. They work out a deal to help each other and contact Ping, who says the ship is repaired but that a Black Knight patrol had spotted it so he programmed it to fly somewhere safe. Dildano sends Barbarella back to the city but she ends up captured by the Concierge, who places her in a machine called the Excessive Machine (a.k.a. the Orgasmatron), which he plans to use to make Barbarella die of pleasure. He activates the machine but Barbarella ends up shorting out the machine, which surprises the Concierge. As he goes to get another device to use, he trips on Barbarella’s garments and her locator devise indicate that he is Druand Durand. Barbarella questions him and he says the Mathmos aged him and he refuses to go back to Earth as he plans to conquer Sogo, then head back to Earth as a conqueror. When Barbarella says she has a key to the Chamber of Dreams, Durand Durand leads her to it, then takes her key as well as the Tyrant’s key, trapping them inside the chamber. Barbarella wakes the Great Tyrant and the two wathyc on the view screen as Dildano and his rebellion destroy the Black Knights but Durand Durand kills them all with the Positronic Ray. The Great Tyrant releases the Mathmos to destroy Sogo, killing everyone including Durand Durand, but Barbarella and the Great Tyrant survive due to Barbarella’s innate goodness. As they float on the Mathmos, they find Pygar, who is also immune to the Mathmos and Barbarella manages to revive him and Pygar carries them back to Barbarella’s spaceship. As they are flying away, Barbarella questions why Pygar would save the Great Tyrant and Pygar responds that angels have no memory.
Barbarella met with mix reviews from the critics, but currently holds a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The site’s consensus about the movie states “Unevenly paced and thoroughly cheesy, Barbarella is nonetheless full of humor, entertaining visuals, and Jane Fonda’s sex appeal. Like I said earlier, the 80’s group Duran Duran got the idea for their name from the evil Durand Durand, which is kind of funny. The movie was a box office bomb as it only made about $5.5 million off a $9 million budget.
This is definitely one of those cult classics that showcases what a B-Movie is, granted this had a bigger budget than most B-movies. The acting was pretty over the top, with Jane Fonda using her sex appeal more than her acting to get this movie moving along. The story was pretty good, as it was based off a French comic book. The special effects were terrible as it seemed the budget went entirely into set design, and maybe wardrobe. One of those movies that earns it mark on the “Must See At Least Once” lists, but is funny enough in how bad it is to make it worth watching a second time.
Rating: 3 out of 5