Barbarella is a movie about sex. Anyone who tells you differently has either not seen it or is kidding himself. But as Ebert's Law dictates, "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it."
From the opening moments of the credit sequence, when an suited astronaut removes a heavy space glove to reveal a soft, feminine, perfectly-manicured hand, Barbarella is undeniably drenched in sex appeal, most of it in the form of Barbarella herself. Jane Fonda plays the five-star double-rated astronavigatrix and has never looked lovelier on screen. (Some Fonda purists might point to the earlier Tall Story to contradict this, but let's face it, she remains prudently clothed in that movie.)
The plot? Just getting there. After the opening strip-tease (if your finger doesn't 'accidentally' hit the chapter-reverse button), Barbarella is called upon by the President of Earth (or the Galaxy? I forget) to find the young scientist Duran Duran, who has invented a weapon called the Positronic Ray. "Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?" she asks. The president doesn't know; he just sends the space-girl on her way to the planet where Duran Duran was last seen. There she meets any number of savages, all eager to introduce her to the more primitive forms of love-making. Will Barbarella find DD before the evil tyrant learns of the Positronic Ray? Will Barbarella finally find true love in the arms of an angel named Pygar? Will Barbarella sleep with every guy in the movie?
If your cult film education were a college major, Barbarella would be first up on the syllabus of Wacky Sci-Fi 101. It requires your attention, doubly so if you happen to enjoy women in skimpy costumes.
If you've ever seen Barbarella on video or, even worse, castrated for television, you know how murky all those hip 1960's browns and oranges can be. Fortunately, the DVD presentation is nothing short of glorious, with only a few minor scratches and the usual specks on the original print lending some authenticity to the viewing experience. Don't think that the original widescreen presentation will make the plot more coherent, though: it just means you get to see every freaky little detail in this piece of super-silly, super-sexy, psychedelic Sixties cinema.
This is the only disappointing aspect of this particular DVD: the extras are limited to the inclusion of the theatrical trailer. While the menu illustrations are nice (you can see some of the leggy drawing on the box cover above), they just don't compensate for what's missing: commentary by Fonda, anyone? Or how about some commentary by a film buff who might clue us in on how they filmed the zero-grav strip tease? Even some screens of text production notes would have made this feel more like a thirty dollar disc.
Christopher Holland, 3/29/00