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Barbarella (Blu-ray Review)

Here’s a surprise of a film I was surprised to see get a Blu-ray release. It’s the 1968 sci-fi romp, Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda. Yes, that Jane Fonda. I believe this is the film that forever made her a sex symbol. It’s the film that focused on Fonda primarily, and kept her politics and personal viewpoints in the back burner. Keep in mind that the weird title of “Queen of the Galaxy” is only used for the cover art, but absent in the main feature. It’s almost an afterthought used in the marketing. The film is also rated PG, but by today’s standards, this would most likely garner a PG-13 or R. Still, the rating is harmless, but this is more of an “adult” themed sci-fi tale. If you’re okay with that, then I’m okay with you reading on to see if the Blu-ray is a worthy addition to your collection. Excelsior!

Film

Jane Fonda stars as Earth’s most beautiful emissary sent on a mission 40,000 years into the future to track down the scientist known as Durand Durand (Duran Duran take their name from this guy) and bring him back home. She’ll try to do all of this and remain in tact. Sure, the plot is easy enough to follow, but in this case, it’s not the plot that we want to follow. We want to follow Barbarella everywhere! Yes, she’s that beautiful.

Traveling in an advanced spaceship and packing some serious interstellar heat, Barbarella will come face to face with danger and will not always make it out unscathed. The same could be said about those that she encounters, as well. I don’t think it’d be a bad deal to escape unscathed after crossing Barbarella either. You never know what she may have in store for you.

Barbarella isn’t a deep film by any means, so don’t get me wrong when I speak in an almost facetious manner about the film. This, in fact, is why I liked the film more than I should have. Barbarella showcases state of the art special effects (the film cost 9 million dollars in 1968), but bombed. Jane Fonda is gorgeous, and what other film, other than Barbarella, could pull the opening scene of her “stripping” off her stasis gear in zero gravity? The opening credits of Barbarella is worth price of admission alone!

The film never takes itself as serious as it should. It’s to its benefit, though, because we don’t expect anything bad to really happen to our heroine anyway. In fact, with every situation she gets into trouble, we can expect a costume change at the least. We’ll take it.

Situations, along with their accompanying dialogue are pretty hysterical. There’s one scene early on where the President of Earth (I guess) briefs Barbarella on her mission. This would be fine and all, but she’s standing there completely naked. As she tells him that she will change into clothing he responds with a curt, “that won’t be necessary,” so she continues to  stand there naked while being briefed. It wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t being played so seriously. That’s how the film plays throughout. Dangerous situations that put people in danger, but are quickly turned around and played for a laugh, wink, or nudge. Hell, whenever Barbarella is in danger and rescued, she rewards her savior(s) by sleeping with them. What a reward!

Barbarella can also be considered a “sexual liberating” type of film due to the protagonist being a sexually liberated heroine. She’s strong, self aware, and does not play to conventions. Yes, she’s a bit on the naive side, but other than that, she kicks butt. The film also runs through certain themes of sexual awareness and curiosity. Curious in that one of the main villains is female and is attracted to Barbarella in a physical way. Not only that, but there’s a “torture” device called the “Excessive Machine” that she quickly breaks, because she’s that awesome, if you get my meaning.Upon watching Barbarella, you will notice countless pop-culture references including the funny way people have sex without touching one another. It reminded me of Demolition Man, sort of. There’s tons of stuff like that in the film.

I’m glad that Barbarella has made it to the high-def format, because it’s a film that more people can be “exposed” to. It’s fun, funny, and was very cutting edge at the time. I hope we get to see more films like this on Blu-ray now. One Million Years B.C., I’m looking at you. 😉

Video

Barbarella is presented in 1080p, 2.35:1 widescreen. Here’s a print that I was ready to give 4 1/2 dogs to, but had to downgrade it a bit due to the heaving strobe/flickering, scratches, dirt and debris found in scenes that utilize rear projection and optical effects. Time has not been kind to those elements, but with that being said, anything other than one of those shots that doesn’t contain an effect of that kind looks amazing. Grain levels are superb, flesh tones appear natural and everyone looks healthy, especially Fonda. Yowza! Color levels are also bold and extreme, and get a load of her many costume changes! The Blu-ray  enhances all of these things and more.

Audio

Barbarella is presented in Dolby TrueHD Mono. This is a lossless Mono track that goes from 1.2 mbps on up. Considering the film is from 1968 (you do the math), it sounds pretty good. Granted, everything comes through the center channel alone, including bass, it never sounds like it’s being overworked at all. Sure, it can waiver, but all things considered, it sounds bloody good. You can even hear the bass during the songs and score. This was ’68, so films of the era did have corny synth-bass-funk scores that accompanied the on-screen happenings. Dialogue sounds crisp as does everything else, but the film was obviously run through the ADR in its entirety. The dialogue doesn’t always synch up properly, but that’s due to them filming and re-recording the dialogue in post. The film may be in English, but it’s an Italian production, so things were done afterwards to appease various markets for sale of the film.

Extras

I could have been mean about it and given the Blu-ray the coveted goose egg, but the 3-minute-plus-trailer is actually pretty cool, so it gets a half-dog. There are no other extras on the Blu-ray to speak of.

  • Trailer (HD)

Summary

Cheeky would be one way of describing Barbarella as a whole. The other would be to say that it’s a sexualized romp of a film due to the free love aspect played through by Fonda and her character. It’s really tame by today’s standards, but I can see why the previous generations of film-goers thought this to be a cult classic. Fonda is gorgeous, naive, and strong in her role as Barbarella. I’m sorry to say that the lack of features has brought down the score substantially. The technical specifications are what keeps it afloat. Barbarella would make for a fun time on a lazy Saturday night or whenever you’re in the mood for some classic-cult film fun.

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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