After seeing Klute (1971), the film for which Jane Fonda won the Academy Award for Best Actress, I was curious to watch a decidedly different Jane Fonda film: The 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella, based on a French semi-pornographic graphic novel.
In truth, I had pretty low expectations for this film – science fiction films made prior to the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey generally haven’t aged well. Barbarella turns out to be no exception; For one thing, the visual effects, while perhaps colorful for the era, don’t seem very exciting today. Basic effects like a spaceship flying through space had yet to be figured out at the time, and the costuming is pretty bland.
On a certain level of camp, the film is enjoyable enough, particularly given the fact that Jane Fonda exclusively appears in various states of nudity. However, I found the film pretty boring even given the camp appeal – its plot is pretty meandering, and the script is clumsy at best, and doesn’t give the actors much to work with; even then, the performances are nothing special – even Jane Fonda’s performance is decidedly mediocre. The sound effects are downright laughable, and the musical choices are inspired by late ’60s lounge music (of the type frequently parodied today).
Additionally, I couldn’t help but be distracted by some of the issues of sexual politics in the film; on the one hand, the film is obviously a relic of its time, and has to be taken on its own terms; on the other hand, it’s really hard to watch this film through a modern lens and not find it problematic.
All in all, it’s just not a film that’s aged particularly well – I wouldn’t recommend this film to modern audiences unless they’re particular fans of this type of genre camp, or if they’re interested in watching the film as a relic of an era.
It’s worth noting, however, that I do think there are some interesting ideas to the source material that could make for an appealing modern reboot. The idea of a sexually empowered sci-fi heroine could really translate to modern film; to a certain extent, I hope that’s what Marvel chooses to do with their upcoming Captain Marvel film starring Brie Larson. (It’s also worth noting that this film was considered an influence on the more recent film The Fifth Element).
Finally, a little fun fact that I learned from watching this film: The new wave band, Duran Duran got their name from this film, which features a scientist going by the name of Durand Durand. So at least there’s that, right?