Barbarella. Beginning his career as an assistant to director Marc Allégret, Roger Vadim achieved international notice with his first directorial effort And God Created Woman (1956), which also made actress and model Brigitte Bardot an international sex symbol as well. With the tone set, Vadim became known for melding eroticism with lush visuals in his films, like The Night Heaven Fell (1958), Blood and Roses (1960) and La Ronde (1964); however, he’s best known today for psychedelic science fiction film Barbarella, starring his wife at the time of production, Jane Fonda. Previously released on DVD and Blu-ray by Paramount, Arrow Video has licensed the movie for its UHD Blu-ray debut in a Limited Edition package (the company also has released a Limited Edition Blu-ray package of the movie as well).
The Production: 4/5
In the far-off future, space adventurer Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is tasked by the President of Earth (Claude Dauphin) to head to the Tau Ceti planetary system to retrieve scientist Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea), who has invented the deadly laser-powered positronic ray gun capable of mass destruction. Along the way, Barbarella comes across Pygar (John Philip Law), a blind angel who guides her to the city of Sogo, where the Black Queen (Anita Pallenberg) rules over this futuristic city of debauchery with an iron grip of tyranny. When she does come across the fugitive scientist, Barbarella now has to stop his fiendish plot to take over Sogo and cause interplanetary destruction with the positronic ray gun, if she can survive Durand’s machine that induces fatal pleasure in its victims!
Very much a product of its time, Barbarella has become a cult classic that has transcended the era of its release. Adapted from the comic series by Jean-Claude Forest, Roger Vadim – who also co-wrote the screenplay with Terry Southern in collaboration with 7 other writers, including Forest (Charles B. Griffith was the only writer whose contributions to the script were uncredited) – demonstrates a strong visual sense for the story, which combines elements of the absurd, grotesque, and fantastic, and approaches the movie with great zeal (he was a fan of the science fiction genre and this would be his first and only effort in that area). Vadim also has the talents of production designer Mario Garbuglia (with an assist by Forest), costume designer Jacques Fonteray (with Paco Rabanne designs an inspiration for Fonda’s costumes in the final scenes of the movie), special effects master Carlo Rambaldi and cinematographer Claude Renoir creating a psychedelic future that captured the essence of the comic; composers Charles Fox and Bob Crewe also fashioned a music score that’s both evocative of the era yet also befitting of the story. However, while the mixture of comedic elements, ribald eroticism and the science fiction elements might come off as a bit cheesy today, it’s also part of the film’s enduring appeal; indeed, Barbarella’s zero gravity striptease during the opening credits – which caused a stir during its initial release – has also become iconic for pushing the envelope in an era where the Production Code was about to go the way of the dinosaur. In the end, Barbarella is a firmly tongue-in-cheek sci-fi romp that has come to define the career of its director while also being both a time capsule of the 1960’s and an enduring cult classic that revels in its off-kilter sensibilities.
Chosen after Brigitte Bardot, Virna Lisi and Sophia Loren turned down the part for different reasons, Jane Fonda has one of her most notable early roles as the titular space adventuress; Oscar glory would come a few years later, winning her first Best Actress award for playing a call girl in danger in Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971). Recommended by Fonda following their work together on Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown (1967), John Philip Law has one of his most notable screen roles here as well as the blind angel Pygar; an avid comic book reader since his childhood – he also read the Jean-Claude Forest comics prior to this movie – the inner child within him was obviously overjoyed since the same year as this movie, he had the lead role in Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, also based off of a comic book. Recommended by screenwriter Terry Southern for the part of the Black Queen of Sogo, model Anita Pallenberg has one of her most notable screen roles here as well; in the English-language prints of the movie, Pallenberg’s voice is dubbed by either Joan Greenwood or – according to Tim Lucas – Fenella Fielding. Completing the cast here are Milo O’Shea as the villainous Durand Durand (whose name was taken by the British new wave band of the 1980’s), Marcel Marceau – in a rare speaking part, but his voice was dubbed by Robert Rietty in the English-language version – as Professor Ping, David Hemmings (replacing Antonio Sabato – who would be recast as Jean-Paul – during filming) as the resistance leader Dildano, Ugo Tognazzi as the catchman Mark Hand, Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth, twins Catherine and Marie Therese Chevallier as Stomoxys and Glossina, Romolo Valli as a Sogo kidnapper and Fabio Testi – who also was John Philip Law’s double – as the tall man at the Sogo party.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio for this release, taken from a brand new HDR/Dolby Vision transfer created from a 4K scan of both the original 35mm camera negative and the original 35mm interpositive to replace damaged sections of the camera negative. Film grain, fine details and the vivid color palette of the film are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of scratches, tears, dirt and warping present on the transfer. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and is a major improvement over the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the movie.
There are four audio options on this release: an English 1.0 PCM mono track, a French PCM mono track (featuring Jane Fonda’s voice), a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a Dolby Atmos track. All four tracks exhibit strength and clarity in terms of dialogue, sound mix and the music score by Charles Fox and Bob Crewe – with songs performed by The Glitterhouse – and minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present. The multitude of options here and clarity on all four tracks makes this release likely the best the movie will ever sound and is a substantial improvement over Paramount’s previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Special Features: 5/5
On the UHD Blu-ray disc
Commentary by film critic/historian/author Tim Lucas – Recorded for this release, Lucas goes over the film’s production and the history of Barbarella in the comics.
Isolated Score Track – Presented on a 1.0 LPCM track, the Charles Fox & Bob Crewe music score for the movie, minus the songs sung by The Glitterhouse.
Alternate Opening Credits (2:21) – Presented in 4K.
Alternate Closing Credits (1:16) – Presented in 4K.
On the bonus Blu-ray disc
Another Girl, Another Planet (23:03) – Film critic Glenn Kenny shares his appreciation for the movie in this new featurette.
Barbarella Forever! (14:54) – Paul Joyce’s vintage featurette featuring behind-the-scenes footage of Jane Fonda, Roger Vadim and David Hemmings at work on the film.
Love (1:53:20) – This newly recorded feature-length featurette has film and cultural historians Tim Lucas and Stephen Bissette discussing Barbarella’s enduring legacy both in the comics and the film adaptation.
Dress to Kill (31:30) – Film fashion scholar Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén discusses Jacques Fonteray’s futuristic and daring costumes for the film in this new featurette.
Framing for Claude (17:12) – Camera operator Roberto Girometti talks about working with cinematographer Claude Renoir on the film in this new featurette; presented in Italian with English subtitles.
Tognazzi on Tognazzi (21:56) – Actor/director Ricky Tognazzi talks about his late father’s life and career in this brand new featurette.
An Angel’s Body Double (24:20) – Actor Fabio Testi talks about his work doubling for John Philip Law in this movie and his early film career in this new featurette.
Dino & Barbarella (14:27) – Eugenio Ercolani’s video essay focusing on producer Dino De Laurentiis, his early career and his efforts to bring Barbarella to the screen.
Theatrical Trailer (3:21)
US TV Spot (0:55)
US Radio Spots (3) (2:55)
Image Gallery (84 stills)
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Tula Lotay and the artwork for the 1977 theatrical re-release by Boris Vallejo
Double sided fold out poster featuring the Lotay and Vallejo artworks
6 double sided collector’s postcards
117-page collector’s book feat. essays by Anne Bilson, Paul Gravett, Véronique Bergen and Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén and the original 1968 British press book
Though mostly met with indifference by American audiences upon first release (the film was very successful in Britain, however), Barbarella has become a cult classic due to its campy, psychedelic and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities to its source material. Arrow Video has likely delivered the definitive home video release of the movie, with a stellar HDR transfer and a great slate of special features delving into the legacy of the film. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the movie.
Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.
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