Brandon’s B-Movie Breakdown: Barbarella!

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Well, we might as well get this one out of the way early in the series…

This week I break down the 1968 Roger Vadim B-Movie classic, Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda.  It’s in full color, and full 1968 patriarchal glory, as the opening scene reminds one of  Goldfinger in space.  My very first impression was… Sweet! Space Bond!. It’s even got a Barry Manilow/WayneNewton-style theme song at the beginning!  Though, sadly, those two were out of budget at the time, so the writing blame credit for that gem of an earworm goes to Charles Fox and Bob Crewe.  Here’s a trailer – because you’re just going to look it up anyway:

Once Barbarella, played by Jane Fonda takes an abnormally long time stripping out of her space suit in zero-G (Yes, she gets naked, but I promise, that’s not what we’re here to talk about.  We’re here to discuss the film dammit!), she sees fit to answer the video call being beamed to her spacecraft quarters while in the buff.  She asks matter-of-factly if she should go and throw some clothes on (being that she is speaking to a high-ranking government official), but he assures her that it’s government business, so she needn’t worry about silly things like modesty.

So It’s a Classy Film, Then?

I mean… it’s got its share of ridiculous and gratuitous nudity and sex (all done in the 1968 spirit of free love, by the way), but it also makes attempts to make a lot of sci-fi social commentary along the way.  For example, Barbarella (Fonda) is tasked by her bosses in the government to track down a missing scientist named Druand.  This guy has done the unthinkable, and, of course, only Barbarella – using whatever means are at her disposal – can prevent the shattering of peace and harmony that have been in the universe for centuries!

The Set Up

So this guy Durand, turns out, was on his way to “The North Star” which, I’m sure, is what we’ll still be calling it two or three millennia into the future when there’s intergalactic travel and peace among worlds.   The gub’ment lost track of him and they need to keep it hush-hush because (remember that unthinkable thing to which I alluded a paragraph ago?), he CREATED A WEAPON!!!!!

credit: http://tinyurl.com/y2kekgjm

The weapon is, of course, called a positronic ray.  Let’s leave the Rick and Morty “You can’t just take a car word and put it with a sci-fi word…” jokes and lay them aside for now, mmmmkay?   Just like we’re still laying aside the fact that we’re now 8 minutes into the movie and Jane Fonda still hasn’t put any clothes on.  She asks “Why would anyone create a weapon?” (See? Told you there was “Summer-of-Love” social commentary in there…) and is told that nobody knows.  They do know, however, that the doctor was most likely taken to a hostile world. One in which, as Barbarella puts it, they may be, “living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility!” (Wait, you mean like – oh, where’s the place I’m thinking of… Ummm… Oh yeah, US involvement in Southeast Asia in 1968?)  Like I said… It’s an attempt at social commentary, anyway.

So Barbarella, ever the Campbellian hero, reluctantly accepts the call for adventure.  She’s given some “archaic” space weapons and sent to go find the good doctor.  Okay, enough plot.  Let’s talk about the nifty space age tech…

Cool Gadgets, Bro!

I’ve compiled a list of just the first few awesome things (other than the positronic ray, of course) that are a part of this wonderful universe:

  • Portable Brain Wave Transmitter – Note: this is just a transmitter, for when you want to broadcast your thoughts to everyone else.  It’s not for when you want to know what everyone else is thinking. It’s very practical.
  • Atom Transmitter – Now this handy little piece is kind of like a transporter on Star Trek, only without all of the fancy shimmery lights.  The idea is the same, though.  You stick something in the receptical at one end, press a button, and it reappears on the other end.  Come to think of it, isn’t this right around the time when the first vacuum-system drive-thrus were being created at banks?  Anyway…
  • The Tongue Box – This is the best thing ever.  Or the best name ever for what Douglas Adams (may he rest in peace) later referred to as a Babblefish.  It’s an automatic alien language interpreter.  And of course it’s called a tongue box in this movie!

 

The Rest of the Plot…

Photo by Silver Screen Collection – © 2011 Silver Screen Collection – Image courtesy gettyimages.com

As with all monomyth-based movies, Barbarella must follow the hero’s journey:  She must find the scientist, have sex with a bunch of dudes, get in a lot of fights with alien monsters, meet a sage on the way who acts as her guide, have sex with a bunch more dudes, have a final confrontation with the black queen, and then save the universe… or does she?

The Final Breakdown

If you believe that Sean Connery is the only James Bond, that the weird bicycle “Raindrops-Keep-Falling-On-My-Head” scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the best part of that movie, you just can’t wait to see a bunch of boob shots of a woman who is probably now older than your grandmother (come on, y’all, I know we call the site space.porn, but it’s a play on… Oh, nevermind), and you think that Austin Powers was more of a docu-drama than a comedy, then Barbarella should definitely make the next B-movie viewing party you decide to have!

On the other hand, if you’re prone to feminist sensibilities, this one may be a little over the top for you, even for ’60s B-Movie standards.  It’s not quite to the level of soft-porn, but it’s got its share of gratuitous nudity, and it has all of the machismo you’d expect from a Connery-era Bond film.  So, it’s a great time if you don’t take it seriously and remember that it was made over 50 years ago.  

As a final farewell, here’s another video from the iMDB site.

 

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