Barbarella REVIEW

Jane Fonda in Barbarella.

It was the way the leopard would have wanted to die.

Release Date: 30 July 2012
1968 | 15 | 98 minutes | £19.99
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Director: Roger Vadim
Cast: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg

A remake of Barbarella has been a low-level hum in Hollywood for over a decade now, attracting and abandoning talents from Drew Barrymore to Robert Rodriguez. Now Nicolas Winding Refn – the man who made Drive a masterpiece of purring neon cool – is talking up his own take on the underclad comic-strip space siren.

It’s always felt like a wrongheaded notion. Barbarella isn’t so much a character as a photogenic face fronting a time capsule. Everything cherishable about Roger Vadim’s movie emanates from its position as a locus for outrageous late ‘60s grooviness – its wild, inventive design, its hipster dream of a soundtrack, its date-stamped sexual morals. It’s a self-contained, studio-bound bubble universe. Reimagine it and you lose all its iconic power.

In truth it’s a bit of a ramble, with the uniquely stilted, disconnected feel you always find in this kind of Euro-romp. The episodic plot is a plod, so you have no choice but to surrender to the dream-logic weirdness of it all. It’s a film you don’t so much watch as hallucinate.

Jane Fonda is the breathless, bright-eyed centre of it all, maintaining a cartoon innocence even as the camera prowls over her body like the gaze of a Riviera roué. Four years later she won an Oscar for Klute, but this is the role pop-culture ordained she’ll be remembered for. Shame it’s a better t-shirt than it is a film.


Just the theatrical trailer, crushingly. Vadim’s visuals make an impressive transfer to Blu-ray, though. You’ll spot every mole and tiny bruise during Fonda’s infamous zero-g strip – look, it was professionally meticulous research, alright? – and the soundtrack is equally striking compared to previous DVD releases. Is that a hithero unsuspected layer of “bah-bah-bahs” we hear during the title song?

Nick Setchfield

Find out where Barbarella placed in our reader poll of the sexiest characters in SF.
Read more of our DVD reviews.