ARROW VIDEO (UHD) PARAMOUNT (Blu-ray)
Color, 1968, 98 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Roger Vadim
Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O'Shea, Ugo Tognazzi, Marcel Marceau, Claude Dauphin
Arrow Video (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Paramount (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R1 NTSC, UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Often regarded as the campy thorn in the side of Jane Fonda's award-winning film career, this outlandish sci-fi pop art confection was the apex of her personal and professional relationship with filmmaker Roger Vadim, still a major player on the French film scene thanks to And God Created Woman. During their time together, Vadim placed Jane in a number of sexy arthouse vehicles like Circle of Love, Spirits of the Dead, and the memorably bizarre The Game Is Over. However, their relationship will always be best remembered for Barbarella, an adaptation of the classic S&M French comic strip in which Jane whizzes through the galaxy in various states of undress.
The "plot" is almost completely arbitrary but has something to do with Barbarella being sent by the President of Earth (Dauphin) to find the missing scientist Durand Durand (or Duran Duran, as it's sometimes spelled and where the Brit pop group got their name). Her quest leads her through numerous kinky misadventures: she's attacked by snapping dolls, makes love to blind angel Pygar (Danger: Diabolik's Law), and winds up in the diabolical kingdom of SoGo, led by the evil, pansexual Black Queen (Pallenberg, underused but fantastic anyway with an incredibly funny dub job by Joan Greenwood).
In addition to a wild cast (with glorified cameos from David Hemmings as a clumsy revolutionary, Ugo Tognazzi as a fur-covered paramour, and a completely random Marcel Marceau), the film sports more quotable lines than virtually any other '60s title ("Decrucify the angel or I'll melt your face!," "Here, pretty pretty," and so on) and piles on the colorfully trippy scenery with garish aplomb. This kind of silly facetiousness has turned off a number of viewers unable to get into the campy spirit, not to mention a few bumpy pacing issues; on the whole, however, Barbarella has retained its luster as an intentionally ridiculous, colorful feast for the senses with a comic book attitude that would later inform Flash Gordon from the same producer, Dino de Laurentiis.
In addition to being a startling staple of afternoon cable TV throughout the '80s, Barbarella has been a familiar title on home video in every major format with the "Rated M" version (featuring a slightly different, spicier version of Jane's main title striptease) being the standard for decades now. Paramount released it on DVD in 1999 (widescreen but zoomed in pretty severely), featuring the trailer along with the English and really fun French dub track (with Jane providing her own voice); a Blu-ray followed in 2012 with a far more satisfying and nicely framed presentation, again with the trailer and multiple language options.
In 2023, Arrow Video finally gave the film the deluxe treatment it deserves with two separate editions, UHD and Blu-ray two-disc sets with both featuring a second Blu-ray of supplemental features. The UHD (in Dolby Vision, HDR10 compatible) is definitely the way to go if you're capable, featuring a new restoration of the film from the original negative improving on the already excellent prior Blu-ray with richer color and finer detail. You also get DTS-HD MA English 2.0 and French 2.0 mono tracks with optional English subtitles, plus a new Dolby Atmos mix (as opposed to a Mathmos mix. The iconic soundtrack (scored by the great Charles Fox with songs by Bob Crewe and The Glitterhouse) still sounds punchiest in its mono mix, but the Atmos option is an entertaining variant if you want to hear it spread all over the room. It's worth noting that this track is devoted only to the music score in its original mono film mix (including many extended bits that weren't on the extensive soundtrack LP release) and remains silent during the songs. Tim Lucas provides an extensively researched and informative audio commentary covering the film's comic strip origins, Dino's process of mounting the film including other casting options (and its connections to Danger: Diabolik), the film's place in Euro cinematic science fiction, the execution of the amusing in-camera visual effects, and ties to other late '60s titles. Also included on the first disc are alternate opening and closing credits, the former notable for the alternate placement of David Hemmings' credit and the latter for crediting the score to composer Michel Magne before his work was rejected. (The rejected score was later issued on CD as part of a Vadim collection, though it's pricey now.)
The second disc houses the rest of the video extras starting with "Another Girl, Another Planet" (23m3s) with critic Glenn Kenny appraising the film as a "vibe" more than a linear narrative and noting how its unique place in movie history has had ripple effects in unexpected directions. "Barbarella Forever!" (14m54s) is a really delightful vintage behind-the-scenes featurette by Paul Joyce with lots of coverage of Fonda doing photo shoots that would become as familiar as the film itself. In "Love" (113m20s), Lucas and Steve Bissette have a lengthy and affectionate free-form chat about the film, its comic influences and subsequent impact on pop culture, the process of how it was adapted to the big screen, and the enterprise's place in the larger Euro comic art pool. "Dress to Kill" (31m30s) features film fashion scholar Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén chatting about Jacques Fonteray’s startling costume designs, which are as vital to the film as any other visual element and came to define late '60s sci-fi chic. In "Framing for Claude" (17m12s), camera operator Roberto Girometti looks back at working for cinematographer Claude Renoir, including the amusement of how transfixed he was by Fonda's beauty on the set. In "Tognazi on Tognazzi" (21m56s), actor-director Ricky Tognazzi looks back at his father Ugo's tremendous legacy in Italian cinema, his work with some of the biggest actors and directors of his era, his highly puckish and unorthodox taste and attitude, and plenty more. In "An Angel's Body Double" (24m26s), future iconic actor Fabio Testi talks about his early days in cinema, his childhood background, and how he broke into the industry working as a stunt man on films like this as well as standing in for Law's double in some shots. Finally in "Dino and Barbarella" (14m27s), Eugenio Ercolani provides a video essay surveying the producer's rise in the Italian show business scene, his award-winning importance and public persona, and the lavish international productions like this one that became synonymous with his name for many years to come. Also included are the U.S. trailer, a U.S. TV spot, three radio spots, and an 85-image gallery that is, appropriately enough, 90% Fonda glamor shots. The package comes with reversible sleeve options including a new design by Tula Lotay, a double-sided poster, six double-sided collector's postcards, and an illustrated booklet with essays by Anne Billson, Paul Gravett, Véronique Bergen and Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén, plus select archival material.
Reviewed on November 20, 2023
ARROW VIDEO (UHD)