For a film with almost no plot to speak of and a target audience made up entirely of drug-using heterosexuals, Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy is not half bad. It has no problem laying its cards on the table, claiming to be nothing more than a cheapie sci-fi adventure with a truckload of psychedelic imagery and just enough sexploitation to sneak its way onto mainstream screens. If anything I was surprised at how tame director Roger Vadim’s flick was in the sexpot department, since by today’s standards it could hardly send a pack of eighth graders into a hormone fit.
In any case, Jane Fonda stars as Barbarella, the virile icon at the heart of this here picture. When she’s not peeling off her spacesuits in zero gravity she’s working for the Republic of Earth, who are dedicated to spreading a message of love and thus wish for our heroine to stamp out a possible source of conflict. It seems a scientist named Duran Duran (commence snickering now) has developed an insidious ray that, when fired, sends all objects in its path to the 4th dimension. Mr. Duran is located somewhere in a city that sits atop the Magmous, a liquid form of energy that feeds off the evil thoughts and actions of its people. Can Barbarella infiltrate the wicked metropolis with some help from a blind, vocally monotone angel and more than a bit of sexual prowess? Only after a whole heck of a lot of padding will any of us ever know.
Obviously I walked away knowing much more about the plot of Barbarella than what was expected by the director and the others behind this project. I have no doubt the film can only truly “work” as a piece when your brain is swimming in hookah juice, and since I’m using the term “hookah juice” in a sentence it’s pretty clear I’ve never done a single drug in my lifetime. So when Barbarella stares vacant-eyed out her ship to look upon pulsating plasma, crackling fireworks, and the goopy contents of a lava lamp, I am not getting the bigger picture.
And I have no idea what the heck is going on beyond the above synopsis, especially when Barbarella is attacked by razor-toothed dolls or goes on a ski trip with a set of babbling twins and their pet manta-ray. Still, it’s all rather funny to watch, and the hopelessly dippy music—which would put Burt Bacharach to shame with its ample use of whiny trumpets and warbling vocals—is catchy nonetheless. You just have to throw your hands up and accept anything that comes your way, even if it is a spaceship with wall-to-wall shag carpeting and an autonomous computer with a lisp.
And as I mentioned earlier, the movie doesn’t so much dive into the pool of soft-core porn as it does dip a big toe into the shallow end. Fonda’s curtain-rise striptease is keenly censored by the opening credits, and even though Barbarella solves most of her problems by offering up a quick roll in the hay, there’s no actual rolling to be seen. We just cut to the ol’ space queen humming nostalgically moments after the fact, which I’m sure distressed many a stoned hippie looking for something more extreme.
So to sum up, anyone searching through the filmographies of the late ‘60s in search of a smutty tour through fantastical outer space should probably skip today’s film. If, however, you enjoy hearing ample amounts of bad dialogue delivered by actors in weird costumes amidst tacky sets, feel free to give this one a rent. You won’t leave with much to remember, but Barbarella will probably deliver a decent time.