4K UHD Release: November 28, 2023
Video: 2.35:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color
Audio: English Dolby Atmos; English and French LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 98:01
Director: Roger Vadim
It is the year 40,000 AD. When evil scientist Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) creates a deadly weapon with the potential to cause mass devastation, the President of Earth dispatches Barbarella (Jane Fonda) to hunt him down. Crash-landing in an icy wilderness somewhere within the Tau Ceti planetary system, Barbarella is rescued by Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi) and guided by the blind angel, Pygar (John Phillip Law), to Durand's lair in Sogo, a city of corruption and debauchery, where an encounter with the Great Tyrant Black Queen (Anita Pallenberg) and her minions throws her mission into jeopardy. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Live-action versions of French comic books/strips have existed since the earliest days of the medium and the ‘60s were a particularly vibrant time for the genre, including the releases of Jean-Jacques Vierne’s Tintin and the Golden Fleece (French: Tintin et le mystère de la toison d'or, 1961; the first live-action Tintin movie), Norbert Carbonnaux’s The Dance (French: La gamberge, 1962; based on 3 rue de l'Espoir by Jacques et François Gall and Paul Gillon), and The Fenouillard Family (French: La famille Fenouillard, 1960; based on La Famille Fenouillard by Georges Colomb). But no French comic adaptation embodied the rebellious nature of the Summer of Love better than Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968), based on the erotically-charged adult science fiction strip by Jean-Claude Forest, originally published in V Magazine in 1962, predating Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières’ Valérian and Laureline (originally published in 1967) and the first publication of Heavy Metal (aka: Métal hurlant) Magazine (1977).
Barbarella was a French/Italian co-production shot in English and made alongside Danger: Diabolik (Italian: Diabolik, 1968), Mario Bava’s pop art adaptation of Angela & Luciana Giussani’s enormously popular Italian comic of the same name. Both films were produced by Italian mogul Dino De Laurentiis and shared sets. Though Barbarella was in production first, Vadim’s behind-the-scenes woes (many of his own design), coupled with Bava’s implacable work ethic, meant that Danger: Diabolik was finished first. In fact, delays carried on long enough that co-star John Phillip Law was able to take on the title role of Danger: Diabolik and a second leading role in Giulio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse (Italian: Da uomo a uomo, 1968), while he was in Italy, turning him into a major cult film figure. In the grand scheme, both films were likely inspired by the 1966 Batman television series and theatrical film, which emphasized camp as it appealed to a youth demographic fed a steady diet of rock ‘n roll, hippie aesthetics, and, of course, comic books. Another probable influence was André Hunebelle’s Fantômas trilogy (1964, ‘65, ‘67), which had updated the classic pulp character for the ‘60s utilizing similar pop imagery.
Unlike Danger: Diabolik, Batman, and Fantômas, all of which took place on Earth during the eras they were made, Barbarella was a science fiction fantasy, emphasis on the fantasy. Armed with a superior budget, Vadim embraces the idea of creating whole-cloth alien worlds and wove the wild retrofuturist costumes and props into a canvas so surrealistic and psychedelic that it dwarfs the many problems that the film suffers with tone and pacing. Likely due to Forest’s hands-on participation, certain sequences are also surprisingly comic-accurate (visually, at least), considering the technological constraints. There is some nudity, but this was still a commercial film made in the earliest days of mainstream pornography, so the erotic content is downplayed compared to the comic, typically softened by Jane Fonda’s wide-eyed performance and a persistently cheeky and dry sense of humor (in terms of laughs, though, David Hemmings practically steals the entire film, despite appearing in only one scene). Again, for all of its faults, Barbarella remains a unique, fully realized experience and truly a triumph of good vibes over meaningful substance.
In the end, Barbarella was completely overshadowed at the 1968 box office by two more serious sci-fi classics, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Franklin J. Schaffner Planet of the Apes, but its influences can still be seen in Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon (also produced by De Laurentiis, 1980) and Luc Besson’s all-purpose French comic book homage, The Fifth Element (1997). It’s hard to credit Vadim with popularizing camp, retrofuturism, and fetish gear in other European cult movies, since Danger: Diabolik, Umberto Lenzi’s Kriminal (1966), and Piero Vivarelli’s two fumetti adaptations, Avenger X (Italian: Mister-X, 1967) and Satanik (also 1968), all beat it to market, but it certainly demonstrated how far those aesthetics could be taken, as well as directly inspiring a small, lovable subgenre of female-led erotic sci-fi comedies, including Michael Cort’s Zeta One (aka: The Love Factor, 1969), Georg Tressler’s 2069: A Sex Odyssey (1974), and William Sachs’ Galaxina (1980).
Barbarella became a cult film and made its way around the repertory circuit over the years, including a major 1977 re-release in the wake of Star Wars’ astronomical box office success. That version was slightly censored to remove nudity and was semi-officially retitled Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy. Despite maintaining the Queen of the Galaxy subtitle and PG rating, every home video release has been complete and uncut, from the original Paramount VHS, Beta, Laserdisc, Capacitance Electronic Disc, and anamorphic DVD all the way to various Blu-rays. There was also a VCD release in Asia and a Super 8mm in Europe, meaning that the film made it to pretty much every format, aside from DIVX and HD-DVD). Paramount also released the first Blu-ray in 2012, but, like every other disc, it was an extras-free, barebones affair.
Arrow’s 4K UHD debut has been mastered using a new 4K scan of the original negative. It is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and full 2160p with HDR10 compatible Dolby Vision enhancements. The images on this page are taken from the same-day 1080p Blu-ray release, but are a pretty good representation of what the 4K transfer looks like, minus the increased dynamic range and extra detail. Claude Renoir’s cinematography is varied and stylish, but also designed to disguise composite shots and shallow sets. The dreamy visuals are constantly smudged with soft focus, smoke, and other effects that fuzz-up detail and dial back sharpness. The remaster does a good job balancing the intended otherworldly look and resulting photochemical effects. The previous Blu-rays weren’t too oversharpened or DNR’d, but the extra resolution offers a nice boost to texture, including fine grain. The Technicolor palette is also more vibrant than older HD releases, especially with the HDR enhancements, but not to the point that the original handcrafted look is lost in modern digital filters.
Barbarella is presented in original mono LPCM English and a new Dolby Atmos remix. Arrow doesn’t do a lot of 5.1+ remixes, so I was surprised to learn that this was the first time an updated audio track was included with the film on home video (I’m assuming that festival and repertory screenings are planned for the 4K remaster down the road). As is usually the case, the remix is largely unnecessary, but this particular Atmos track was designed with careful consideration of the original material. Naturally, Bob Crewe & Charles Fox’s pop-infused lounge jazz score (songs performed by Glitterhouse) and the spaced-out sound effects get the biggest upgrade and make up most of the stereo enhancements, but it sounds fantastic in mono, too. The dialogue tracks are clean, hiss-free, and relatively consistent with the single channel mix actually having a slight advantage in terms of crispness.
The 4K UHD disc also includes an isolated score in LPCM 1.0 and a lossless LPCM original French track that includes Jane Fonda dubbing her own performance.
Disc 1 (4K UHD)
Commentary with Tim Lucas – The critic and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (Video Watchdog, 2007) explores the film’s long production, the larger careers of the cast & crew, differences between the comic and film, connections to the ‘60s counterculture, the history of French/Belgian comics and comic book adaptations in general, the state of science fiction cinema in 1968, and technical processes behind Barbarella’s various special effects.
Alternative opening (2:21, 4K) and closing (1:16, 4K) credit sequences.
Disc 2 (Blu-ray)
Another Girl, Another Planet (23:03, HD) – Critic and journalist Glenn Kenny looks back on Barbarella (he also considers it a “vibe,” rather than a traditional movie), the troubled production of the film, De Laurentiis’ ambition leading up to Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, the history and aesthetic of the comic, Vadim’s career and style, Fonda’s career as an actress and political activist, and more.
Barbarella Forever! (14:54, HD) – A new short documentary by Paul Joyce made up of archival behind-the-scenes footage.
Love (113:20, HD) – Lucas returns for a back & forth with Swamp Thing artist and cultural historian Steve Bissette. There is some overlap with the commentary, but the discussion greatly emphasizes the history of the Barbarella books and European comics in general. This raw Zoom meeting really could have used an editing pass and I’m not sure a lot of viewers have the time to watch the whole thing, but there is plenty of good information here.
Dress to Kill (31:30, HD) – Film fashion scholar Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén chats about costume designer/artist Jacques Fonteray’s career, his friendship/working relationship with Vadim and Forest, the inconsistent illustrative nature of comic book costumes, and, of course, the design and construction of the costumes themselves, including original production sketches.
Framing for Claude (17:12, HD) – Camera operator Roberto Girometti looks back on his larger career and work on Barbarella under cinematographer Claude Renoir, including plenty of behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
Tognazzi on Tognazzi (21:56, HD) – Actor/director Ricky Tognazzi reflects on his father Ugo Tognazzi’s extensive career in commedia all'italian, his work on Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973) and Barbarella, and his interest in modernity, contemporary art, and the US counterculture.
An Angel's Body Double (24:26, HD) – John Phillip Law stunt double Fabio Testi – who quickly became a superstar in his own right following a series of hard-nosed spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi – talks about breaking into feature film, athletic training/interests, and adventures as a stunt performer.
Dino and Barbarella (14:27, HD) – Critic and author of Darkening the Italian Screen: Interviews with Genre and Exploitation Directors Who Debuted in the 1950s and 1960s (McFarland, 2019) Eugenio Ercolani closes things out discussing De Laurentiis’ rise to power, the political fall-out that had him transitioning to Hollywood co-productions, and the impact of Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik.
Theatrical trailer, US TV spot, and US radio spots
The images on this page are taken from Arrow’s same-day Blu-ray release – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.