Leo Craven On… Barbarella


Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.

My wife once asked me what in the world happened in my childhood that lead to my ‘unique’ imagination, and I simply responded “Barbarella.” I didn’t grow up with the internet available to me, but bless my parents, they saw the PG rating on the movie box for Barbarella and decided that I could watch it with them one magical night in the early 1980s. It didn’t take long for them to hit the ‘stop’ button on the good ol’ Betamax, but by then it was too late; I was hooked. A couple of years later, my parents gave up fighting me on it, and allowed me to watch the version that one of their friends had recorded off cable. Best…Day…Ever!


For those of you who aren’t familiar with this cult classic, Barbarella is a 1968 French-Italian sci-fi film that stars Jane Fonda. Although the movie was originally released in 1968, it received most of its attention after a 1977 re-release (re-titled Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy) that tried to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars. The film is based off the comic book Barbarella (known as the first ‘adult’ comic book), and was created by Jean-Claude Forest. The title character is often credited as being the “first truly emancipated female comic book character.”

Barbarella the Movie

Yep, that’s Barbarella, naked in an Angel’s nest. She’s actually naked or almost-naked in the majority of the scenes as she travels through space searching for the elusive Doctor Durand Durand, the inventor of the Positronic Ray. You see, in the 41st Century, ‘war’ is pretty much a foreign concept, and Earths’ leaders fear that Durand Durand (the band Duran Duran was named after his character) will bring chaos to the Universe with his super weapon.

Barbarella the Movie

The action starts within the first few minutes of the film as Barbarella crashes on Lythion, the 16th planet of Tau Ceti. She is quickly captured by a bunch of sadistic children who use mechanical dolls featuring razor sharp teeth to torture her. This is but only the first attempt of this cruel and barbaric planet to break Barbarella’s spirit; she will also encounter multiple ‘Black Guards’ (think Stormtroopers dressed in black leather), a Great Tyrant Queen (who wears less clothing than our heroine), killer birds, and finally…

Barbarella the Movie

The ‘Excessive Machine,’ operated by the evil Doctor Durand Durand. I’m sure you can guess by the picture above and the name as to what this machine does. The Doctor tells Barbarella that his machine will cause her to die of pleasure; but, since she’s obviously the hero in this story, Barbarella instead writhes in ecstasy as the machine overloads, unable to keep up with her.

While the story line could lead one to believe that this is an ‘adult film’ (i.e. pornographic), it’s actually just campy fun at its best. There is nudity, but it’s limited, and everything that could be taken ‘too far’ ends up being mostly suggestive. The futuristic scenes and costumes are impressive, especially when considering they were done back in the late 60s, and the pacing of the movie keeps Barbarella moving from one adventure to the next.

As for the character Barbarella, Jane Fonda said it best:

“The main thing about this role is to keep her innocent. You see, Barbarella is not a vamp and her sexuality is not measured by the rules of our society. She is not being promiscuous, but she follows the natural reaction of another type of upbringing. She is not a so-called ‘sexually liberated woman’ either. That would mean rebellion against something. She is different. She was born free.”

Barbarella is a fun space odyssey that I highly recommend to adults. You can watch Barbarella on Netflix.  Check out the original movie trailer below:

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