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BarbarellaBarbarella on DVD

Sci-fi Fans Fonda this one

Paramount Home Video's DVD release of Barbarella won't go down in history as a major sci-fi classic, but it's the type of film that sci-fi movie buffs will want in their libraries anyway.

The movie is based on the French comic strip of the same name, and follows a young Jane Fonda - as the titular interstellar "secret agent" - on a mission to the Tau Ceti system in search of missing scientist Durand Durand. Along the way she's attacked by demon devil dolls, birds, leather men, and the Concierge to the Great Tyrant herself.

But fresh, "innocent" Barbarella gains a lot of allies, too - all of whom with the exception of one are very male and interested in exploring Barbarella's feminine charms.

Barbarella is an enjoyable interplanetary romp, though the film itself has virtually no pacing. Still, the production values are good, as is the cast. Fonda sparkles radiantly as the wide-eyed Barbarella (the movie was directed by her husband of the time and he does a good job of making her look good), along with John Phillip Law (who went on to play the lead in "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad") as the angel Pygar. Legendary mime Marcel Marceau actually has a speaking role as an eccentric scientist, and Milo O'Shea makes an appropriately mad scientist with delusions of grandeur.

The DVD doesn't break a lot of new ground, but that's okay. It's presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16:9 TV's. This latter point may not mean much now, but over the next few years it'll become increasingly important as we move into the era of widescreen digital TV's.

In fact, it isn't a bad idea to look for this feature on your DVD purchases. We recently tried some "non-16:9-enhanced" DVD's on a 16:9 TV and they end up with black bars above and below - and to the sides - of the screen, whereas 16:9-enhanced DVD's fill the wider screen from side to side - as they should.

Anyway, the audio is Dolby Digital mono, but rather than direct the audio signal to the front center channel, Paramount's techs have sent them to the main front stereo speakers. This means that, depending upon where you sit in the room, the "ghost image" that should localize sounds at the TV could put it somewhere else. Not the biggest deal, but something to consider.

Other extras are limited to chapter stops and the theatrical trailer. Audio tracks are limited to English and French; there are no subtitles.

The video transfer is good, though the DVD medium is capable of much better. Still, as usual, the DVD pressing beats the pants off VHS! Audio quality is okay considering the film's age and the fact that it doesn't appear this disc has been given any special remastering.

On the whole, Barbarella - the movie and the character - still looks good after thirty years. It's a typical Dino De Laurentiis production (lots of money spent on it, but relatively mindless for the most part) - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just don't do in expecting a science fiction masterpiece.

We wonder how Jane Fonda feels about it now.

Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy, from Paramount Home Video
98 minutes, widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital mono
starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Marcel Marceau, David Hemmings, Ugo Tognazzi and Anita Pallenberg
Screenplay by Terry Southern, Produced by Dino de Laurentiis
Directed by Roger Vadim


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Updated May 13, 2006