Even if its preceding reputation or that of director Roger Vadim is unknown to you, it’s a safe bet you’ll understand what you’re in for about five minutes into Barbarella, a 1968 minor cult classic based on the French comics by Jean-Claude Forest. The film’s famed title sequence — featuring an intergalactic Jane Fonda undressing in zero gravity in her shag-carpet-lined spaceship — is a perfect encapsulation of the film’s toothless erotic camp. It’s so perfect, one might be better off just stopping after it’s over, as the film’s subsequent setpieces tend to be subject to diminishing returns.
Fonda’s Barbarella is a space traveler from an Earth in the distant future where violence has been eradicated and sex has been replaced with a far more dignified ritual that involves popping pills and pressing hands together. But on a distant planet, it’s believed that Doctor Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea) has developed a weapon that could fall into the wrong hands. Barbarella is tasked by Earth’s president (Claude Dauphin) to find Durand and bring him back to his home planet.
Along the way, she encounters animatronic dolls with knife-like teeth, a labyrinth prison where a great tyrant rules, and a blind angel named Pygar (John Phillip Law) who has lost the will to fly. On one of her early stops, Barbarella is introduced to the old-fashioned way of having sex, and she’s eager to try it out with every suitable male specimen she meets. Her astonishing sex drive turns out to be her greatest asset — it destroys an elaborate torture machine and gives Pygar the will to fly in two hilariously ridiculous scenes that almost make the surrounding 90 minutes worth sitting through.
While there are flashes of campy inspiration peppered throughout Barbarella, the film as a whole is largely inert, moving from scene to scene with little connective tissue other than Fonda’s detached performance, which is more aloof than sexy.