It's official: Barbarella is coming back as a TV series on Amazon.com. But can a TV show really recapture the miracle that is this 1960s pop-art space opera? Here are all the things the new TV version must include — including all the lingering questions from the original that must be answered!
Oh, Barbarella. From adult comic set in a far-future world of sexual revolution to cult-classic movie set in a world of perky bossa nova playing over questionably-costumed set pieces, this comely and often-sidetracked astronaut has become an icon of camp. Recently, Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn announced he would be helming a Barbarella reboot television series. Here's what we'd like to see:
1. First of all, here's hoping this show's budget is generous but strained just enough to maintain the stagey sweet spot of Barbarella's production values — where space is represented by a glass of pond water and there's always just enough money for a huge ice lake but not enough money for any Arctic animals and you have to make do with a rubber octopus at the last second:
That said, hopefully we can also avoid any of those low-budget tipping points that slowly pitch things from campy right into unfortunate, because this was the sad Freudian trombone of movie sets and should never happen again:
2. This is also a great opportunity to clear up some dynamics of Barbarella's sex life. Sure, sex was kind of the point originally — her unabashedly varied dalliances put her at the forefront of the sexual revolution in comics — but the movie's a gordian knot of sexual politics.
She has sex with whoever she chooses, and that's good! But she mostly does it to thank men who have helped her, not from any spontaneous desire, and that's... interesting. Earth sexuality is apparently no longer governed by archaic ideas about gender relations, which is wonderful news — except the time a woman saves her life, and instead of offering the traditional Barbarella Thank-You Sex, she gay-panics and bolts. Her later seduction by said woman, who's actually the Great Tyrant, was cut from the US release entirely, which raises even more questions.
(Source: Magnum Photos)
And while Barbarella's innate, supernatural goodness has nothing to do with her sexual activity, as it shouldn't, the US release skips most of the hanky-panky—except for a brief, chaste pill-sex scene with the ineffective Dildano, played for laughs. It's as if the movie's so intent on preserving the sexual fantasy in a straight line from Barbarella to the camera, we never actually see Barbarella taking charge of her own good time, and that's... an article all by itself. We're all for an interstellar aeronaut who loves 'em and leaves 'em, but if the show could work some of this out, that would be great.
3. The show cannot possibly have a more disjointedly episodic feel than the movie, and thus is probably already off the hook for this problem. But there's a lot of darkness in this movie that's briefly touched on and then immediately drowned in bossa nova while things hurtle forward. We're in a prime time for dark fantasy, so it would be amazing to expand on some of the Lynchian potential, lurking behind the peep-show exterior. The labyrinth beneath Sogo, in which the Great Tyrant's disgraced slaves are sometimes imprisoned within the rock itself, is marvelously dark and ripe for exploration. But the corpses piled next to the Excessive Machine might be a step over the line.
4. The asides. Jane Fonda took some heat for the role in the initial critical onslaught, but she sold some really amazing lines, like, "A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming," or, in protest to the prospect of being fatally pecked by birds, "This is really much too poetic a way to die." Too much meta could go sour — but let's be honest, a good many dramatic situations do begin with screaming, and it's too good a line to lose.
5. If you keep the glass-floor-as-zero-g opener, can her spacesuit removal reveal a protective utilitarian jumpsuit? Space radiation is no joke. (Her amazing décor can stay: the statue/comm screen and Seurat airlock are a wonderfully Nouveau approach to the cold lines of space travel.)
6. And it's not as if she's hurting for clothes. She wears eight outfits over the course of a 90-minute movie that takes place over what appears to be a single day. (It's worth noting that at all times, she keeps her heels at a sensible and terrain-friendly two inches: no need to go sartorially overboard.) And while her wardrobe will undoubtedly contain some special and hilarious garments for adverse weather conditions or fancy galactic parties, the anything-goes feeling will apply equally to everyone, we hope, just so that we get a few fashion moments like this:
Cicada-thorax bustiers are so hot right now.
7. It would be supremely helpful to get more backstory about what her job is, exactly. In the movie she's technically an astronaut, but not once does she successfully pilot her ship, and she's little better at negotiating situations on the ground (she's captured by two nine-year-olds who hit her with a snowball). She has no mechanical knowledge of how to fix her ship, she's a subpar detective, and she deliberately walks into heavily-populated enemy territory without any plan or even local intel. She does have one moment of subterfuge, pretending to go along with the Great Tyrant just long enough to get her pistol out from Pygar's feathery diaper, but all in all, the movie is not a great tactical run for her. We can't wait to see what she can really do out there.
8. And though this may seem minor, there's no detail too small: As we're all aware from the movie's theme song, "never can a fella name or clone you." Given that logistical difficulty, how will fellas be addressing Barbarella? Television, please advise.