Roger Vadim’s trippy science fiction comedy Barbarella opened on October 10, 1968. For decades, rumors have swirled of a sequel, remake, or TV adaptation of the Aquarius-era stoner film about a stunning young woman who sleeps her way through the galaxy. In the aughts, Robert Rodriguez was attached to a remake that would have starred his then-girlfriend and muse, Rose McGowan. That never materialized, nor did a proposed TV adaptation whose pilot was to be directed by Nicolas Wending-Refn.
Despite its cult fame, Vadim’s 1968 mind-bender has never been followed by a sequel or a remake. But it has nevertheless proven extremely influential, and its DNA can be found in plenty of hits, flops, and obscurities, many of them also based on comic books and featuring badass female protagonists. Barbarella’s not particularly successful combination of kitschy, over-the-top camp comedy, social satire, and stoner spectacle provided just as much a template for the films that followed it as the voyeuristic sexuality for which it became famous. It has inspired some riotous cult classics, but also a lot of sexy science fiction satires that, like Barbarella itself, aren’t particularly sexy, funny, or satirical.
(Photo by Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)
If Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon feels an awful lot like Barbarella, that’s because they were conceived from similar blueprints. Both are big-budget, kaleidoscopic science fiction epics produced by Italian super-producer Dino DeLaurentis and overflowing with tawdry sensuality, eye-popping special effects, and enough trippy spectacle to satisfy the most demanding stoner.
DeLaurentis clearly conceived of Flash Gordon as the next Star Wars — the comic strip was a big influence on George Lucas’ deathless space opera. But despite its echoes of Star Wars, Flash Gordon owes just as much, if not more, to Barbarella’s combination of BDSM-infused naughtiness and incongruous, child-like innocence.
Flash Gordon replaced the free love sexuality of Barbarella with the sweaty, stimulant-fueled sensuality of disco at its most brazenly sensual, with equally explosive and unforgettable results.
(Photo by Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)
Few of Barbarella’s far-flung offspring can match the movie’s pedigree for hipness. The exception is the cult 1981 Canadian animated film Heavy Metal, which is funnier and more genuinely satirical as well, if every bit as juvenile. It was produced by Ivan Reitman, co-written by Len Blum and Daniel Goldberg (writers of Reitman-directed hits Meatballs and Stripes) and featured a voice cast that included much of SCTV’s beloved crew (John Candy, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy), as well as John Vernon and Richard Romanus. Throw in a primo rock soundtrack featuring Cheap Trick, Devo, Black Sabbath, and Donald Fagen and you have an instant cult classic irresistible to the blacklight-and-bong-in-the-closet crowd.
The much-loved adaptation of the popular science fiction and fantasy magazine of the same name is a mind-bending, time-hopping anthology film united by a glowing green orb of PURE EVIL that reappears throughout pulpy vignettes and an adolescent boy’s unending fascination with the naked female form at its most cartoonishly buxom.
The kids might have come for the boobs, but they stayed for the rocking tunes, groundbreaking animation, and thought-provoking satire. Ah, who are we kidding? They came for the boobs, they stayed for the boobs, and they return to it for the boobs. But all that other stuff doesn’t hurt, either.
(Photo by MGM courtesy Everett Collection)
It seems like every generation has a Barbarella of its own that reflects the changing fashions and mores of the times that produced them and irrevocably shaped them. Barbarella was a happening, groovy be-in of a movie that could only have happened in the late 1960s, Flash Gordon gave the sexed-up outer space shenanigans a disco feel, and 1995’s Tank Girl, yet another zeitgeist-chasing adaptation of a cult comic book about a plucky, kick-ass heroine of the future, gave this material a Riot Girl update. The sensuality of Rachel Talalay’s campy cult flick was smartass, sarcastic, androgynous, and gender-bending in sharp contrast to the soft, doe-like femininity of Jane Fonda.
Tank Girl takes place in a grim, dystopian, drought-ravaged future where the malevolent forces that control the limited water supply hold supreme power. They’re opposed by free-thinking punks like the title character (Lori Petty) and her friends, who occupy a gross world overflowing with sexual deviants, most notably a pedophile named Rat Face (Iggy Pop), who is as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside.
Squeamish studio executives toned down the sexuality of the comic strip and earlier versions of the script that dealt much more extensively with the romantic and sexual relationship between Tank Girl and Booga (Jeff Kober), a mutated human-kangaroo super-soldier hybrid. Rumor has it there was even a fabled shot of a naked kangaroo penis that was excised from the final version, but plenty of kinkiness and sexual suggestiveness made it into the film all the same. Besides, even in a punk-rock, post-Barbarella world, nobody needs to see a naked kangaroo penis.
Starring as a warrior for good in a futuristic, titillating science fiction future world in a high-profile adaptation of a popular comic book made Jane Fonda a movie star. That did not happen, however, when Fonda’s fellow activist/sex symbol, Baywatch breakout star and animal rights zealot Pamela Anderson, decided to follow in Fonda’s footsteps. Here, Anderson plays the titular comic book badass, Dark Horse comics’ futuristic bounty hunter Barb Wire, in a poorly received action fantasy with the misplaced audacity to flat-out steal the premise of Casablanca… with Anderson in the Humphrey Bogart role.
While Vadim’s visually stunning but dramatically and comedically inert cult classic is sleaze with prestige, or trash with class, Anderson’s ill-fated attempt at becoming a buxom, cold-blooded action star is just straight-up garbage, a lurid exploitation movie devoid of ideas and intelligence. As an unofficial, blood- and boob-saturated remake of Casablanca, Barb Wire fails to improve upon its inspiration.
(Photo by TriStar Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)
If Barbarella is not as sophisticated a satire as it sets out to be, that’s probably because director Roger Vadim has a lumbering, heavy-handed touch all wrong for sly comedy. The same cannot be said of Paul Verhoeven, the mad genius behind Robocop and Total Recall.
Verhoeven’s wildly divisive 1997 Robert Heinlein adaptation/parody Starship Troopers might just have been too satirical. His brutal vision of a fascist future — in which ridiculously good-looking super-soldiers, both male and female, live and shower together en masse as they take on an evil insectoid species — is so straight-faced that, at the time, it was mistaken by some for what it was sending up. The film’s nudity and hard R-rating go a long way toward separating Starship Troopers from Star Wars, as does its pitch-black satire and intense violence.
With the 2000 Invisible Man riff Hollow Man Verhoeven took his bleak, uncompromising worldview to the story of a brilliant, troubled scientist (Kevin Bacon) who discovers the secret to invisibility and, being a misogynistic sociopath, abuses his new power to sexually assault a neighbor as part of an ongoing crime spree that includes various murders and menacing Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue), an ex-girlfriend he’s unhealthily obsessed with.
Verhoeven goes further than any version of this story other than The Invisible Maniac in illustrating just how quickly the power of invisibility would corrupt a man and unleash his ugliest, most violent and sexual urges. As a result, Verhoeven made a movie that is disturbingly sexual without being sexy, and darkly satirical in its take on the underlying ugliness of human nature without even trying to be funny.
(Photo by Weinstein Company courtesy Everett Collection)
Needless to say, Rose McGowan did not get to play Barbarella for Robert Rodriguez, but 2007’s Grindhouse — an ambitious attempt by Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to replicate the vibe of an evening at a sleazy, sordid drive-in in the 1970s — gave them a consolation prize in the form of Planet Terror, Rodriguez’s half of the double feature.
Planet Terror casts McGowan as Cherry Darling, a pissed-off go-go dancer who ends up doing battle with zombie-like creatures, as well as the usual assortment of creeps with wandering hands that are ubiquitous in movies like this, at least one of whom ends up getting stabbed in the face with part of Cherry’s wooden leg.
Eventually, Cherry’s busted fake leg is replaced by an assault rifle and a grenade launcher, and she starts dealing out death with her peculiar new arsenal. Planet Terror exists for the sake of its central audacious image of woman and weapon welded together into something brazen and bizarre and awesome and new. Unfortunately, like Vadim, Rodriguez isn’t capable of satire — sledgehammer, savage, sophisticated, or otherwise. Leaden, labored camp is more his speed. A tough, sexy, confident woman who is also a deadly weapon? That’s a wet dream out of Heavy Metal, but it’s not quite enough to base an entire movie around, even one this intentionally ridiculous.
Nathan Rabin is the author of six books and the proprietor of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin
Between The Killing Joke, Hell & Back, and Anomalisa destroying Charlie Kaufman’s career, R-rated animation is making a real comeback! Continuing the hot streak unabated is this week’s Sausage Party, which looks to be the purest distillation of co-creator/star Seth Rogen’s comedy MO: a literal walking talking dick joke. And we keep the party going with this week’s gallery: the
24 28 best and worst R-rated animated movies by Tomatometer.
Click to Page 2 to see the availability of Kick-Ass, Dredd, 300, and the Superman, early Batman and Men in Black franchises, plus more!
A Heavy Metal movie, a Frank Frazetta art gallery, Sin City 2 and… Machete in space? Director Robert Rodriguez came to Comic-Con International in San Diego loaded with news from his own Quick Draw studios.
Rodriguez showed the crowd a close-up of the Heavy Metal logo set to heavy-metal music. He said Heavy Metal has always been an inspiration to him. He heard murmurs that the property might get dusted off, so he called a friend who put him in touch with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, who owns the rights.
“I was a huge fan, I bought the first issue off the newsstand in 1967,” said Eastman, who appeared at Rodriguez’s panel. “[Heavy Metal] led me to self-publishing. When it came time to do my own comic book, self-publishing enabled me to keep the profits. So Heavy Metal helped me buy Heavy Metal.”
“I love the idea of artists from all over the word showing off their work,” Rodriguez said. “My think tank always had [Conan creator] Robert Howard, Sin City, and Heavy Metal.”
Rodriguez’s next big announcement was a collaboration with the family of legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, who passed away last year. Together they’ll work to create a Frazetta art gallery in Austin,near Rodriguez’s studio.
“I was inspired by [Frazetta] since [age]11,” he said. “Frank created the look for iconic characters such as Conan, John Carter, Tarzan, Death Dealer… the books flew off the shelves when he did the covers. I worked with him first in 1995 on From Dusk ‘Til Dawn — we made Salma Hayek gain some weight so she’d be more like a Frazetta girl, real curvy.”
Rodriguez introduced Frazetta’s son Billy, who joined him on stage. “As a child growing up, very early, even at age 3 I could see that [my father] was a genius,” Frazetta said.”I was probably 6 when the first cover came out. I was very young when I knew this father of mine was going to be one of the great artists.”
“We want to bring worldwide recognition back to Frazetta,” Rodriguez added. “Frank’s inventiveness and creativeness remains intact. I was surprised by how much of Frank’s original art he still held on to. He never sold them, he wanted fans to come to his gallery and see them.”
Rodriguez said the Frazetta paintings have an even bigger impact when they’re seen in person.
“It was Billy’s idea [to put the gallery in Austin]. That way I can be there? connected with my studio, and control the look and feel of it,” Rodriguez said.”I want, as soon as you walk in, you walk into the Frazetta world.”
“[Frazetta is] one of the main reasons I do what I do,” Rodriguez continued.”This joint venture is going to allow us to generate revenue. So they don’t have to sell the paintings. When you come down to South by Southwest, come down and see the Frazettas.”
Rodriguez also talked about the long-discussed sequel to 2005’s Sin City, which he said possibly could start filming this year.
“Frank [Miller] has written a script for Sin City 2, it’s called A Dame To Kill For. We’re following the [format of the] first one,” the filmmaker explained. “Two stories are new. One is called The Long Bad Night. There is a scenario that it could be shot as early as this year. That’s the best scenario. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen this year.”
Rodriguez talked about how the buzz at Comic-Con helped make the first Sin City a success.
“When I did Sin City, I brought that to show you, I showed pages of the comic, then scenes from the movie,” he said. “That blew the lid off Sin City… people really supported it at the theaters. It’s really hard to predict what an audience is going to want in a year or two.”
Rodriguez thanked the crowd, which filled less than half of the cavernous Hall H, for supporting his 2010 action film Machete. “The DVD went crazy. Thank you for that. Machete will kill again,” he said to applause.
He said the sequel will be called Machete Kills, with a third installment to be titled Machete Kills Again. He joked that the third movie probably would be a space opera that he only makes as a preview for Machete Kills.
“A bad-ass Mexican in space — you don’t see that too often,” Rodriguez laughed.
He then moved on to Spy Kids 4, which will be shot in “aroma-scope.”
“Everyone will get a scratch-and-sniff card,” he said. “The idea was great, the tech has improved, the tech is amazing. There are eight instances throughout the movie when the number flashes, you smell that number. When they have bacon in the morning, you smell the bacon. Even if you’re not a kid, you’re going to be into it, it’s pretty fun. And it’s free. That comes out next month, Aug. 19th.”
Rodriguez talked about how he was the first one to revitalize the 3D craze, when he released Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over eight years ago.
“[But] I gave it to you for free — I gave you the glasses, I paid for those glasses,”
he said.”I’m still paying for it!”
Variety reports that Fincher is spearheading work on a new Heavy Metal movie, “stamped by the erotic and violent storylines and images” that readers of the magazine have come to know and love since it debuted on American shores several decades ago. According to the report, the new film will bundle the work of “eight or nine” directors, each of whom will be responsible for his own animated segment. From the article:
Fincher will direct one of the segments; Kevin Eastman, the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” co-creator who is now owner and publisher of Heavy Metal, will direct another. So will Tim Miller, whose Blur Studios will handle the animation for what is being conceived as an R-rated, adult-themed feature.
The new Metal comes on the heels of Fincher’s recently wrapped The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and will debut December 19. According to Variety, the director is also “attached to direct Paramount’s adaptation of the Charles Burns graphic novel ‘Black Hole’ and is also developing Torso and The Killer for the studio.”
“This picture is amazing. The design, the voice performances, and most of all the character animation is astoundingly accomplished. Frank and Ollie were at the height of their ability to exercise their extraordinary talents and animated huge chunks of the movie. Shere Khan is amazing, and Kaa is so fun to watch because he’s such an appealing villain.
2) Toy Story
This was the first picture I ever worked on and the one I learned the most from. John Lasseter is an amazing director and I was a wide eyed little punker who was lucky enough to watch him work every day. (John drove a Honda then, now he literally has a Nascar!) I got the chance to animate Buzz Lightyear for %#$@’s sake! Seriously though, it’s an incredible story with amazing characters and the amazing comedy talents of Andrew Stanton and late great Joe Ranft flowing out of it. After working on Toy Story I just assumed that’s how it was done.
I love this picture because it showed me at a very young age the scope an animated movie could have. It also inspired me to look deeper into this genre and the different filmmakers working in it. I loved the graphic novels and it was the first time I saw a comic book translated to the big screen. It unspooled at a second run by my house and I saw it a TON of times. I also believe this is why I own a red Japanese motorcycle that goes really really fast. AKIRA HUUUUH?!
4) Iron Giant
Brad Bird is a triple badass. That’s all there is to it. I would have said Incredibles but I watched Giant more. It was so ground breaking with the mixed media. Great story, great characters, good heart, super smooth filmmaking AND Christopher McDonald is in it and I love him. Too bad they marketed a bunch of other movies that year. Good thing there’s life after death on DVD.
5) Heavy Metal
Don’t shoot! I know this picture is corny and sexist but nobody loves the whole “She-warrior in an iron bikini riding a snow leopard over her smited bloody fallen foes” more than me. You need to understand what a true cheese dealer I am. Heavy Metal is nothing if not living, breathing boogie van art. And what’s wrong with that? John Candy as Den of Earth?! Oh Canada! It came out when I was very young and I watched it a million times. It made me look at animation a whole other way and it had Black Sabbath in it! Dio AND Black Sabbath! So Rad!”
See what Pixar, anime and Heavy Metal influences come through in Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino’s co-directing debut, Horton Hears a Who!, starring Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, and Seth Rogen, in theaters this Friday.
This week at the movies, we’ve got some unwanted houseguests, in the guise of a guy with a bad case of arrested development ("You, Me and Dupree," starring Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon) and a pint-sized thief on the lam ("Little Man," starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans). Will the critics be welcoming, or will they boot these flicks into the street?
Owen Wilson has made a side career of crashing things. He (literally and figuratively) crashed weddings in "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Wedding Crashers," and now, in "You, Me and Dupree," he’s crashing on the couch of uptight newlyweds, played by Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon (who’s been involved in a "Crash" of his own). The plot involves the recently jobless Wilson, whose free-wheeling antics get under the skin of his hosts. While the critics say "Dupree" is reasonably warm and fun, it’s inconsistent and lacks the real comic punch to be anything more than mildly amiable. At 22 percent on the Tomatometer, "Dupree" may not be for you and me.
Shawn and Marlon Wayans‘ previous film, "White Chicks," has legions of guilty defenders, despite (or, perhaps more accurately, because of) the fact that it’s tasteless, ludicrous, and often downright bizarre. Now they’re back with "Little Man," the story of a diminutive thief who poses as a baby in order to infiltrate the home of a suburban couple unwittingly in possession of stolen goods (said couple wisely takes the baby in, despite the fact that he has a mouthful of teeth). The question among critics is not whether "Little Man" is a good movie, but whether it contains laughs. Many say no, some resoundingly so, but for those of you who treasure lowbrow humor, politely ignore "Little Man"’s Tomatometer of 20 percent.
Also opening this week, albeit in limited release: Francois Ozon‘s latest, "Time to Leave," is at 87 percent on the Tomatometer; "Gabrielle," starring Isabelle Huppert, is at 73 percent; "Changing Times," starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, is at 70 percent; the black comedy "Mini’s First Time" is at 50 percent; the David Mamet adaptation "Edmond" is at 33 percent; Ed Burns‘ latest guy-bonding flick "The Groomsmen" is at 29 percent; and the sex comedy "The Oh in Ohio" is at 24 percent.