Premise: In a universe where men are dying off, a sexy star-cruising bounty hunter named Barbarella finds herself caught up in a plan to save them.
About: The original Barbarella movie, made in 1968, was a critical failure. But a lot of good things came out of it. The costume design had an iconic look to it that would later inspire many artists (including Jean-Paul Gaulteir on The Fifth Element). It also had one of the best posters of all time. It even started Jane Fonda’s career! (okay, it’s debatable whether that was a good thing) They’ve been trying to remake this film FOR-EVER. It got close a few years ago when Robert Rodriguez was planning to direct it. But his insistence on using unproven actress Rose McGowan in the tittle role scared the studio and ultimately killed the project. This version of the script was written by long-time James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who are also writing Bond 24). Will we ever see a Barbarella remake? I don’t know. But for some reason, I feel like with Nicolas Winding Refn looking to move into bigger movies, this would be perfect for him. They’re both weird and offbeat. Seems like a match made in Refn. Nicolas? Are you out there?
Writers: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (based on the French comics by Jean-Claude Forest and Claude Brule and the 1968 screenplay by Terry Southern and Roger Vadim).
Details: 89 pages – 2007 draft (alternate ending version)
Barbarella redefined movies.
Okay, even I couldn’t type that with a straight face.
Barbarella’s biggest achievement was that if you came across it on cable, you usually didn’t change the channel. That was for a number of reasons, mainly that Jane Fonda’s outfit allowed you to see her breasts, which was pretty stellar if you were a little boy.
But even without the world’s first deliberate wardrobe malfunction, the movie had a goofy charm to it. Something about it worked, even though the filmmakers themselves would be hard-pressed to point out what that was.
Naturally, with this being Hollywood, they’ve been busting their ass trying to get this back up in theaters. But the Movie Angels have not shined down on the producers, partly because it’s obscure and partly because it objectifies women, something you could get away with back in the 60s, but is a lot harder to do now.
But you can’t fault them for trying. They brought in some heavy hitters to write this draft (the Bond guys) which must have cost them a pretty penny. And I guess it makes sense. Bond uses his sex appeal to smooth-talk his way out of problems. Barbarella uses her sex-appeal to get out of tough spots. Maybe this will work?
Barbarella, our sexy bounty hunter, has just received some bad news. Her evil nemesis, the one-eyed Severin, has escaped from Planet Hulk prison with plans on killing the woman who put her there (that would be Barbarella).
That’s a hefty to-do list for even the strongest heroine, but Barbarella’s ALSO received word that she must travel to the Black Moon to save a king. These orders come from three motley dudes who call themselves The Watchers, who are the last of their kind in the galaxy.
The new boys in town are the “Baal,” an evil race of aliens who now number in the trillions. They’re also trying to find the elusive King, since if they kill him, they can increase their population by… I don’t know, I guess another trillion? (Thinking too deeply about logic in this script is highly discouraged).
Along the way, Barbarella meets a sexy alien named Rael, who only has a 12 year lifespan because someone thought that was a cool idea. But Rael joins her and the two jet off to the Dark Moon, where they find a bunch of men hiding underground, eager to repopulate the galaxy.
Oh yeah, I guess the galaxy is light on men or something? That’s sort of thrown in there towards the end. But yeah, Barbarella finds the king, shuttles him and all his buddies to a planet of Amazonian Jungle women, and the reboot of mankind begins. Yay.
Before we even get to the “story” here, I need to point out that this script used really tight margins and big letters. Which means it’s even shorter than its 90 pages suggests. I’d say its true length is 80 pages. Which means this read should’ve FLOWN by. Yet never has a script read so slow. I had been reading so long, I thought I was almost done with this monstrosity. I was POSITIVE I was at least on page 70. I checked the page number. 33!!! I wanted to kill life.
What was wrong with this script? What wasn’t?
Let’s start with the simple. If you’re going to write a comedy science fiction or comedy fantasy, keep the universe and the plot simple! We’re here to have a good time and laugh. Why would you impede that by building an overly complicated universe with 10 different planets and Watchers and Baals and aliens who only live to 12 for no story reason whatsoever??
I lost interest in this screenplay so quickly because all my energy was focused on figuring out what the hell was going on. Barbarella is secretly the daughter of the King of the Dark Moon, sent here by the Watchers who had actually been tricked by the Baal to lead Barbarella to the Dark Moon King so they could trap him and take over a universe they already own??? I DON’T CARE!
I mean, if you’re writing a Game of Thrones or Dune adaption, dramas where the intricate plots and relationships and backstory are essential to enjoying the story, then a more complicated storyline is understandable. But this is a movie where a woman has replaced one of her nipples with an eyeball!
Whenever you’re brought in to write a remake, one of the things you have to decide is how you’re going to update the material. Are you going to keep the tone the same, or are you going to change it? Make it more current? The further back the original material goes, the more likely it is that you’ll have to update it. I mean a lot has changed since 1968, hasn’t it?
For one, you can’t exploit women onscreen anymore. And whereas we used to forgive our mainstream films for looking cheap and silly (it was part of their charm), these days, the audience requires more of a grounded believable experience (relative to what the movie is). Even Transformers, for how gloriously bad it is, has a strong visual world.
Barbarella feels like it still wants to exist on cheap sets and use bad special effects, like that remake of Escape to New York. Remember how that worked out?
The thing is, it’s got some cool elements to work with. A sexy star-hopping bounty hunter heroine. A badass female nemesis. Why not ditch the midnight-movie angle and build something more grounded in reality? I mean even the affable Clark Kent doesn’t smile these days. It’s not like you’re going to piss off the 7 members of the Barbarella fan base.
And for the Jesus in all of us – people! Stop over-complicating your plots and your worlds when there’s no reason to. If you’re writing Chinatown, yeah, create 10,000 layers of deceit. But if you’re adapting Bob’s Burgers, we don’t need to find out that Bob’s great-grandfather was leader of the CIA and had a daughter who now works for the Russians who’s married to the sister of Fred’s Fries. Stop already!
[x] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When writing sci-fi, use easy-to-remember names for things like planets, characters, cities, etc. The reader’s forced to remember so much in sci-fi/fantasy, that you have to lighten the memory load for them where you can. You do this by giving people/things names that sound similar to who/what they are. For example, if I named an alien “Occarius,” and didn’t mention him for ten pages, you may not remember him when I brought him back (“Wait, who is Occarius again? Is that Jozzabull’s brother?”). But if I named him “Darth Vader,” that’s a name that’s easy to remember (“Darth” sounds very much like “Dark,” which implies a “bad” person). Ditto the “Death Star.” You know what that is every time I bring it up. I’m not sure that would’ve been the case had I called it “Pomjaria.” Now these choices are always relative to the tone and the story you’re telling. If you’re writing really serious sci-fi, the “Death Star” may sound too much like a B-movie. But the spirit of this tip should remain the same. Any way you can you pick a name that helps the reader remember that thing, do it.