Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, the man behind Drive and most recently Only God Forgives, has been toying with the idea of turning Roger Vadim’s sci-fi cult classic Barbarella into a television series for quite some time now; it’s been almost as long since he last had anything to say on the project, in fact, noting his decision to go back to French illustrator Jean-Claude Forest’s original comic book for inspiration.
We can all expect to start hearing a good bit more about the show now, however, because it’s been picked up by Amazon Studios for release as part of their streaming service. Even though Barbarella has been brewing for well over a year at this point, we can also expect it to gestate for a while longer; Amazon, working in tandem with Gaumont International Television (GIT), has put out a call for a showrunner after scooping up the pilot script. (Winding Refn, apparently, is still on board to executive produce, but that nevertheless leaves the studio with an opening for someone to handle the day to day on production.)
So, in short, Barbarella has a home but no one to bring it to life beyond Winding Refn and Skyfall scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The news broke yesterday by way of Deadline; it’s a short and sweet announcement that’s absent of further detail. What this means, of course, is that Winding Refn’s Barbarella is still a go for TV, and while his involvement (along with Purvis’ and Wade’s) should give us a good idea of the shape the show will take, audiences will likely have an even better idea of what an Amazon-backed Barbarella will be like once they find someone to manage the reins.
For viewers familiar with Vadim’s movie and with Winding Refn’s filmography, the baseline expectations revolve around racy, taboo material – specifically copious amounts of sex and perhaps the occasional display of sickening violence. It’s early to peg Amazon as too safe to go really edgy here – their first two original streaming endeavors, Alpha House and Betas, only started airing this past November, and neither give much indication as to how far the studio will toe the line with their content.
But if they want to mollify fans of the film, then it’s probably in Amazon’s best interest to push the envelope a bit. Barbarella, for the uninitiated, takes place in an unspecified future where Earth has become a nonviolent world of peace and harmony, that is until scientist Durand Durand invents a weapon called the Positronic Ray and goes missing. Left with no options, the President of Earth enlists Barbarella (the one and only Jane Fonda) to help bring back Durand and the Ray before it falls into the wrong hands.
Barbarella is a campy, sleazy good time for aficionados of cheesy exploitation fare, and it’s possible that the brand has found a good home through Amazon streaming. Ultimately this is a sign that Amazon’s trying to play catch-up; their competitors are growing their original streaming content by leaps and bounds, particularly Netflix, whose landmark deal with Marvel (to say nothing of their impending new thriller series) sets them up as the premiere (and most pioneering) available streaming service.
To their credit, Amazon does have five additional shows all waiting in the wings developing, but the studio needs to pick up the pace, and it could be that Barbarella will help them do just that - at least if they go in the right direction with it. We’ll wait and see where Amazon and Winding Refn take the property going forward from here.
We’ll keep you updated on additional Barbarella news as it becomes available.