Remembering Barbarella: The Greatest Remake Never Made
As you might have heard, Barbarella is dead. After three years of divorce drama, illicit affairs, creative inertia, studio haggles and aggressive press manipulation, Robert Rodriguez yesterday pulled the plug on his long-rumored remake of the 1968 sci-fi camp classic. The film was supposed to launch his Planet Terror muse/paramour Rose McGowan -- for whom Rodriguez left his wife and children in 2006 -- to international superstardom, but as he announced on Tuesday, it's his fatherly responsibilities that scuttled the $70 million project in the end. If you're as confused as I was, refer to the convenient Barbarella timeline after the jump for one last walk along the project's sad, tortured path.
· October 1968: The original Barbarella, an erotic sci-fi romp starring Jane Fonda and directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim, opens theatrically. Critics loathe it, and it performs below average at the box office, but the film's cult following develops significantly in the years ahead.
· May 2005: Director Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan meet for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival.
· April 2006: Rodriguez files for divorce from his Troublemaker Films co-producer Elizabeth Avellan, his wife of 16 years with whom he has five children in Austin, Texas. Page Six reports that Rodriguez is now dating McGowan. "Rose is working with Robert on a yet-to-be-announced project," his rep tells the gossips. "They have a professional relationship." The director determines, as is his custom, to remain close to his kids in Austin.
· Summer 2006: Rodriguez begins work in Austin on the Planet Terror segment of his Quentin Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse. McGowan stars as stripper-turned-gun-legged amputee Cherry Darling in the Planet Terror
· April 2007: New reports detail the meltdowns and hook-ups that consumed the Terror set following the Rodriguez/Avellan split. Variety's Anne Thompson attributes a month-long production hiatus to the blow-up; a Page Six source notes McGowan's conspicuous visits to Rodriguez's trailer. "Rose thought some of the crew were treating her differently," a source notes, "and the attitude was, like, well what do you expect when you're [bleeping] the director?"
· Oct. 2007: Universal Pictures is said to be interested in a Rodriguez-directed remake of Barbarella, but the studio balks at his choice of McGowan for the lead. Jessica Alba and Nicole Kidman are among the alternatives suggested. Rodriguez denies the controversy, saying Universal was "blown away" by McGowan's screen test and is prepared to greenlight it at $60 million. (A "Uni source" corroborates this to Nikki Finke.) He estimates the final budget at $82 million, and shops the project around for a sweeter deal.
· April 2008: McGowan breaks her silence, telling MTV Movies that not only is Barbarella a go ("I have contracts to prove it"), but costumes are done and sets are under construction. "I've got part of a spaceship built for me!" she says, adding that the only thing really holding up shooting is the specter of a SAG strike. Additionally, she's dyed her hair blond in preparation for the role.
· May-June 2008: While Barbarella languishes and Rodriguez prepares Shorts for Warner Bros., another two potential McGowan collaborations emerge in the press: for TV, the exploitation-era homage Women in Chains!; and for theaters this year, a splashy remake of the 1985 swordstress B-romp Red Sonja. Rodriguez gets McGowan's back once more: "Rose is a pistol," he tells USA Today. She's whip-smart, has attitude to burn, is sexy, extremely strong, yet has a vulnerable side that would surprise her closest friends. That description also fits Red Sonja."
· July 2008: Less than a week after Rodriguez's praise hit newsstands, Page Six reports that the Rodriguez/McGowan engagement is off and the couple is through. Barabarella remains in limbo but may move forward with another actress. One source alleges Rodriguez's relationship with young Shorts star Kat Dennings to be at the root of the discord. Two weeks later, Rodriguez and McGowan (and their conceptual art) appear at Comic-Con to discuss the Red Sonja, which now has Doug Aaroniokoski attached to direct.
· May 2009: With Women in Chains! having gone nowhere and Red Sonja in development hell (if it continues to exist at all), Rodriguez tells MTV Movies that Barbarella, too, is officially dead. "It came to the point where [a company from] Germany offered us a $70 million budget, which would have been by far the biggest budget I ever would have had for a movie," he said. "But I had to shoot it in Germany and post it in Germany. Nothing against Germany, but I have five kids and I was like, 'God, I don't know if we can do that. I don't know if I can be away that long.'" He adds that he'd like to someday release the film's preliminary production artwork to show people what they missed.
No word from McGowan, meanwhile, who is presently working on Nip/Tuck. A masterpiece is lost, but we'll always have the drama.