Thursday, August 3, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihana

My expectations were extremely high for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) because the filmmaker behind the camera was the one and only Luc Besson, a director who has proven himself time and again to be a visionary with films like The Fifth Element (1995) and Lucy (2014). And he’s also proven himself in non genre films like Leon: The Professional (1994) and  The Big Blue (1988). Besson’s always been a prolific director who jumps effortlessly from genre to genre with success. But I was extremely excited with Valerian because it marked his return to big budget, larger than life, escapist science fiction that we saw him play with in The Fifth Element, a film I was blown away by when I first saw it. I literally saw it five times in theaters! And if the trailer for Valerian was to be an indication of what we could expect, Besson was poised to wow us again. Does Besson still have the ability to amaze us?

Valerian is all about these special government agents, Valerian and Laureline, who are assigned to retrieve a creature, the last of its kind, who can reproduce a pearl that can offer limited amounts of energy to the universe. But of course, dark, evil forces (read: the government) are after it and so, the race is on to protect this little creature from certain death. At the same time, Valerian is trying to prove his love to Laureline, will he ever learn to love anything but himself?

This film has lots of pros, but unfortunately lots of cons as well. But lets start with the good shall we? The good is that the film is a visual tour de force, a barrage of ideas that never stop coming. Right from the opening sequences of the movie, where we see how the titular city of a thousand planets is formed, we are wowed with race after race of alien beings, who start forming a part of the gigantic floating city in space. I get what Besson was going for with this movie. He wanted to do something that was so filled with imagination and creativity that there is no way it could be ignored. He wanted to give us an overdose of awesomeness and for all intents and purposes he succeeded. Imagination never stops with this one; you’ll be saying “cool” every five seconds. Now considering the amount of imagination and design involved in this movie, it should have been a huge hit in theaters. So what happened? Why did it flop so spectacularly?

The flopping came as a result of some of the films negative attributes. For starters the films plot is paper thin. There is no plot here save for running from one place to the next, trying to save a cute little creature. Sadly, without much more than that in terms of story, the film turns into a beautiful looking, empty spectacle. Pretty to look at, but with no substance, Valerian turns into the classic case of style over substance. Then there’s the fact that American audiences like a little familiarity with their genre fare and you’ve got yourselves the ingredients for a perfect bomb at the box office. If a film doesn’t come from some pre-existing universe that audiences were just dying to see come to life, then they won’t care or connect, even if the film is good. Valerian and Laureline comes from a French comic book from the sixties that American audiences never read or heard of until now. For Besson it’s a lifelong dream come true to bring his childhood comic book heroes to life, but for American audiences Valerian and Laureline is something they are not familiar with at all, filing it under the “too weird” file.

Then there’s this male chauvinist thing about it. Valerian treats women like sex objects, and for most of the film he treats Laureline like crap, even though he’s supposed to have affection for her. He’s always being the quintessential “guy” telling her to “wait here” while he takes care of everything, which today is considered “passé” by savvy movie audiences. In todays modern films, women have grown past the damsel in distress cliché, but apparently, nobody gave Besson the memo. Even the title of the film is chauvinist when you think about it. The comic was called Valerian and Laureline, not just Valerian. Why kick the female out of the film’s title? Is she not integral to the film? Are they not a duo? I roll my eyes at that type of thing. Then there’s the thing about the two protagonists having zero chemistry together. They do not look like they are attracted or in love with each other at all! It’s like we’re supposed to believe Valerian is passionately in love with Laureline, but there’s nothing there to prove it to us. It seems to me that if LOVE is the theme that is going to hold this film together, and it is supposed to be, well then Besson should have made sure it was passionate and heartfelt. He should have made sure their love for each other shined through and quite honestly, it doesn’t. Valerian comes through as a selfish cold guy who cares only for himself. I mean, I get it, he’s supposed to be selfish and cold in order to learn the ways of love, but come on. At least a glimpse of their love for each other would have been nice.

But I don’t think Besson ever meant for it to be “deep” or profound, it was simply meant to be a spectacle, eye candy in its purest form. So maybe if you go in with that mentality you won’t be disappointed. There’s a couple of inside jokes in there as well for lovers of The Fifth Element, actually, the film has many similarities with The Fifth Element, certain scenes in Valerian felt copy pasted from The Fifth Element, but fear not. Valerian has so many new ideas, you won’t mind. Final say is that this is an amazing film visually, conceptually and design wise, but is totally void of the love and emotions that it professes to be about, so that in my opinion is its biggest fault and in my opinion the reason why it tanked at the box office. And that’s weird because Besson’s theme, in a lot of his films has always been love, and human emotion, so in that sense I was surprised that the film was lacking in that area. Yet, in the films defense I will say that it didn’t deserve to fail as big as it did because there is space out there for escapist films whose sole purpose is to entertain us, and in that respect, Valerian did not fail at all.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5


SFF said...

I really enjoyed your thoughts here and I think when the time is right I'm going to give this one a whirl.

I also enjoyed how you articulated your closing thoughts regarding this film
as a kind of fantastic escape. I enjoy a film like this once in awhile.

I don't find the Marvel superhero (and you may disagree or I may be in the minority) films transport me or allow me to escape because they are mostly grounded in earth bound realities but an imaginative space yarn like this one, like The Fifth Element, may do the trick.

Here's a question. If I enjoyed The Fifth Element, will this one sit well with me too? And I kind of do "weird."

SFF said...

For those interested there is also a 44 episode animated series (Section 23) based on this comic book as well called Time Jam:.... English dubbed too.

It's still available and looks quite good but I have not seen it.

Roman J. Martel said...

Yeah it sounds like Besson focused a bit too much on the overall look of the film, instead of casting for chemistry and tweaking the story to make it a bit more approachable for modern audiences. I know a few folks who have read some of the original comic and felt Besson captured it pretty well, but even they felt the comic "as is" really doesn't hold up well today. They also said that the leads looks like the characters in the comic (especially the actress playing Lauraline), but it just didn't equal any chemistry between them. I think I'll give this one a shot when I can watch it at home. The music on Alexandre Desplat is actually really great. Big bold themes, lots of creative synths mixed with big orchestra. Just a lot of fun all the way around.

Franco Macabro said...

SFF: Sorry I took so long to reply, but Puerto Rico was hit by horrible Hurrican Maria, and it really did a number on us, destroyed the Island pretty bad as well as our communications and internet capabilities, but I'm sort of back...trying to get back to "normality" but the aftermath seems worse, if thats possible.

In response to your querry, yes, if you're afan of the The Fifth Element, you'll love this one, maybe a little less. It doesnt have the magnetism of Jovovich as Leeloo. Or the chemistry that she had with Bruce Willis.

Still, there's no denying it was a fanstastic visual piece.

Roman J. Martel: Yeah, that chemistry was off between the main actors. In contrast to Willis and Jovovich in The Fifth Element, the protagonists in Valerian are so cold and distant, no real passion. A real misfire there.

SFF said...

Welcome back Fran. Really glad to see you posting. I'm happy as hell to know you are okay and there is a reason you have not been as prolific. Very sorry to hear that.

Likewise, I've been moving and I'm completely uprooted and living between houses. Everything I had set up for postings has been shaken up. I'm still managing a post with my own screen shots but not nearly as often as I'd like I'm so flipping busy.

But most of all I am glad you have your health. I am completely going to buy Valerian based on your recommendation. Cheers pal.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks SFF, imagine, two months after the hurricane, still no power in a big part of the island. But we're surviving and adapting to the whole thing on a day to day basis.

Hope you enjoy Valerian, its a fun visual trip, if a slightly vapid one.

Tom Hanks said...

If you thought that "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" looked like it would be a visually stunning science fiction adventure you'd be right. Most of the film is a visual tour-de-force and at times spectacularly imaginative. There is a wealth of detail and activity in the scenes, and there is a lot to visually delight and tickle the mind with future possibilities. The IMAGINATION of the producers/ creators and director Luc Besson (director of "The Fifth Element" and "Leon: the Professional") is on full display and it's pretty cool, pretty incredible. It's similar to "Avatar" in that respect, and this movie begs you to see it on the big screen in 3-D.

Also like "Avatar" the story is pretty simple, even simplistic. The city of a thousand planets, named Alpha, is essentially a colony space station that humans originally created and came to epitomize the utopian vision of all working and living together peacefully. Alpha grew over time to include other alien races, and the physical structure grew so big that it had to move away from the earth. Alpha of course has its laws and its enforcers, and not all aliens in the galaxy are peaceful. Earth was in a war at one point, and during that war an inhabited planet was knowingly sacrificed by a person higher up in the military. That person just so happens now to be the head of Alpha, and his past has come back to haunt him. Valerian (Dane DeHann) and partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are essentially special agents (think outer space James Bonds) who are tasked with eliminating the threat to Alpha. I'll leave it at that but anyone who has seen ten or more movies will be able to easily see the pretty slim twists coming.
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