Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a space opera comic called Valerian (and Laureline) created in 1967 by the writer and artist team of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres who first met in the USA. The series ran from 1967 until 2010 and became one of the best-known ‘Eurocomics’ of the last 50 years.
Valerian was highly influential to the likes of Star Wars etc. (so it’s no surprise that their spacecraft Intruder looks like the Millenium Falcon or is it the other way around?) But it wasn’t until the 2000’s that English translations spread the story beyond Franco-Belgian readers. Indeed, I hadn’t heard of the stories before I started to look into it after seeing the awesome looking trailer earlier in the year and learning that Luc Besson was the writer/director of the film. The Fifth Element is one of my all time favourite science fiction films so to say I was excited about this project would be an understatement.
Had I paid attention to all the making of featurettes for The Fifth Element I may have learned that while Valerian is Mézières’ only comic series, he worked on designs and sets for film, as well as many other projects and is a well-known collaborator in certain circles of French cinema.
The series was aimed at a young adult audience and so too is Luc Besson’s film adaptation. Some might see it as a mash up of films like Star Wars, The Fifth Element, Twelve Monkeys, Avatar and Total Recall, and flattering comparisons perhaps are inevitable given how the ideas in Valerian were allegedly pillaged by other filmmakers.
In the film a dark force is growing at the centre of Alpha – a vast space station which is home to a thousand species from the ‘four corners’ (it’s a kids film remember) of the universe. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are initially sent by the Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock) to recover the last example of a diminutive species which will replicate anything it is fed, and then on to Alpha to protect the commander of Alpha (Clive Owen) and help figure out how to stop the threat to the station.
Rihanna, prominent in the film’s trailer, plays the throw-away character of Bubble who dies as soon as she’s not needed to progress the plot anymore (like the captain who conveniently comes out of hypersleep when he’s needed in Passengers and then is quickly killed off).
For me DeHaan felt like the wrong lead man. He seemed too laid back – like he was still channelling Jame Dean from his previous film Life with Robert Pattinson – and throughout looked like he could do with a good sleep. His coolness to everything that was happening around him meant that there was no great feeling of ‘oh boy I hope he can get the girl, kill the baddies and save the entire universe!’ (to incorrectly paraphrase Total Recall). Indeed this cool seemed to extend to his feelings for Laureline even though he proposes to her within twenty minutes of the film starting (who wouldn’t?), so there’s no great chemistry between the two lead actors either.
The undoubted star of the show was Cara Delevingne as Laureline, who like Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element has taken the step from modelling to acting easily within her stride. Sure she’s been in plenty of films before this – most recently seen by me in Suicide Squad – but she really fits the part of the sassy brains of the Valerian and Laureline dynamic duo and provides a character that shines out of all the special effects with some humanity.
And then there’s the special effects, creature design, habitat design which were wonderful as you’d expect for a film with The Fifth Element looming in its creator’s backstory. Some of the lip-sync was a little suspect for some of the CG characters but apart from that it was pretty flawless. I was warned not so see, and indeed had no desire to see, the film in 3D as all the amazing detail was too much for some people in that format. Some scenes were crazy enough in 2D not to warrant the need for another dimension (cue the Beastie Boys).
Full of stunning visuals and imaginative scenes this is a must-see for any space opera aficionados. While more lightweight and child-friendly that The Fifth Element it certainly packs a visual punch on a par with that film and does a rather (at least in English-language quarters) obscure non-DC/Marvel comic book proud.