Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Director / Script: Luc Besson (from original French Comic Book by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mezieres) / Editing: Julien Rey / DP: Thierry Arbogast
Cast: Dane DeHaan / Cara Delevingne / Clive Owen / Rihanna / Ethan Hawke / Herbie Hancock / Kris Wu
Quick question: Are you a fan of Luc Besson’s ‘The Fifth Element?’ (1997) If the answer is YES, I have a supplemental question: Did you see it on first release or did you encounter it later-on? This answer’s important, because I can almost guarantee that if you admired the earlier film on release, you will probably fall for Valerian just as hard.
If you came to it late, then I’d wait before seeing this, if I were you. Wait for the zeitgeist to shift and the world to spin a while as it catches-up to Besson’s vision. Oh, and if the answer to the first question is ‘NO’, then I offer you this proviso: Caveat Emptor. Don’t say you haven’t been warned…
The film is a 2+ hour kaleidoscope of unending sci-fi spectacle, but really, once you’ve seen the first forty minutes or so, I’d say you’ve seen all you need to. Beyond the (heartwarming) set-up and a few set-pieces that will amaze, Besson seems to have trouble corralling the enormity of his vision (and those of his CGI team) into the mere constraints of a movie camera’s frame. As a result, we zip through one AMAZING location after another, with no time to breathe or take anything in.
Things aren’t helped by two leads who, frankly, are ridiculed – dwarfed, even – by the spectacle surrounding them. I suspect that Besson knew this might be the case, which is why he chose two relative unknowns as his leads (that, and the sure knowledge that with so much of the budget dedicated to the CGI, he needed CHEAP leads).
Dane DeHaan is the titular Valerian. I know very little about this young actor. I don’t even know if he bears a strong resemblance to the original French comic-book hero that inspired this glorious sundae, but I can tell you this much: he looks about as uncomfortable here, as I am in the dentist’s chair when there’s talk of a drill… To call his pallor ‘sleepy-eyed’ is being kind; it looks as though Besson has denied him sleep for the duration of the shoot and, at times, I found myself fearing for his constitution as Mr DeHaan, more than I ever cared for his portrayal of Valerian.
As for Cara Delevingne as his partner and on-off-on girlfriend Sergeant Laureline, I thought an IKEA flatpack would’ve been a livelier choice. Her performance was SO wooden in this, I kept thinking about Grace Jones’ memorable, err, turn in A View To A Kill (1985). The appearance of both, was Besson indulging in some whimsical ‘stunt-casting’ and I have to say, I thought they ruined a picture that was in sore need of some empathy.
Other players of note included Rihanna as a shape-changing cabaret artiste and, improbably, Herbie Hancock as a politician, that I can only imagine was the result of him losing a bet somewhere down the line. Oh, and there’s Clive Owen as the General with a [cough] ‘secret’, but even he looked unable / unwilling to extract any marrow from a script that had already been sucked-dry in its translation from French into English.
To call the plot, err, ‘the Plot’ is to almost insult the term, but I’ll try and be kind. So we’ve got a planet full of ethereal beings in a symbiotic relationship with their environs, thanks to some kaleidoscopic pet armadillo-things, that eject magical pearls.. With me so far? Their peaceful existence is – literally – shattered as their planet is caught up in a battle going on in the space above them. All is lost; all that is, but for a group of stragglers who find themselves aboard a ship that they then repair.
They end-up on what the International Space Station has become, five hundred years from now: an astonishing agglomeration of modules, ships and gewgaws that now support millions of inhabitants from, you guessed it, over a thousand planets. Their unique mission? Reclaim the one missing Armadillo and a pearl. With these they can rebuild paradise… I’m underselling it of course, but that’s the nub and, as McGuffins go, I’ve seen worse.
It would’ve been a better picture than the one we got, certainly, as THAT one lumped-on the involvement of Valerian and Laureline to help secure the items and solve the mystery behind the General’s [YAWN]… Sorry; lost myself there.
I’m sorry, Mr. Besson, but there’s really nothing here for me to latch-onto, besides the AMAZING visuals and that’s a terminal problem, given you had hoped to spawn a regular franchise with this picture. If the script had been polished-up by someone for whom English was their first language, it might’ve been more successful. If it had real humour, rather than one or two forced gags that made me wince, that too, might’ve helped its case. But the real sticking point for me, was its two leads, who did nothing to embroider their paper-thin roles.
Such a shame. Which brings me to the end of that first question: ‘you will probably fall for Valerian just as hard’. That remains true, but at least with the Fifth Element, repeated views ensured a soft landing. After watching Valerian just once, I think you’ll be nursing scabby knees…
A soldier will always choose death over humiliation.
No FULL Review this time, but my Triple Word Score?