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‘Valerian and The City Of a Thousand Planets’ (review)

Produced by Luc Besson, Virginie Besson-Silla
Based on Valérian and Laureline
by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières

Written and Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne,
Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke,
Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

When I saw the first trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets  based on the groundbreaking and oft imitated French comic Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Méziéres, I literally yelped in my seat.

Not only was it being made, but it was being made by The Fifth Element writer and director Luc Besson. This was like saying “Ridley Scott is coming back to direct a new Alien film!…”

At first, I couldn’t believe it.

The visuals were stunning. The sets looked amazing and the effects were going to be spectacular.

Not knowing anything about the writing and the actual story that would unfold in the film I was intrigued by the mystery and I clamored for more.

However, when it came to watching the actual film, much like Prometheus and definitely with Alien: Covenant by Scott, I was immediately excited and then almost as immediately very much disappointed in what Besson had done to this beloved comic book.

My initial reaction was that I loved it.

I was stunned by the sheer magnitude of the worlds presented to me. The overused epithet of “epic” was characteristically apropos to this film. The effects, the sets and design were an artist’s wet dream. The color palette and textures, the costume designs as well as the character designs were breathtaking. I was in love. I could sit and watch this film with the sound off and like a technicolor Blade Runner, I would be in Nerdvana.

Then, I thought about the actual story and the main cast of actors; my Nerdvana became Alderann when the Tarkin came to visit.

The two main leads were, at best, awful. At their worst, they were… okay, they were the worst.

Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) were like two 1980’s terrible voice over actors in a sub-par anime trying to figure out what the English language is while figuring out the nuance of the Japanese language by reading a translation in French. Stilted and unemotional, their Valerian and Laureline are like bad 60’s sci-fi B-Movie without the charm or talent. Clive Owen (Sin City) was in an entirely different film altogether and Ethan Hawke was brilliant. Oh, and Rihanna was in there somewhere trying to act and really served no purpose whatsoever.

This movie is like if The Fifth Element starred Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman during all the romance scenes in Attack of the Cones and that last scene of them together on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith… but worse.

It has the unfortunate distinction to be a direct adaptation of a comic book that not only influenced a generation of film makers and sci-fi comic book artists. I say unfortunate because so many equally great creators have taken the source material and created way more interesting stories with better acting. I feared, as I approached the day of the screening that Besson may have been “too close” to the source material and in the end faltered because he failed to “see the forrest for the trees”. My fears were realized when I watched a completely miscast Valerian and Laurelne in a story that adapts a specific story Ambassador of the Shadows.

Valerian is the mold that Lucas created Han Solo from. Here DeHann comes off as smarmy as opposed to roguish, annoying instead of cocky and egotistical instead of a lovable scoundrel. Delevingne’s Laureline is one part vapid, one part snarky, one part know-it-all, and one part kick ass hero; all the things Laureline should be. However, with the casting of Delevingne and her horrendous acting none of that translates well because she has two acting modes; talking and not talking.

Do I recommend this film?

Yes, with some caveats. Know this isn’t going to be anything close to intellectual. It is a fun, epic, summer sci-fi romp. Even given that, when I said earlier that I could watch this film with the sound turned off, I kinda wasn’t kidding. What is going to kill this film, in the end, will be the terrible terrible lead actors and the need for another rewrite of some of the dialog.

Sure the original comic book was very wordy but in the immortal words of Robert “Rusty” Ryan, “Don’t use seven words when four will do.”.

Luc Besson’s love and influence of this beloved and respected classic comic book is the culmination of a lifetime of work that by all means should be one of the best sci-fi films of this and/or any generation. What he ends up with, at the end of the day, is a visually stunning and beautiful dumpster fire of a film. He is so focused on bringing the world of Valerian and Laureline to the people of Earth that he forgot to make the two main characters a part of his vision.

 

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