[This is an altered version of a post originally featured on Hidden Remote]
When Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets came out last year, the film was met with an overall shrug of the shoulders. Luc Besson’s return to the sci-fi stylings of The Fifth Element didn’t herald the results that he wanted. However, there are a few champions of the film, me included, that feel it deserves a second chance.
Getting one thing out the way first, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is absolutely breathtaking to look at. It was one of the visual treats of the cinema last year, it just had to be seen on the biggest screen possible. But there are benefits of having this on your TV at home.
Firstly, you get to rewatch this visually rich spectacle to your hearts desire. Secondly, you can drag hesitant people in front of it and get them hooked. And thirdly, being transported to another world is one of the great things about the movies; and I will say that Luc Besson has presented the world of Valerian with such ease, that it is going to be hard for one to stay away.
The comics, Valérian and Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, initially started out as good vs evil tales, but gradually grew into something much more complex. I thoroughly recommend finding an English language collection and delving into the world further. There is a reason you can see Mézières design aesthetic in films like Independence Day, and the Star Wars prequels, they are that influential.
Maybe that’s an argument as to why audiences didn’t click with the film. Luc Besson hired Mézières to work on The Fifth Element, and you can certainly trace back the roots of his 1995 hit with Valerian. Maybe this is a case of the John Carter problem, the fact that a story is so influential in all that followed, that when that property became adapted audiences lamented it for its generic sensibilities, despite it actually being the source of much that audiences loved.
The above trailer uses ‘Because’ by The Beatles to help sell the world. This is the first time that a Beatles song has been used to market a film. That is how much money had been thrown at this, even the marketing campaign had to pull out all the stops. Unfortunately, despite doing extraordinarily well in China, it is deemed a box-office flop by industry standards falling well short of its target “break even” sum. And that is disappointing. As the favorite internet saying goes, “that’s why we can’t have nice things”.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (I will not get tired of writing that title) has by far the best opening sequence of 2017. Set to Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, it transports us through the history, and future history, of the human race’s journey into space. It’s a perfect set up for what’s to come. This is a dreamy, hopeful look to the future. We are meant to look up the stars as a species to expand and discover, and to continue on, it’s a powerful message to start the film with, and it sticks with that all the way through.
It is criminal of me not to mention any of the cast yet. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are incredible in this. I was sold on their dynamic from the get go. Some could argue that perhaps there should be more seasoned recognizable actors in their roles, but for a film that focuses on the future, it was wise to have fresh faces with little to no cultural weight behind them for the two leads (I mean, imagine the assumptions we make to a character just based on the roles that have come before). Their chemistry was light, playful and totally in keeping with the story.
Clive Owen adds that “weight” to the film as the commander to Valerian and Laureline. His role could have been quite thankless but he is allowed to chew up the scenery and impose his authority on the proceedings. Rihanna shows up for what could be deemed as an extended cameo, but she does well with the little screen time she gets. And Ethan Hawke appears, hamming it up nicely.
The Fifth Element comparison is unfair. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a recognizable story, but the world is so rich, the characters are so true to their surroundings that it is a film that begs to be viewed repeatedly. What with it now on Amazon Prime, I am hoping that now due to its ease of access, audiences will discover the world and champion it for years to come.