Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Director: Luc Besson
Release date: July 2017
Plot summary: In the 28th century, the historical core of the space city is contaminated with radiations. When the Commander is abducted by aliens unknown to the database, Major Valerian and Sergent Laureline must enter the "dead zone" to try and retrieve him and unravel the hidden truth about the Mül species.
/!\ This review contains spoilers.
I really enjoyed watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, although I also found many imperfections to talk about. I will first talk about what I didn't like or thought weird about the film, and then about what I liked, and it's easier to talker about what one doesn't like for a longer time, so please, don't stop reading halfway thinking that the film is absolute crap and you won't go and watch it, read at least the "good" part
This film is a free adaptation of a French comics, Valérian, agent spacio-temporel, which first issue was released in 1967, and that was renamed Valérian et Laureline in 2007. I haven't read the comics (yet) - so I won't focus too much on the differences between the comics and the film -, but it is the story of Valérian, a spacio-temporal agent. In the first issue, he travels to 11th Earth, where he meets Laureline, a medieval savage girl. He brings her back to the 28th century and she becomes an agent with him, before becoming his girlfriend as well. About that last point, my brother-in-law - with whom I went to watch the film and who read all the Valérian comics as a child - told me that although they are a couple, it is clearly not the focus of the comics.
Which brings me to my first criticism of the film: what the h*** is going on between Valerian and Laureline?? They don't seem to be together at all, but Valerian keeps insisting that he loves her and wants to be with her - only -, and he ends up - yet not at the end of the film - proposing to her... Of course, Luc Besson took a lot of liberties when adapting the comics, and I understand that a romance is often an important feature in Hollywood films, but the first scene with the two main protagonist is absolutely boring and too long... At this point of the film - there was just an introduction scene where we saw an entire planet and alien civilisation get destroyed in a couple of minutes - we don't want to know about Valerian's lousy attempts at flirting with Laureline; we want some introduction of the galactic world, the main characters, and we want some action. Well, at least, I want that. The apex of this absurd constant love talk occurs at the end of the film, when Valerian, as a "soldier", says he doesn't have the authority to give the Müls the converter they need, and Laureline makes a long speech about the fact that this demonstrates his inability to love and this is why she won't marry him - isn't it because they're NOT TOGETHER?? -, which speech makes Valerian change his mind, which then makes Laureline change hers and accept the proposal... And love wins, I guess, but how so nonsensically and out of place and... gnan gnan! (again...)
This brings me to my second point - which is somehow related to the first one: most of the dialogues are flat, colourless, boring. Especially those between Valerian and Laureline, for which a lot of qualifying adjectives come to me in French - cul cul la praline, gnan gnan, plan plan... -, for which I had no translation in English. So I looked it up, and it seems that it translates to "cornball", "corny", "soppy", "namby-pamby" and the likes. What's more, I am a fan of The Fifth Element, Luc Besson's other huge science fiction film - on which Jean-Claude Mézières, Valérian's cartoonist worked - and I found that Valerian lacked some of its funny punchlines and absurd humour. Indeed, some of the scenes in Valerian felt a bit out of place, but would have fitted in a general atmosphere like The Fifth Element's. For instance, at some point, Valerian needs to find a changeling alien creature to help him enter a "no strangers" area to rescue Laureline. Therefore, he goes to a night club where one of them - played by Rihanna - has an amazing cabaret show. He compliantly watches the show entirely, before putting a gun at the manager's head and get the alien to help him. Why then didn't he do it from the start? Once he saw that the changeling was talented, why watch the entire show, knowing that Laureline's life is threatened? It might have worked with a touch of humour and a character like Bruce Willis's, but apart from the fact that the show is great and a magnificent piece of SFX, how is it consistent with the tone of the film?
The flimsiness of some of the dialogues is also partly due to the actors' performance. Now, I watched the film in French, and cleary, we thought that the dubbing wasn't good, especially for Laureline's voice. This made it a little difficult to judge the actors' performance only, but still, we weren't thrilled by Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan. Besides, they must have disappointed the fans of the original comics, because Dane and Cara are/look much younger than their comics counterpart. I was also very much surprised to hear that Laureline came from "school", whereas in the comics, she comes from the Middle Ages. Since she is already an agent at the beginning of the film, why mention it at all and change a detail that might matters to the fans and doesn't matter at all in the film itself?
My final criticism is about the title. It is true that until its 40th anniversary, the comics was called only after Valerian, but it kind of made sense since he was the original agent and Laureline tagged along during the story. But in the film, although Valerian is major and Laureline only sergent, they work together, kind of flirt together, she answers to him whenever she disagrees, and even tells him that for once, he should keep an eye out and she could do the important stuff. He may be her hierarchical superior, but they work as a tandem, and they need each other. Why, then, is the film called Valerian only? Since it kept very little of the original material, why keep THIS particular feature? (especially since the comics's name was changed 10 years ago...)
Now, for the good parts!
As to how much the film is faithful to the source material, I leave it to fans to answer, but what's sure is that the plot is mainly an original story. It's not very complex - but I like "not very complex" much better than "tooooo complex" when it comes to a 2h long film - and some might call it a bit simplistic, but I think it works pretty well (except for the "love wins all" ending...) although a lot of elements don't really get to be explained - what war was that? How come only 2 people knew that the Mül planet was inhabited?... To put it in a nutshell, I enjoyed the story and never got bored (except when Valerian was hitting on Laureline)
And now, for the best part, the FX: this film is magnificent! The galactic world is ultra-realistic, you don't see the green screens at all, and there are a lot of different alien species. What I enjoyed most about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, is that although they used massive quantities of FX, the film is never about just showing off about it. On the contrary, the FX are either discreet (meaning, you see aliens and spaceships, not "waaaou look at those FX!!!") or used to innovate - for instance, in the scene in which Valerian and Laureline must retrieve the Mül "converter" in a gigantic market city that's located in another dimension, and they are somehow located in both dimensions and we can see the one, then the other, then both, and the action goes very fast... This scene actually reminded me of a French short film made by a very talented crew of young French artists, called The Mission² (The Mission Square), that also used the idea of being at several places at the same time and dealing with the physical contingencies of all different places at the same time. Here comes (but of course, it's in French):
What I also appreciated very much was that the images of the space war that distroyed the Mül planet are not very long - not as in Star Wars 3, which starts with a veeeeery long space battle full of FX that I found very boring. In Valerian, the FX are used when needed, in the needed amount, and that's the way it should always be.
To sum it up a little, my general appreciation of the film was quite good. The plot remains quite simple and straightforward but avoids losing the audience or worse, losing itself in numerous subplots and different parties. The FX and the galactic world are a delight, you really get sucked into it. What makes the film unbalanced, in my opinion, is the very uninteresting love story.
This actually matches quite well what I had heard/read about the film, and to be honest, I am so not particularly into FX that I didn't expect to like a film only - or mostly - because of its use of FX, but I'm glad I could be proven wrong on that point
So, enjoy! ^^
Tags : scifi, France, USA, film
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