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Review: Valerian – “A beautiful, visually stunning piece of sci-fi”

I finally got to see Luc Besson’s adaptation of the Valerian and Laureline comic book series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets opened in the US last week and got some lousy reviews. Add that to the fact that it opened on the same weekend as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk meant it did not do very well at the box office.

That meant I was a bit anxious about seeing it. I do like Besson’s previous films and have always been a big fan of The Fifth Element, which is the closest in tone and style to Valerian. The reviews would have me believe it was a boring, horrendous mess of a film composed of set pieces that did not link together with two bland leads and an incomprehensible plot. To be honest I once again get the feeling that many reviewers went into the film with preconceived notions or did not pay attention to the film as it was not horrendous, the plot was very easy to follow, the various adventures and set pieces all led on from each other as they were all part of the mission and storyline, while the two leads were great and had some lovely chemistry between them.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not a perfect film, but it was a beautiful, visually stunning piece of sci-fi.

Opening with a brilliant montage of the different races of Earth meeting in space on an ever expanding space station, we then see them welcome new alien species. It is a great way of explaining the position of humanity in the grand scheme of things and shows the incredible inventiveness of the designers working on the film. The many different creatures we see throughout are just amazing. These are true aliens. The art book for the film is going to be well worth getting. All of these alien species join up and the space station grows to become Alpha, the titular city of a thousand planets, where most of the film takes place.

Next, we see a beautiful planet full of willowy graceful aliens who are living in paradise only to have Armageddon rain down on them. This leads us to Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two Space Agents who we see relaxing on their spaceship while waiting for their next mission. The playful banter and actions they have shows they are young, extremely skilled professionals (they never spill a drop of the drink during their play fight), who know how to have fun and obviously care for each other. Lots of information given in a great visual way so we immediately know who they are and what they can do. Valerian has true feelings for Laureline, but she will not take any of his crap until he becomes more mature with regards relationships.

It is at this point, and throughout the film, that we see Laureline is the better of the two. More level headed, professional and down right tougher than Valerian she is the one calling the shots. Having seen Cara Delevingne in Suicide Squad I had my doubts about her being a lead in a big action sci-fi movie. Thankfully she does a cracking job and for me, was one of the best things in the film. Dane DeHaan is also very good as the cocky Valerian, who at times is a bit of a douchebag as he tries to make light of his true feelings.

As I previously said, they are both professionals and very good at what they do. Whatever happens, they know what to do and just do it. Both get captured at various points, and the other one comes to their rescue. This being set a few hundred years in the future they have some incredible technology and it is nice to see them use it without lots of exposition explaining what it all does. They are all just tools that Valerian and Laureline use in their work.

However, the main joy of the film is the beautiful sci-fi world we are shown. As my friend Andy said, it was like being given access to Luc Besson’s mind. Hundreds of different aliens and robots, thousands of spaceships and other pieces of technology. Everywhere you look there is some thing incredible to see. Alpha is indeed composed of many different worlds leading to a great scene of Valerian running through many of them. There is also a brilliant interdimensional market in the early part of the film that sees aliens chasing after the agents in one dimension. while they are running through an almost empty desert plain.

The imagination of Luc Besson, Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mezieres, and the many designers involved in the film is truly staggering. When this is out on Blu-ray then it is going to be a joy to just pause it in various places to see whats what. This could also be a criticism about the film as there is just so much going on at times that it is hard to know where to look. There are also a few editing decisions that led to some minor confusion as to the locations of various characters. That also leads to the fact that they put so much into the film that it did slow down in places. The scenes with Rihanna’s shapeshifting alien, with a great turn by Ethan Hawke, had some great designs and ideas and all involved did excellent work. It did make sense with the story and there was a reason for it happening, but you could have lifted those scene from the film and it would not have been missed.

It seems to be a bit of a Besson thing as I always felt the scene with the singer on the Fhloston Paradise in The Fifth Element had a similar problem.

I can see how that and a few other moments could lead to the viewer’s mind wandering, yet there was so much care taken with the world in which this was all taking place that I was quite happy to watch it – it gave us a bit of futuristic Bee Gees and lots of little things, such as how they stored the guns and how the aliens went fishing.

Can I also give a shout out to Alain Chabat who did wonderful things with his brief scenes as Bob the Pirate.

As for the plot, well as I said at the start, it all makes sense within the context of the film. The opening scenes lead into the first mission, which ties in with the main thrust of the story and it all leads on from there.

I have seen more films lately were people are saying there is no plot or it makes no sense. However, it always seems to me that the person just wasn’t paying attention. Most films have a plot, if they didn’t then there would be no film. Some plots are good, some a bad, but there are always there and make sense within the confines of the film. True, some can be a bit confusing, but they still have a basic plot.

Valerian has a decent plot, nothing particularly new but as it is based on a comic that began in the 1960s. It was new and fresh at one point, but the world has moved on since then with various other sci-fi films lifting elements from the original stories, which means it could seem unoriginal in places.

There are also a few cheesy dialogue decisions in the script. Bless the actors involved for doing their best with them, but they do pull you out of the moment in places. Another pass on the script may have fixed it.

So a bit of a generic plot, some scenes that needlessly padded things out and just a few moments of cheesy dialogue. I did say they film wasn’t perfect, but I can easily overlook those minor problems as it was lots of fun, had some fantastic action scenes, excellent supporting characters, it was incredible to look at, DeHaan & Delevingne had great chemistry, and it was definitely a Luc Besson movie.

If you did not enjoy The Fifth Element or are not a sci-fi fan then you may find moments of Valerian that just don’t work for you. However, if you are a fan of Besson’s previous films or you just like science fiction then at least give it a try. At the very least you are in for a visual feast.

Like The Fifth Element I feel that Valerian will also gain a large following when it is released for home entertainment.

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One Comment

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed Valerian, your review is spot on. Yes, it could have been a little tighter in editing and some of the dialogue felt a little clunky but all that is forgiven when you’re on such a ride. The film looked beautiful and it absorbed me completely. If I ever meet Mr Besson I’ll shake him by the hand and thank him for allowing me a glimpse into his mind and for giving me two of my favourite movies!….


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