Saturday night Channel 4 screened Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets an extraordinary film by its “look” alone. The gorgeous beach planet, the gigantic and intricate market place, the massive space station home to thousands of species each lovingly designed and rendered. It’s said that Besson thought making Valerian impossible due to the complexity of the CGI but was convinced it could be done after seeing Avatar.
The film is based on the French science fiction comic series Valérian and Laureline, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and its roots come through in the cinematography. Shortly after the start I felt slightly disappointed with the plot. Two overly young agents with an on/off romance and a large Jabba like gangster felt clichéd but, after a while I adjusted to the style. It has the naïve confidence of a comic. It’s meant to be fun! From the outrageously camp military hats to Rihanna’s shapeshifting Glamopod dance. This is no Hollywood commodity but a Luc Besson vanity project. Financed by crowd funding and Besson’s own money the film has the wit, inventiveness and playfulness of The 5th Element. After meeting an eccentric sea captain, seemingly modelled on Black Adder’s Redbeard Rum, and being pursued by gigantic sea monsters the captain idly slips in “I’m Bob, by the way….”. There is also an underlying political theme. From the miliaristic humans who destroy nearby planets as a by product of their war, to the multispecies space station with its clear analogy with New York, to the inability of the human elite to accept responsibility because of the risk of reparations and economic decline.
However this is an imperfect film and perhaps due to Besson’s enthusiasm. He seems to have loved the comic so much that he felt a need to include too much. Indeed, toward the end, one wonders if scenes had already been cut as the ancient spacecraft from the 21st century seems to appear from nowhere. By convention feature films run for around 90 minutes but Besson adds nearly 50 minutes more. Despite the lavish effects and brilliantly sinister K-Tron shock troops, the film drags and, though the strange sea captain is good, the scene does little to serve the story.
Overall the film is a must see for its wit, extravagant visuals and sheer pizzazz but one wonders if a little more discipline may have made this a great film.