Film Review: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (France 2017) ****

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 valerian.jpgA dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Pierre Christin (comic book), Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book)
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen

Review by Gilbert Seah

 
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is the new widely anticipated French science fiction action film written and directed by Luc Besson best known for THE FIFTH ELEMENT and LUCY. The film, based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières is to date the most expensive French film ever made at a price rage of $197 million euros. To break-even it has to make $350 million worldwide. It is a big a risk as James Cameron’s AVATAR but the film is stunning in its visuals and imagination and comes highly recommended for Besson’s vision and delivery of this space opus to the big screen. It be best seen in 3D and on the biggest screen possible.

The film opens with an alien species on a distant planet. They speak a different language and lead a different lifestyle, in tune with nature giving their planet back what they receive from it. This is reminiscent of the blue AVATAR creatures in the James Cameron’s film. An apocalypse happens and their planet is destroyed. On the other side of the Universe, a dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. Nothing makes much sense in the film’s first half, but writer/director Besson keeps the audience’s curiosity strong. It is during the second half that the story comes together, becoming more of a conventional film with the fight between good and evil, with Valerian and Laureline being the space fighters and peace keepers working for ‘the government’.

But it is not the story that will astonish the audiences. The visionary action sequences consisting of computer generated landscapes and creatures of all shapes and sizes will mesmerize. The best of these are three information selling beaked liked creatures who speak both simultaneously but separately forming sentences that are hilarious and brilliant. The capture of the jellyfish on the mammoth sea creature providing some genuine action and thrills and the butterfly bait fishing are inspirational set pieces. Another memorable scene has Laureine wearing a huge hat with the top of her head exposed only to find her brains about to be eaten by an Alien Emperor, the way Chinese used eat monkey brains as a delicacy before the practice was banned.

Much negative reviews have been posted of the lead actor’s Dane DeHaan’s performance as Major Valerian. DeHaan is a young 31-year old American actor with some Dutch background, hence his Dutch surname, who has proven himself able to carry a lead role in the recent but badly received A CURE FOR WELLNESS. In that film DeHaan demonstrated a different kind of hero, a vulnerable one, as in this one, full of character flaws like impulsive decision making, unlike other space action heroes like hans Solo or Luke Skywalker. His partner, co-fighter for good against evil and love interest, Lareline is played by Cara Delevingne who emits sexiness and charisma. They do exhibit good chemistry on screen, and her speech on love at the film’s end though cliched, works. Supporting performances by Clive Owen as the villain and Ethan Hawke are also impressive.
Rihanna plays an alien dancer who performs a Sally Bowles in CABARET type dance forms one of the film’s best musical dance numbers – amazing and unforgettable combined with special computer effects. Music is by Alexandre Desplat.

For all its flaws, Besson’s brilliantly conceived film still scores top marks as a futuristic space action adventure. Much better than THE FIFTH ELEMENT and the new STAR WARS film series.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XawbuBCj-Fo
 

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