Since I joined the PCU movie review team late last year I have reviewed Life, an alien horror film and Norman, a film based on a graphic novel, neither one of which I particularly enjoyed. So, when I saw the trailer for Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to see the film. Valérian is based on French science fiction comic series, Valérian and Laureline, which ran from 1967 to 2010. The strips have been republished in a series of graphic novels, however this film isn’t based on a single novel.
The movie opens with a sequence explaining how the City of a Thousand Planets came into existence over a period of 400 years. The story jumps to the 28th century, when we meet Valérian and Laureline on their ship for the first time. Valérian is napping and has a disturbing dream that details the final day of an alien planet. Valérian and Laureline start on their mission to retrieve contraband from a black-market dealer where they encounter two of the survivors of that planet. After successfully completing that assignment Valérian and Laureline head to the City of a Thousand Planets to complete the mission to defeat the dark force that threatens the city.
The funding for this project was crowdsourced and set the record the most expensive independent film ever made, costing 180 million dollars. The director is Luc Besson, whose credits include Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and Lucy. He had the idea to do this film during that production however it wasn’t until the release of Avatar that he realized the technology to make the film was available. Besson announced in 2015 that he was writing the film and principal photographer occurred in 2016.
This movie is visually stunning. The colors are rich, varied and beautiful. I love that all the different aliens are given unique details even though they are computer generated. I also enjoyed that all of the aliens were not given human characteristics. I am left wondering how does an alien know that an outstretched hand is a symbol of we come in peace and how is it that the humans end up running the interstellar version of the United Nations.
Dane DeHaan stars as titular character Major Valérian and Cara Delevingne is Sergeant Laureline and both do admirable jobs in their roles. As I have no history with either of these actors, I can’t say if their performances could have been better. They played amazed and scared quite effectively even though we know they are not looking at anything but green screen. Commander Arun Filitt portrayed by Clive Owen is our villain. He was a good mix of charming, believable and evil all at the same time.
This film suffers by trying to do too much; showing nonessential locations, expendable aliens, extraneous alien technology and plot points that do nothing more than drag the movie out. The origin story of the City of a Thousand Planets could have been a 2 minute conversation between the title characters instead of eating up 5 minutes at the opening.
John Goodman’s voice work as Igon is good and Herbie Hancock’s cameo as Defence Minister was a surprise. I just wish it wasn’t so long and the disconnected storytelling took so much away from the movie. I think the writers culled through all the novels and harvested stories from each and crammed them into this movie. I am certain there is a first-rate 90 to 99-minute movie in there somewhere; but it’s over shadowed by so much eye-candy and if I hadn’t been so underwhelmed by it, I might have paid to see it in 3-D IMAX format. I guess when you spend $180M on production you want to make sure you squeeze every penny out of it. If I had donated money to create this film I might have asked for a partial refund.
2 pearls out of 5