4-10 August 2017 #870

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Don’t listen to what anyone says about Luc Besson’s latest and greatest sci-fi epic, just go watch it and decide for yourself.
Sophia Pande

Don’t listen to what anyone says about Luc Besson’s latest and greatest sci-fi epic, just go watch it and decide for yourself. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a joy for everyone who loves science fiction, and an essential addition to Besson’s oeuvre, which includes classics like The Big Blue (1988), Nikita (1990), Léon: The Professional (1994), Lucy (2014) and now this big-hearted, glorious, stunningly beautiful adventure that leaves the films based on Marvel and DC comics looking like they were made by unimaginative, heartless amateurs.

A wondrous imagination has always been at the core of Besson’s best films, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets represents perhaps the apogee of that extraordinary quality that has allowed Besson to stand apart from his contemporaries. The original source material for Valerian comes from a beloved French sci-fi comic series titled Valerian and Laureline but Besson resisted making a film based on these comics for years, realising the visual demands could not be met — until James Cameron unveiled his magnum opus Avatar in 2009 and Besson saw a way to bring these richly detailed comics set in a never before seen futuristic world to life on the big screen.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets must be seen in the cinema, and in 3D. From beginning to end the film will leave you open mouthed in astonishment and wondering why other mainstream films just don’t produce the same amount of joy. It is a visual treat, but also an example of just how big budget films can be mind-bogglingly gorgeous to look at, if the director actually knows what he is doing and can reign in the visual effects people when there is millions to play with.

Take Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (reviewed previously in this column) from earlier this year as a perfect example: the film is fun and imaginative, but the ending is an overblown, nauseating plethora of visual effects gone wrong, with nothing of the delicate detail and attention that makes Valerian so riveting.

The main story of Valerian is pretty great too, the cast is filled with stars — Rihanna makes a jaw-dropping cameo — and the leads Valerian (Dane DeHaan), and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are adorable and feisty enough to combat the heavy competition offered by the visuals.

The mission is, additionally, commendable, the villain believable, and the characters the duo meet are so vividly realised that you will fall in love with all (well, most) of them. The whole experience will leave you humming at the end: you will have been treated to a film like no other, and it will make you happy, content and yet yearning for more, your senses piqued after years of explosions that have left you numbed. You can then turn to all of Besson’s films while you wait for a sequel that may or may not come. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has not done well at the box office. I leave it up to you to figure out why.

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