VALERIAN: CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017) dir: Luc Besson

20 Aug

“Star Wars meets the Care Bears” was my dad’s perspective of Valerian. He took me to the local cinema in Cumbria, which cost only six quid and had very comfortable seats. It’s not to everyone’s taste but I enjoyed Valerian. It was one of the most imaginative movies I’d seen in ages – if not ever, as I don’t usually watch fantasy movies. However, while I was in the cinema, I was considering putting it on pause and going out to buy an ice-cream. I don’t think the vibe was coming from the movie itself, but instead from the bored unimaginative adults in the audience.

The plot to the movie was somewhat tangled. In the opening sequence we were introduced to the vast leaps mankind will make in centuries to come. Alpha, a space station cast out from Earth’s gravity into deep space, the culmination of space sophistication. Next we arrived at a beautiful island paradise where the bald people sparkled and had long, slender, blue limbs. They were really into their pearls and had these little dragons which ate and pooped pearls out in multitudes. Suddenly the utopia was disturbed by objects crashing through the atmosphere. A giant manmade-looking structure careered through the sky and sent a fireball that destroyed all living creatures. As she died, the Emperor’s daughter sent out a wave of energy from her body.

Valerian is lounging on a virtual beach simulation when he is struck by the energy from the pearl girl. She is appearing in his mind. In his reality, he has Cara Delevigne – playing Laureline, with an acquired American accent – and a computer simulated voice telling him it’s time to quit the beach simulation. I think the credibility of the reality Luc Besson presents to us dissolves with the beach. As Valerian and Laureline wrestle, they appear to barely know each other, plus not a drop is spilled from the cup they’re holding and passing back and forth. It’s Laureline’s birthday, Valerian has forgotten, and frankly nobody seems to care. If that cup of orange liquid had ended up all over one of the cardboard cut-out characters, we may have had a different movie.

Valerian and Laureline must fly their spacecraft to a planet and retrieve a converter. Before they set off from their sand vehicle, Valerian proposes marriage to Laureline. If some bloke in a bar has ever proposed marriage (it happens to me regularly), you’ll grasp the level of awkwardness. On the planet is a vast open space that contains ‘Big Market’. It exists on another dimension so not visible to the naked eye. With virtual reality glasses a million shops and stalls become apparent. With special gloves a human can pick things up and transport them back to this dimension via a box. The special effects are beautiful. All the strangest urban environments on Earth are converged into an imaginative fantasy world. They get the converter. It turns out to be one of the baby dragon creatures Valerian saw in his dream with the pearl girl. Valerian also secretly steals a pearl. They make it back to their vehicle but a variation of Jabba the Hut has sent his hench dinosaur to this dimension for a potential sequel. It chases the vehicle. The inhabitants of the vehicle all die just as Valerian and Laureline escape to their spacecraft. Can we return to this moment toward the end of the review, please?

Fast forward to Alpha: city of a thousand planets. Home to some interesting alien species. The beautiful special effects were incredible. The city is a series of habitats for the various fantastical creatures. At the centre of Alpha is a mysterious radioactive zone that will wipe out the entire space station within a year if not resolved. Nobody has returned from there alive.

Laureline gets to keep the converter for safe-keeping though everyone thinks the Commander has it. The sparkly long-limbed, bald, blue creatures from Valerian’s dream put everyone to sleep and take the Commander, so presumably they thought the Commander had the converter too. Valerian has discovered that the pearl came from Mül planet, which was destroyed thirty years earlier. Valerian and Laureline have also discovered that nobody knows anything about Mül. It’s classified information. Valerian sets off in search of the Commander. He runs into trouble as well as walls (but, as my father pointed out, he groans at the hard seat as he sits down). Laureline then shows an ounce of passion and jets off after him. Unfortunately, not long after their ‘stay with me’ moment of revival where she saves him, she grabs a butterfly bait and is reeled up to another level by these gross-looking monsters. Valerian has to follow to save her. My dad noticed that he shoots the monster whose fishing line he is dangling from above a deep precipice! Doh!

By the time he can do anything, Laureline is being dressed for dinner in the zone on the other side of the door, so he follows the instructions of the computer voice and goes to a neighbouring nightclub. Here he meets Rihanna who is a shape-shifting exotic dancer called Bubble. Bubble engulfs him and turns them together into one of the monsters. Undercover, they covertly enter the zone where Laureline is being held, and stand in a ritual of holding food to be offered to the ruler. When it gets to Laureline’s turn to offer food, the lemon she is holding on her tray turns out to be seasoning for her brains, about to be clipped out of her skull. Fortunately the monster is stupid and puts the lemon on her hair  – showing in the centre of a giant white hat – instead of her brains, therefore Bubble and Valerian can rescue her. They all escape but Bubble dies.

Next they meet the long-limbed graceful blue creatures who tell them that Valerian’s body is the home to their deceased daughter’s soul. They explain what happened with the planet Mül. They’re obviously very peaceful beings. Nobody likes the Commander much when he wants to kill them all. Valerian is reluctant to give them the converter because he’s a stickler for rules. He’s not supposed to give them government property (he wasn’t supposed to steal the pearl though, hey?). In the end, they give the creatures from Mül both the converter and the pearl. The converter then eats the pearl and poops out thousands of pearl replications, which can generate enough power to re-establish Mül. Happy ending? Not yet. There’s a bit of a war between K-tron robots and everyone else. With many people killed, Valerian and Laureline share a cringe-worthy kiss. Happy ending.

As much as I loved the wonderful Mül existence and will daydream about Alpha and the entire multi-dimensional scenario for several weeks, the movie fell short because the characters were far from multi-dimensional. They’ll survive in a two-dimensional universe but not three or more. They were flat outlines who’d eaten their script and pooped out versions of it until Besson called it a wrap. The dialogue was forced like there was foreboding about it. I’m not sure the acting was terrible exactly but rapport was lacking like hot, damp, smelly breath on the eyelids. At the end there was a weird sense of time distortion. Gee, had it been Laureline’s birthday the whole day? Should we care? When the people in the vehicle were all killed, Laureline was excited by her swell converter pet. The psycho! However, when the bald blue beings were threatened with extermination, outrage, how terrible! They weren’t easy characters to make believable. The jarred script didn’t create the kind of hero that Valerian the man (Dane Dehaan) had potential to be. The movie could’ve been an incredible Goonies-style adventure. If only that orange liquid had drenched one of them as they wrestled in their initial scene together, we may have loved them. And our love might have grown for them more than their feigned love for one another.

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