VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
2017: dir. Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna and Clive Owen
In what can definitely be claimed as the world’s riskiest blockbuster film, Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets is the brainchild of writer/director Luc Besson (Leon, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita) and the product of savvy budgeting; when combined, gives us the most flare induced auteur vision ever seen on a budget of this scale since 2009’s Avatar – and coming in at a whopping $70 million reduction. But even at $180 million, Besson’s project wasn’t bought from Europacorp’s checkbook.
Much of the films budget was covered in tax compensations from several countries who found Valerian to be a cultural project worth investing in as well as garnering interest at Cannes and pre selling. This type of funding allowed Besson to draw in the money he needed to create Valerian, a project he had envisioned for some time, and at little expense to his own company – which fronted a mere $20 million.
Needless to say, this little bit of trivia is perhaps the most amazing detail in a movie comprised of a million different types of details.
Besson is often criticized in the States as being too foreign, while outside of the states he’s considered too American. He’s an interesting hybrid that lives a dual filmography, one that embraces the hyperactivity of American cinema and the calm, introspective techniques of European filmmaking. The result is often lopsided – films that are far too over-the-top for their own good, or films that are far too serious against their stylish action bits.
Regardless, Besson has never put out a sub quality product that didn’t at least deliver on the thrills he’s controversially known for. VALERIAN is like any other stylish opus in Besson’s library, but even moreso than he’s been made famous for. In fact, this movie is quite literally like rolling everything Besson has ever made into a massive project that outpaces every single science fiction franchise to ever exist with its sheer. front loaded visual frenzy.
Even taking into account how condensed this movie is, the pacing is surprisingly airtight. Given that it’s tempo is EXTREMELY fast paced, you have to surrender yourself to it’s incredibly specific beat and structure in order to really enjoy the kind of kinetic thrill ride Besson has crafted. And even by doing that, you risk losing grasp to the overall story as you simply try to unpack the visual data that litters very single frame.
What Besson has created is a living, breathing universe that matches and pulls far and away ahead of Star Wars in not only detail, but sheer scale.
Even at times when I found myself disconnected, it was extremely easy to reintegrate with the narrative. The film is littered with exposition dumps that are simply impossible to keep up with, but work themselves naturally into the narrative frame – Valerian and Laureline are adventurers as much as they are cops, and what they learn about the world is what we learn.
The dialogue is indicative of its genre – cheesy, romantic and often times overly expository – but the characters all play their roles as campy and silly as need be. It’s an extremely dedicated movie to its own sense of style – only Besson can go between Dane DeHaan dealing with a sex wranglin’ Ethan Hawke to a swervy dance routine from a shape-shifting Rihanna, then to the station’s Captain uncovering the roots of conspiracy sewn right under his nose.
There are a few dedicated action scenes, two of which we see in the films trailers – and trust me when I say that they aren’t done justice in those short clips. The visual symphony ties into the editing into a medley of one take shots, which really sell Valerian’s egregious sense of interdimensional flare. At one point, I gave up trying to cogently identify the makings of Valerian’s universe and simply allowed it to explore its endless realm of possibilities, and once I did, the entire film felt significantly less frustrating.
Luc Besson created an end all, be all space opera with Valerian that promises big rewards on top of big risks. He knew full well that the U.S. box office was not going to bail him on this one and chose to finance the movie through country taxes and business partners. Plus, the film’s marketing was aimed at the international market more so than the U.S. – and by putting it up against Dunkirk, Besson has the scapegoat he needed to suggest why Valerian had a tough opening weekend.
This is exactly the type of movie we SHOULD be financing – crazy, visceral and intense feats of imagination and creativity – not to mention, the funding for it is both sensible and meticulously planned out to guarantee at least moderate success on returns. Hollywood, take notes.