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New Release Review - VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS review
Big budget adaptation of the cult French comic book.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Rutger Hauer

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS uk poster


When we think of comic books our minds immediately conjure up images of the great American creations of Marvel and DC. But even more so than the US, the Francophone countries of Europe have ingrained comics in their popular culture. Many, like Tintin, Asterix and The Smurfs have transcended the borders of France and Belgium to become global sensations. Others, like Persepolis and Blue is the Warmest Color, have been adapted into critically acclaimed and award winning films.

If you're not a French-speaking comic geek, chances are you haven't heard of Valerian and Laureline, the cult French comic that ran from 1967 to 2010. You've seen Star Wars though. Right? If so, you'll be familiar with some of the elements of writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres' creation, as it was a major influence on a young George Lucas. As a result, much of Luc Besson's big-budget screen adaptation feels derivative of Lucas's franchise. We get a spacecraft that looks an awful lot like the Millenium Falcon, a chase that takes place in tight spaces like those of the Death Star at the climax of Return of the Jedi, a multi-alien space port that resembles Mos Eisley, etc. I can't say if all of this appeared in the source comics, but its inclusion doesn't help here. That may be unfair, but history is written by the winners, or at least those with the biggest audience.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

Besson's film opens in inspiring fashion, with a montage simply but oh so cleverly charting the evolution of the International Space Station over a couple of centuries, as various members of Earth's nationalities welcome newcomers onto the station, with alien races eventually also arriving onboard. Taken out of context as a short film in its own right, it's as good as anything you'll see in 2017, and even the lazy use of David Bowie's Space Oddity on the soundtrack can't ruin the moment.

Sadly, the remaining 130 minutes constitute the most gruelling sci-fi experience since Battlefield Earth. Thanks to the surprise success of 2014's Lucy, Besson has been awarded a $200 million budget (the largest ever for a non-Hollywood production) and given carte blanche to bring his vision to the screen. His vision is that of a 12-year-old French boy. That's to say it's chauvinistic, mildly racist and obsessed with bodily functions, but on occasion quite visually inventive.

There are images here only a Frenchman would put on the screen. A small alien is fed a pearl only to shit out dozens more. Rihanna performs an extended striptease routine, which her character claims she's been practicing since she was four years old. Cara Delevingne shoves her head up the arse of a jellyfish.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

Most of the film however consists of a fireworks display of soulless CG. Tuning out from the narrative early on, I found myself thinking about how much labour had gone into bringing Besson's vision to the screen, and I grew mentally exhausted rather than inspired, as was the case with the recent likes of Dunkirk and War for the Planet of the Apes. Watching Valerian is hard work. The worst job I ever had required me to seal envelopes for eight hours a day, and I'd rather put in a full shift of envelope sealing than sit through Valerian again.

Delevingne deserves a special award for being the only cast member who manages to make Besson's dialogue sound like something a human being whose first language is English might actually say. Everyone else looks embarrassed at best, especially Clive Owen, who struggles with an over the top villain that Besson probably wrote for Gary Oldman. Dane DeHaan is laughably miscast as a Han Solo 'charming rogue' type, but his Keanu Reeves on heroine performance and Besson's writing make the titular hero come off as a sex pest.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

If you're wondering why I haven't made mention of the film's plot, it's because I have no idea what any of this is about. Something to do with the pearls that the aforementioned creature shits out. I think Owen's poor man's Moff Tarkin wants to get his hands on them for the purpose of evil, and Valerian must stop him. Or something.

If recent Star Trek and Star Wars are like bland slices of white bread toast, Valerian is like a creamy brioche smothered in chocolate sauce, if you're gluten intolerant and allergic to chocolate sauce. It won't have many fans, but what few it amasses will defend it with their lives. Maybe I'll revisit it in 30 years and call it a work of misunderstood genius, but for now I'm calling it the greatest atrocity committed  by a Frenchman since Thierry Henry's handball against the Republic of Ireland.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is kin UK/ROI cinemas August 2nd.



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