Valerian's poster. Looks like tons of fun to me... (via EuropaCorp)
If you liked “The Fifth Element” you’ll love “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” right?
There was lots of speculation to that fact. The Fifth Element was heavily influenced by the Valerian graphic novel. Director/Writer of the Fifth Element even hired the Valerian comic artist, Jean-Claude Mézières, to work on the film.
But, here we are 20 years later with a full featured Valerian. The film begins with a montage of how the International Space Station kept expanding overe the years and then centuries. Eventually, extraterrestrial life visits then stays on the station, now dubbed “Alpha.” It became so large and massive that it was dramatically effecting Earth. I found this thought intriguing. Eventually when more mass is brought to our planet, would this happen? However, I am specifically talking about the so-called mining of asteroids and other places for metals and such. (Not a big space station.) Bring enough new ore to Earth, would we slow the rotation? Would we change the gravity even?
Alpha, the station, was sent beyond Earth, through some sort of space current. The story picks up approximately 600 years into the future. Alpha has become a place where alien life gathers and exchanges ideas, technology and cultures. The station is masses of new structures upon new structures. It holds different atmospheres, climates, oceans, and seemingly lawlessness wherever they can get away with breaking laws. It’s a mess really.
Valerian concept art (via Benmauro)
The montage ends and we step out into an oceanic planet, populated with what look like native, connected to the planet, kind of humanoid creatures. Very similar to what we saw in Avatar. Instead of a jungle, it’s beaches and oceans, I guess. Idyllic life is shattered as ‘things’ blast through the atmosphere. These things pepper the scenes. Turning electric blue to smoke and darkness. Culminating into a city crushing giant ‘thing’ from the sky. I am leaving out the details of what else happens here. It is critical to the whole story, so I want to leave something to enjoy.
We are then introduced to our heros Valerian and Laureline. They are highly skilled special agents of the human government. Humans seem to be in charge of the future. They are a kooky couple with relationship chemistry trying to react. They don’t seem to mix, or maybe they’re just too mixed already. It felt like they were already together even before the story begins. Which, honestly, takes all tension away.
I will say this, they both seemed tired at all times. Which it a bit counter to the image in the comic book. They seemed exhausted. Which I was attributing to the fact they are essentially overworked police.
They are almost immediately pulled into a mission, to get a “last-of-its-kind” object from an alien world. This planet is another stunning concept, like the Alpha station. On this planet is a colossal market, but this market is in another dimension! At first you only see people walking around a desert, it is only when special glasses are worn can you see the other-dimensional market. They can only interact with that dimension through a matter displacement box. You stick the item in one side, it comes out in the other dimension.
Big Market concept art (via Benmauro)
Visually, you’ll see the market like The Fifth Elements city. One of the key elements The Fifth Element pulled from Valerian, it isn’t surprising. After a pan of the market, which was too fast and blurry to really absorb it, we are more interesting in just a couple of streets. Valerian locates the object in a black market trade in a back room kind of deal. A cliché seedy place, but with aliens. The best part of his whole scene is that there is one half of the matter displacement boxes with Valerian’s hand sticking out the other end just “floating” into the room. Since he is a police officer, technically, he gets the objects from the bad guys using governmental power. It’s when he leaves the room, an accident causes a huge shootout, chase, and all that comes with such a thing – and the exchange it thrown into violence. It’s been fun to smash through markets since the production of the early film, and it still is. Lots of that happens. Valerians hand is caught in the other dimension, and it’s a race to get it out.
More Big Market concept art (via Benmauro)
This is what stood out to me in all this high-tech shinanigans, Valerian’s partner Laureline fixes the dimensional box, under pressure, even after pulling out a huge wad of wire. I want to believe that this is just a case of knowledge built on knowledge over 600 years. Like how kids today will know more about tech and history because they are so bathed in it. It’s like innate knowledge at this point. Like birds knowing how to build a nest. At least, that is what I want to believe here. Laureline fixes the box with ease, even without those other wires. (When has one of your projects worked great with a wad of wires ripped out of it?)
Alpha concept art (via Benmauro)
Now the story brings us to the space station, to Alpha. This is where the story take a bit of a thud.
The film is being promoted as having the most alien life forms in it. Some are in the background, but characters will never interact with them. That’s fine though. This section of the film steps into some standard science fiction story territory. The ultimate bad guy is a bit of a joke, so I am not going to analyze the story too much. Honestly, I wanted the story to move faster at this point. Usually not a good sign in a first viewing.
However, the visuals were similar to parts of the dimensional market, fast. They spend $200 million on this film and they don’t stop the camera movement on the larger set pieces for even a moment. I’d would have liked to see some of the station’s grandness.
From start to finish, the story isn’t very complex. There weren’t any real funny moments. The death of one character, that featured prominently on the poster, was not necessary at all. You’ll see what I mean. And the camera movement was too fast (like in parts of the Hobbit trilogy, if you’ve watched those). Combine that together and the lackluster box office response isn’t surprising.
Will Valerian have the science fiction cult following of The Fifth Element? Time will tell, but I am leaning towards no. However, the setting and universe is still worth another attempt at using. Perhaps a reboot. An animated version would serve the setting much better.
I had super-high hope for Valerian to be 2017’s saving grace for science fiction… I was partially wrong.
I rate this 3.01 out of 5.00.
ps. The Fifth Element now has a 4k Blu-ray edition. Valerian had me pretty hype for a rewatching of the classic, and it did not disappoint.