Sunday, July 30, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian et la Cité des mille planètes; science-fiction action, France, 2017; D: Luc Besson, S: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Elizabeth Debicki (voice), John Goodman (voice), Mathieu Kassovitz, Rutger Hauer
In the far future, Earth Alpha station has merged with other space station from alien civilizations. It has grown to be the largest space station in the Universe, employing millions of workers from over a thousand planets. Federal agents Valerian and Laureline are summoned by commander Filitt to investigate a mysterious unknown sphere in the station. After alien creatures kidnap Filitt, Valerian and Laureline figure it must have something to do with a "converter", a small reptile-like creature that can multiply pearls. They enter the sphere and find out that Filitt, while fighting a war, used a powerful explosive and thereby committed genocide against planet Mul, which was destroyed as a collateral damage. The Mulian aliens just want to have the "converter" creature back to try to reconstruct their civilization. Valerian and Laureline oblige, while Filitt is arrested.

With a budget estimated to run somewhere between 170 and 200 million $, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" became the most expensive European film till date, signalling the Zenith of financial power of director Luc Besson who rallied all the talent from France and foreign specialists and who became the only non-English director in the history of modern cinema who managed to make a European film that topped Hollywood. Just for that treat alone, and the sheer audacity to film the popular eponymous Sci-Fi comics, "Valerian" should be respected more. Overall, the film is not perfect — more charm and humor should have been attributed to the two main leads, agents Valerian and (sometimes feisty) Laureline; the illogical plot holes become apparent in the finale where not everything is neatly tied up whereas some sequences, though pretty, were just added for the pure "eye candy" since they had no function in the storyline — yet it is simply fun and Besson's (French) ingenuity comes to full expression in the virtuoso directed 20-minute action sequence in which Valerian uses a cube on his hand to enter another dimension of a desert black market and escape from the villains who chase after him, which is played down to a T.

The stylistic highlights in that sequence arrive in various technical innovations, such as when a villain throws thousand metal marbles that get attached to Valerian's cube device on his hand, making him unable to run, but the agent escapes by using the heavy weight to crash down a manhole and fall several levels underground. When he finally falls on a stable surface, he throws one metal marble at another villain - and then reprogrammes all the other marbles to follow that marble as a magnet, and now all the weight is transferred to the villain - who now crashes down the next floor himself. The way Valerian and Laureline escape from a giant monster-dog that got attached to their spaceship by simply turning on the warp speed is elegant and fitting as well. Some of the dialogues between the two leads are neat ("Can you survive 20 minutes without me?"), though more such comic ideas could have been added. The main plot on the space station that accompanies over a thousand species sometimes falls into 'patchwork': numerous aliens are presented, though only for a couple of seconds, and thus they seem more like 'throwaway' material that seems more random than something that completes each other (for instance, the character of shapeshifter Bubble is cool, but is disposed off after only 10 minutes). "Valerian" is also different from many big-budget films by defying some Hollywood cliches, staying true to its European roots: there is no main bad guy, and instead the story is one giant allegory on genocide denial, contemplating if the protagonists have enough integrity to accept that someone is wrong from their own ranks. Several inconsistencies and a too colossal narrative may bring the movie down near the end, yet Besson again proved that he still has some freshness left in him.

Grade;++

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