Exploring New Worlds Through Seasoned, Campy Sci-Fi: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

Over two years ago, I started making the effort to expand my dialogue about storytelling by going beyond the boundaries of books and out into the mediums of TV and film. I do so by doing these analysis pieces once a while about a TV show or film that has reached a significant time in its history (i.e. series premiere, series finale, film release, anniversary of a release, etc.). Despite my efforts to do these posts more often, it’s been another six months, for “Princess Mononoke” was the subject of my previous one. Today, in honor of its release, I shall go in-depth on my thoughts on the latest sci-fi epic from seasoned French film director Luc Besson, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

Several hundred years into the future, out in space exists Alpha; a floating city made up of thousands of languages from thousands of species across the universe. All is peaceful and in order, until a dark force threatens to end it all. That’s when special agents Valerian and Laureline are brought in to prevent the worst from happening.

“Valerian” is based on the popular French sci-fi comics series “Valerian and Laureline,” written by Pierr Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres. The series has inspired a number of sci-fi works since its original 1967 publication; from several components found in the “Star Wars” saga and even Besson’s 1997 cult classic, “The Fifth Element.” The director grew up reading the original comic series, and after seeing the technological advances in creating new worlds in James Cameron’s “Avatar,” the time at last arrived to finally make this adaptation happen.

Despite already being aware of the mixed reviews the film has been getting, I still went ahead and saw a screening of it Thursday evening. While I definitely went away with understanding why it’s gotten some not-so good ratings, I still liked it.

An immediate reason to admire the film is the special effects used to create the worlds that can be seen throughout it. From a virtual reality marketplace to the city of a thousand planets itself, it’s hard not to get caught up in the spectacularly detailed universe that Besson has brought to the big screen. When you compare it to the visual effects for “The Fifth Element,” it’s remarkable to see just how much technology has involved throughout the past twenty years.

People have complained how the dialogue isn’t that well-written. Some say that it might even be kind of campy. Not that I don’t agree with that critique, but it’s actually not that far off from the writing in the comics “Valerian” is based on. Knowing well in advance that I wanted to see this film, I took the time to check out a few of the original comics, just to get a feel for the characters and universe it’s set in. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the French-to-English translation or if it originally sounded like that in the original French, but the dialogue in the original comics is also incredibly campy.

I’ve heard critiques about the constant back-and-forth flirting between Valerian and Laureline. While I believe there was a lot more of that than necessary, again, their relationship in the film wasn’t that far off from the source material as well. While I haven’t gotten that far into the comics yet, I’m only aware of that based on previous readings about it. Besides, if anything, through their constant bickering, what comes across to me is that at the end of the day, men need to legitimately listen more often to the women in their life (and in this day and age, that can most definitely apply to more men than just Valerian). I do wish the film explored the backstory as to how they met (and if you’ve read the comics, then you’ll know that even in the beginning, Laureline was saving his ass).

There were several elements in the plot where it felt like it was adding up to be too much, such as Laureline figuring out where to go and rescue Valerian and when Valerian was recruiting help to save Laureline. It just felt like one too many sidesteps away from the general story at large.

In the end, it’s fair to say that while there are some parts of it that I thought could have been better, I found “Valerian and the City of a Thousands Planets” to be an entertaining film. Compared to the last film I saw directed by Besson (which was the 2014 film, “Lucy”) this one was definitely better. Everyone is free to have their opinions about it, and I’ve already shared mine. What I will say is that I would hold off on calling it the worst film of the summer; especially when “The Emoji Movie” is coming out next week.


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