You must watch Valerian!

 

You must watch Valerian!

Published: Tue 18 Jul 2017, 12:59 PM

Last updated: Sat 22 Jul 2017, 6:18 PM

Ever since I saw the first trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets toward the end of last year I've been obsessed. The trailer gave a tease to an epic sci-fi fantasy set in space, with aliens, secret missions and a love story. What intrigued me about the short trailer wasn't only the epic visuals, music track and an interesting cast but I could see very clearly that this world where the story is set is well thought out, well researched and realistic within its fantastical context.

Then I saw the name Luc Besson came up as director and I understood why I was so drawn to this film. The French film director and screenwriter, is one of my favorites. He's written and directed some cult classics such as The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. I've always found Luc Besson's style and approach to storytelling in film incredibly unique in comparison to his contemporaries. He has the uncanny ability to build a world convincingly and guide the viewer through out all its complications, intricacies and nuances without confusing them.

His movies from dialogue, aesthetics, music and pace, feel like a novel. Though it's due, the credit can't all be given to Besson. Let me explain.
The Story
I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of the movie and I wasn't disappointed. The film centrers around its two main characters - special operatives Valerian and Laureline. Set around 400 years from the present, a dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets, which was initially a venture that began in the orbit of earth to bring the universe together. Valerian and Laureline must race to identify this menace that threatens the peace of Alpha and the future of the universe. But not all is as it seems (then again when is everything as it seems?). As they meet countless of species of aliens and humans across the universe we get a detailed and poignant look at a world and a story, that is although set 400 years in the future, suffers from the same political, social and humanitarian issues and problems we have faced in the past and still face today.
The History
This engaging narrative and mesmerizing world is in fact not a modern creation. Valerian is based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. The comic series is epic. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967 (ten years before Star Wars) the final installment was published in 2010. The comic has been a major influence on many mainstream sci-fi fantasy and space operas like Star Wars and Star Trek. Besson did an amazing job in introducing this influential tale to new audiences in a manner that maintains the unique elements that made the comics special while also making it clear that the story is seeped in a history all of its own that has acted as a source of inspiration to other space franchises.
The Film
The film opens brilliantly with the iconic song Space Oddity by David Bowie. I couldn't think of a better way to start a film.

The movie stars Dane DeHaan as Valerian who I initially thought was a random choice but found that he fitted the role of the "classical hero" well in his own way. Kind, strong and brave, a bit of a "playboy" he follows the orders of his superiors even if he feels that might not be the right thing to do. In many ways, he takes that classic male hero thing and doesn't turn it upside down but has definitely made it his own. Because to be honest, DeHaan doesn't actually look particularly like the classic male hero but somehow (and I give credit here to DeHaan's acting skills) he pulls it off.

Supermodel Cara Delevingne is Laureline. Delevingne has often expressed that deep down she's an actress more than a model. I haven't seen her other films, Paper Towns being the most popular I think, but I was incredibly impressed by her performance. Her accents was on point in my opinion and she was brilliant at revealing the many facets of Laureline from superior intelligence, wit, determination, sex-appeal and sensitivity in a manner that was relatable and uniquely her own.

The film also stars Clive Owen (brilliant), Ethan Hawke (amazing) and Rihanna (meh.). For someone who I suspect was cast purely for commercial purposes (who wouldn't want to go see Rihanna in a film?) her performance fell flat. This is incredibly unfortunate given the fact that her character of Bubbles is fun, interesting and poignant. She just wasn't good.

By Maan Jalal
 maan@khaleejtimes.com

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