Saturday, June 9, 2018

Stubs - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer Directed by Luc Besson. Screenplay by Luc Besson. Based on Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Produced by Luc Besson and Virginie Besson-Silla Run Time: 137 Minutes. France Drama, Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Few films have been more of a disappointment at the box-office than Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a big-budget space opera from the filmmaker that brought you another such film, The Fifth Element (1997). While The Fifth Element was, at the time, the highest grossing French film at the foreign box-office, it was not universally loved by audiences and critics. Valerian did not fare nearly as well, tanking at the box office with only $225.9 million worldwide on a budget of between $177 and 205 million.

A sample of the artwork from the comic book Valérian and Laureline.

Based on the long-running French science fiction comic book series Valérian and Laureline (1967 to 2010), the film did not fare well with fanboys and general audiences combined. There were those who were not happy with the casting that didn’t seem to fit with the heroes in the comic book and there were those, like myself, with no prior knowledge that found the film to be a disappointment, though, by the time I saw it, I wasn't expecting much.

Unnamed aliens come aboard the space station while it still orbits Earth.

The film starts out in the not too distant future aboard the International Space Station. After welcoming all the countries on Earth, the space station began welcoming aliens from other planets.  With each new wave, the space station grew larger, so that by the 28th century, with its size and mass threating Earth, the station is sent out into deep space. Now called Alpha (for lack of something better), the city, as it is called, becomes inhabited by millions of creatures from thousands of planets.

The President of the World (Rutger Hauer) announces that Alpha is being sent out into space.

Cut to the idyllic world of Mül, sort of like a space version of a tropical island. The inhabitants live a peaceful life, fishing for pearls that possess a great amount of energy and using specialized creatures, called converters, to replicate them. They live in balance with their planet, making a point to give some of their bounty back to the planet. They are lead by a King whose daughter, Princess Lihö-Minaa (Sasha Luss), seems to the apple of everyone’s eye. But their world is crushed when debris starts falling from the sky, the remnants of a space battle of which their planet is collateral damage. When it starts to explode, many, including the Princess, are killed, while others escape in one of the fallen spaceships.

The idyllic world of Mül is destroyed by falling space debris.

Before she dies, the Princess lets out a telepathic message which finds its way to Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan), a member of the United Human Federation, a special force designed to keep peace in the galaxy. His side-kick and love interest, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), is also there.

They are in a spaceship about to land, but they are stretched out on a virtual beach, you know, space travel has advanced.

Space travel has certainly advanced. Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) out of uniform.

Valerian is bothered by the vision and analysis reveals that he might have received a signal from across time and space. That’s when he learns that the two are on a mission to retrieve a Mül converter, which is supposedly the last of its kind and currently in the hands of black market dealer Igon Siruss (voiced by John Goodman), the galaxy's most-wanted criminal. Before they set out, Valerian asks Laureline to marry him. It has the sound like he’d done so before and once again Laureline turns him down, telling him that she doesn’t want to be one more in his long line of conquests.

Laureline helps Valerian (Dane DeHaan) with his secret mission.

Igon Siruss operates out of an extra-dimensional bazaar called Big Market, which is also a major tourist attraction. Valerian and Laureline are joined by a special forces team that help smuggle Valerian into the other dimension with a gun. Valerian manages to stay invisible in this extra-dimension and walks into a meeting between Igon and two hooded figures who are also after the converter. Valerian recognizes the animal as having been in his vision.

Valerian manages to grab the converter, as well as a pearl, and make his escape, only he can’t get the gun off his arm and that makes him a target. Igon tries to get the converter back, unleashing a monster-like animal after Valerian. With the help of the special forces, who end up giving up their lives, Valerian and Laureline manage to call for their ship and make an escape.

On the journey to Alpha, Valerian tries to access information about Mül, which was destroyed 30 years ago but finds all information about the planet has been blocked and marked as classified.

Laureline and Valerian are assigned to guard Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen).

On Alpha, they’re informed by Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen) that the center of the station has been infected by an unknown force and rendered it highly toxic. Troops sent into the area have not returned, and the infection is growing. Laureline and Valerian are assigned to protect the commander during an interstation summit to discuss the crisis. Against the Commander's wishes, Laureline maintains possession of the converter.

During the summit, the attendees are attacked by the humanoids, who manage to incapacitate everyone before kidnapping Filitt. Valerian manages to hide a cutter and frees himself before Laureline. Valerian takes chase but Laureline finds herself under arrest for insubordination. A couple of bumbling guards take her away without placing handcuffs on her. When she suggests they do, she cleans their clocks and escapes.

Laureline turns to duck-like aliens, shingouz, for help tracking Valerian.

Laureline enlists the help of three shingouz, duck-like aliens, to track Valerian. With their help, she ends up on a submarine which takes her through the water part of Alpha. She manages to find Valerian unconscious at the edge of the contaminated zone. But after waking him, Laureline is captured by a primitive imperial tribe for the planet Goara, known as Boulan Bathors; Jar Jar Binks with a weight problem. Valerian takes chase but loses her.

Rihanna plays a shape-shifting alien who is more of a diversion than anything else.

He ends up getting roped into a brothel by Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) where he is entertained by a shape-shifting alien called Bubble (Rihanna). With her help, they manage to fit in with other Boulan Bathors. Meanwhile, Laureline is dressed and prepped as food for the Emperor. She’s wearing a large brimmed hat, with a hole over her head, as well as a couple of large slices of lemon. Before the Emperor can slice into her head, Valerian and Bubbles save her. The Boulan Bathors don’t go down without a fight and are killed. However, Bubbles is mortally wounded and dies.

Laureline, Valerian, and Bubbles have to fight and defeat the Boulan Bathors.

Valerian and Laureline quickly realize as they venture into the “infected” area that it is not actually toxic at all, but does contain wreckage from an antique spacecraft. They find the humanoids from Mül, known as Pearls, with an unconscious Filitt. The leader of the Pearls, Emperor Haban Limaï (voice by Elizabeth Debicki) explains to Valerian and Laureline about how peaceful their planet was until it was ruined by a battle in space to which they were not involved.

He relates that the battle involved the human government fleet and that belonging to another species. Filitt, the human commander, ordered the use of a powerful missile that destroyed the enemy ship and caused it to crash into the planet. Filitt apparently knew what would happen to Mül and that it was populated.

He further explains that upon dying, his daughter, Princess Lihö-Minaa, transferred her soul into Valerian's body. He then relates that a small group of survivors took shelter in a crashed human spaceship. Over time, they managed to repair it and learned all about human technology and history. Eventually, they came to Alpha, where they assimilated more knowledge and built a ship of their own.

The only thing they needed was the converter and the pearl to launch the ship so they could find a planet to use their technology and recreate their homeworld.

When confronted, Filitt admits his role in the genocide but argues that it was necessary to end the war. The cover-up, which he orchestrated, was to prevent the humans from being expelled from Alpha. Valerian and Laureline disagree with him, stating that the commander has only been trying to save himself from the consequences of his actions. Then Valerian knocks him out again.

Valerian hands over the pearl he stole and, at Laureline's persistence, returns to them the converter, ignoring procedures.

As the Pearls' spacecraft prepares for takeoff, Filitt's pre-programmed robot K-Tron soldiers attack the Pearls, the government soldiers who were sent to assist Valerian, and their support staff, but are ultimately defeated. After the Pearls' spacecraft departs, Filitt is arrested.

Valerian and Laureline are left adrift onboard a still working Apollo Command/Service Module, which is identified by radio technicians as "Destiny 2005". Laureline finally answers Valerian's marriage proposal with a "maybe" as they wait for rescue.

There are so many things wrong with the film that has probably been spelled out before, but this is a review, so bear with me.

To begin with, so much of the film has nothing to do with the plot. As an example, the whole extended scene with Rhianna as Bubble has no real purpose in advancing the story, except to showcase her talents. They could have shown her to be a shapeshifter without the song and dance.

And what story there is rarely makes sense. Why a Major and a Sergeant would be on patrol together seems rather odd, since there are a multitude of ranks between them. Also, I believe Laureline mentions that she graduated from an Ivy League college, which means that she would most likely be an officer, not an enlisted grade.

The whole caper to steal back the converter from a multi-dimensional market simply smacks of an excuse to use special effects rather than any attempt to tell a coherent story. And when the rest of their crew is killed, there isn’t even a moment’s thought given to them, sort of like they were disposable.

And while there are a lot of special effects, sometimes they’re almost laughable, like the bus the special forces use to transport Valerian and Laureline to the market. That was not someone’s finest hour.

There is a Mos Eisley Cantina feel to Alpha being nothing more than an attempt to outdo Star Wars with an ever-expanding universe of unpronounceable alien creatures. You also have to wonder why Alpha would allow species living there to eat other inhabitants, which seems to go on with a certain regularity.

While I’ve never read the comic book that the film is based on, I’m not in a position to criticize the casting. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are a cute couple, but I would hate to think the future of the universe was dependent on the slightly built and narcissistic DeHaan’s Valerian. Delevingne’s Laureline seems to be more of a heroic character.

You have to wonder what attracted Clive Owen to the role of Filitt or Ethan Hawke to the role of Jolly the Pimp. DeHaan and Delevingne might still be building their careers and there are always ups and downs along the way, but you have to wonder why Owen and Hawke wouldn’t know better than to steer clear of this misstep.

It is hard to predict the future, as films fail time and again to nail it, but this future seems to be nostalgic for the 1970s. I’ve heard criticism about the values in the film, that even after 8 centuries old white men are still in charge and that sort of thing, but what I find ridiculous are the uniforms, like those we see The Commander wearing. They seem to be over the top not to mention silly-looking. You would expect that space travel would have made fabrics that were more streamlined.

Now I came into Valerian expecting the worst and sadly I was not disappointed. It's sad that so much effort, time and money was misspent on this effort. If you haven’t seen the film, all the stories you’ve heard about it are true. This is definitely one to miss.

1 comment:

  1. In 1997,director Luc Besson made a significant contribution to the annals of cinematic science fiction with "The Fifth Element",a visually stunning and offbeat movie. It would seem that he's trying again with this film,based on the French comic strip "Valerian And Laureline" by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres...regrettably,despite an able try,it appears that lightning isn't striking twice for the director.
    Part of the problem lays in its leads,Dane Dehaan (Chronicle,The Amazing Spiderman 2),who really isn't the leading-man type and Cara Delevingne (Pan,Suicide Squad),the chemistry between the two questionable at best,despite the fact that the pair are supposed to be playing lovers.
    Fortunately,the movie is still worth a look for its dazzling visuals,amazing even for something made after James Cameron's "Avatar". Also in play here is Besson's trademark sense of humor,which might not elevate this movie to great heights,but prevents it from becoming a dry,forgettable film.
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