VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (M, 137 MINS), DIRECTED BY LUC BESSON,
If you’re bothering to read this, then you’re probably already aware that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has tanked big-time at the US box office.
In a year not under-endowed with tent-pole turkeys – hello King Arthur, Ghost in the Shell, The Great Wall Valerian Valerian Dune, Valerian et Laureline
Star Wars The Fifth Element.
Besson’s translation of the comics is polarising. The cast are too young, the plotting is just too silly (I scrawled Avatargoes- to- Sesame Street in my notebook. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I’ll stand by it).
What I laughingly refer to as my credibility is probably about to take a dent bigger than the one it received when I said I liked Speed Racer. But I absolutely, flat out, completely indefensibly loved Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Besson (who also had a hand in the screenplay) is at his best when he lets his imagination off the leash and makes a film for the sheer pleasure of putting on a show.
And Valerian gives him every opportunity to go bat-poo mad with the digital crayons.
As a feat of design – glaring, absurd, joyous and insane design – Valerian won’t easily be toppled. We tend to save our praise for the gloom-ridden visions of Blade Runner and its ilk, while being dismissive of anything candy-coloured and hilarious.
But what Besson and his team have done here – on the biggest screen you can find – is just startling. The opening stanza, featuring Dane DeHaan – who is actually 31 years old, but looks about 12-and-a-half – being pursued through a transdimensional 28th-century mall by an intergalactic, multispecies goon squad sets the tone for a film that refuses to ever rest, explain itself or play by the rules.
If you like your sci-fi at the Douglas Adams, Doctor Who and Terry Pratchett end of the scale, then you might like this Valerian as much as I did.
The plot, what there is of it, mostly revolves around a conspiracy to cover up the destruction of the home world of the people of Mul. All of whom look – in a nice way – like the progeny of Kate Moss and a Klingon.
The planet of hairless and mostly naked vaguely reptiloid supermodels got caught in the crossfire of some great interstellar bust-up years before. And it’s pretty obvious that Clive Owen – an actor who almost always looks slightly miscast, here playing the requisite Brit baddie – is in it up to his vaguely Nazi-esque, but lime-green, breeches.
In truth, the plot is just an excuse to fling DeHaan, Cara Delevingne – as Laureline – and sundry others into a succession of set-pieces that can only escalate in their ludicrousness.
The Rihanna-as-shapeshifting-burlesque-dancer scene that is all over the trailers exists for no reason other than that it can.
But as a feat of design and film-making it’s going to be ripped-off and imitated for years.
By bombarding us with spectacle in every frame, Besson keeps us watching, but never actually absorbed. But, for all that, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets kept me grinning pretty much from beginning to end. – Graeme Tuckett