Adapted from the famous comic book series that inspired Star Wars, Valerian and Laureline attempt to retrieve a rare animal specimen that was taken from an uncharted lost world destroyed decades ago. But many people are after the lost animal called the replicator which can create copies of anything it eats. A conspiracy is underway in the City of a Thousand Planet that could lead to its destruction, if the replicator falls into enemy hands. But is the enemy Valerian and Laureline are chasing really the culprits?
I looked forward to viewing the film adaptation of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières since I first heard of the trailer. Valérian and Laureline is an important comic book series in France science fiction and the history the genre beyond Europe. Valérian and Laureline deeply inspired Georges Lucas’s Star Wars to the extent that Mézières upon seeing a Star Wars film years ago felt that his life work had been taken from him without attribution. If you feel that Valerian’s spaceship resembles the Millennium Falcon, don’t ask who designed their space ship first. Mézières did.
Luc Besson’s production proves that France and Europe are still relevant figure in popular film. We all know that the French and the Italians are renown filmmakers of dramas and thrillers but their blockbusters are not always as well known. It is funny to see Valerian referred to as a Hollywood production when it is anything but that. The actors may be English-speaking but the film is anything but an American production.
The story is simple and the acting commendable but not exceptional. It feels like one of those films that start a franchise and is just getting warmed up. There is a didactic element to the plot and the message of the film about respect for what one may perceive as a primitive culture. This is not a criticism. Instead, I will say that Besson has captured the right feel of this film which is kid-friendly without being infantilizing.
Valerian is a product of 1960s French culture and I could smell the Claude Lévis-Strauss anthropological discourse in the background of the film about the noble primitives educating the so-called advanced civilizations of the City of a Thousand Planets. Again, I am not criticizing Besson. He captured an essential feel in comic that would have been easy to discard and lose in an adaptation. If this movie had been American, it would not have been so didactic.
But the characters are really either bad or good. Valerian is introduced as a player but we don’t really see this. It feels like his attempt to conquer Laureline’s heart has already begun when the movie starts and his alleged bad boy past behind him. In a sense, it makes the development of the relationship between the two leads seem anticlimactic as we do not see much progress from Valerian’s side.
There is one touch that I liked in this film. In one scene Laureline makes an error when sharing information about a spatial port that Valerian can use to pursue the thieves who took the replicator. Instead of getting mad at her or make snarky comments, he simply acknowledges that errors happen and continues his quest. Although for more of the film there is bravado and bragging between the two heroes, when it matters, they work well as team. This is not something seen in American films.
Laureline is as much a star of this film. Much of the film gives her the free range to save the day. When it comes to the most important moral dilemma in the film, it is her who forces Valerian to break rules and do what is right. The comic has rebranded the series Valérian and Laureline years ago to highlight the importance of the characters who is no longer a sidekick but the most competent of the pair. The movie, probably for marketing reasons, did not call give Laureline equal billing in the title but let’s hope that this will change if there are sequels planned.
This film is a visual delight. That’s all I can say. While there are a few editing continuity errors that fans will enjoy catching for years, it also introduces several innovative science fiction concepts that I’m sure will be reused for years by other productions. The movie starts with a David Bowie song, so how could it not get me interested? Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is not exceptional but rightly entertaining.