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ATYPICAL ANALYSIS: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Review)

I’ve been a film fanatic as long as I can remember. Films have molded my personality, created sparks in my imagination and have given me a career path to follow. ‘Review’ can be a dirty word nowadays, as a lot of our personal opinions don’t necessarily align with those of most critics. But, that’s why I love films. They divide us by also bringing us together in the most magical of ways. So, instead of giving you a review, I’m going to give you an analysis of what aspects are strong in the specific film, and what are weak. This is my Atypical Analysis.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Dir. by Luc Besson):

In the 28th century, Valerian (DANE DEHAAN, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Chronicle) and Laureline (CARA DELEVINGNE, Suicide Squad, Paper Towns) comprise a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense (Oscar® and Grammy®-award winning composer HERBIE HANCOCK) the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha — an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with one another.

Writing: Written entirely by the films director, Luc Besson; the script handles the copious amount of subplots quite well by simplifying the overarching narrative. The dialogue is silly at times, but, quippy enough to keep the audience smiling up until the end of the film. The one thing that really stood out to me was the dialogue played very similar to how it plays in the Valerian comic books (which are all in French). This was clearly a passion project through and through. Luc knew the source material and did his best to adapt it in a way that would appeal to an American audience. If there’s one thing that deterred the film from being ‘great,’ it’s Luc’s inability to connect with a younger, hip audience (which I will talk about a bit later). But, one thing I will say I loved was the very quick and brief nod to one of my favorite lines from the film ‘Taken,’ which Besson wrote.

Acting: With over 200 alien species showcased throughout the film, a lot of the performance utilizes motion capture…and, each alien truly has their own unique personality (one specific alien being played by John Goodman). On top of the alien cast, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna and even music legend Herbie Hancock (who seems to struggle a bit with his performance) guide us through the film. Clive Owen gives a solid performance as an overzealous General, Ethan Hawke gives an extremely fun performance reminiscent of Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element and Rihanna gives it her all, as it appears she’s having a blast with the character. But, this film wouldn’t exist without Agent Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne). The two play these characters with ease. While the chemistry is slightly lacking; it’s still infectious watching this two fight for the love of the other. What’s interesting is that both actors play their ‘Agent’ characters very straight. Even in the face of danger, they remain as calm as possible; which is a change of pace from what we’re used to seeing in our Summer Blockbusters. At first glance, this might seem like a poor acting or directing choice, but, it just makes sense for the characters to act this way under the circumstances.

Sound/Score: To me, this is one of the films strongest elements. Some of the most immersive sequences take place in ships flying through space; and boy, do they sound great! The sound design was truly breathtaking and the score kept me glued to the screen. A lot of films suffer from very ‘vanilla’ sounding scores, as composers are given a very strict guideline for what filmmakers want their films to ‘sound’ like. But, Alexandre Desplat channels John Williams circa 1980 with this one by creating such a magical soundscape. The moment we get past the forced use of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ we are given the first musical composition that truly sucks you into the film. I cannot say enough good things about this score. If you don’t see the film, throw some headphones on, look up a the stars and let your mind wander. This is a score that shouldn’t be left in the dust. Easily one of the best of 2017.

Visuals: Let’s be honest…one of the key reasons this film garnered so much attention (besides being directed by Luc Besson) was the stunning visuals. I mean, this film got a standing ovation when footage was screened at last years SDCC. While we’ve become used to films having ‘state of the art’ visuals, it’s always stunning to see aliens and creatures with such an inspired/unique design. There is one sequence where Agent Valerian wanders through a small virtual city, and boy oh boy does it look impressive. He pushes through a crowd of hundreds of alien species with a distinct look to them. What makes this sequence so impressive is the fact that no alien looks the same in any way shape or form. From the landscapes, aliens and look of space; this is one gorgeous film. The camera moves so confidently through each scene, and not a single bit of screen space is wasted. The press screening I attended was in 3D, and I can say that, while I’m not a fan of 3D, the depth to each scene was impeccable. The film wasn’t shot in 3D, but, the conversion is seamless. There aren’t any 3D gags, which is reassuring. The 3D is utilized to show the depth of each scene and makes the visual effects/colors pop even more than they already do. If you see this film, I recommend seeing it in 3D and on the largest screen possible. You won’t be disappointed if you’re going strictly for visuals.

Directing: I love Luc Besson. Leon the Professional, The Fifth Element and The Last Battle are some of my favorite films. His directing style is quite unique and has a sort of free flow to it while keeping the story wound pretty tight. One of the things that was lacking with this film was the childlike sense of joy and wonder. Each scene feels almost retro in the way that it plays, as Luc seems to have lost a finger on the pulse of the modern audience. If there was just a bit more energy to some of these scenes, this film could’ve been even better. At the end of the day, I think Luc was trying to make something for a younger audience; similar to what Lucas did with the Star Wars Prequels. One of the biggest missed opportunities here was with Agent Laureline. While she is a strong female character, I think if there was a bit more emphasis on her strength and independence, she would act as a role model for young girls outside of the Disney realm. Besson also spends a bit too much playing up the relationship between the Valerian and Laureline. But, this all comes back down to Luc not being as ‘hip’ as he should’ve been to make a film like this truly work. With all of that said, the way Luc tells the story comes off as easy to follow and very straight forward. There’s nothing too crazy or off the wall; and, even with the subplots, the film remains easy to view as pure popcorn entertainment.

Wrap Up: Was the film the sci-fi masterpiece we were hoping for? Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But, what Luc Besson was able to pull off with an IP that doesn’t have a large following like Marvel or DC was absolutely impressive. The passion behind this project shows with the confidence of the writing and directing. This isn’t a film about action or explosions; it’s a film about world-building, imagination, politics and love. So, if you’re going into this expecting huge action sequences, you will be disappointed. If you’re a fan of sci-fi films and want something that creates a slight feeling of nostalgia; this is one for you. Valerian is a politically driven space opera with an incredible score, dazzling/dream-like visuals and fantastic world-building. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets comes out July 21st, 2017. Get your tickets today!

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Nick Floyd

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Beauty and the Beast was the first film he can remember seeing as a child. He used to listen to film scores in his front yard and recreate full scenes using only his "imagination." The Goonies is a film he can quote from the opening credits to the end credits. He’s patiently awaiting the day when someone actually captures Sasquatch just so he can prove his parents wrong about what he really saw run across the street one dark and stormy night years ago. In 2008, he had a near death experience/encounter with a moose on the Stampede Trail in Alaska. To this day, he’s trying to adapt it into a full length film.