EFC 2.05 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Feat. The Music of Alexiane

“I’m not asking you to die for me. I’m asking you to trust me.”

That’s A Very Nice Hat

“1 minute 10 seconds, a new record!” exclaims a halfling sized creature that looks like a cross between the ugly duckling and a gargoyle. Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) dizzily removes a bulbous, blue fluorescent jellyfish from her head and collapses on the dock inside a Big Blue subterranean cavern.

Wearing this psycho-magical creature had allowed this attractive space agent a brief, but emotionally instructive glimpse of her equally attractive missing boyfriend, Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan).

CavernButterfly1

As her psychology intersects with the spirit dimension, she loses her composure and begins crying.

To retrieve the jellyfish, Laureline hitched a ride on the yellow submarine with Bob The Pirate, a slovenly looking conglomerate of Marilyn Manson, Aqualung, and The Dos Equis most interesting man in the world.

BobThePirate1
“Stay thirsty my friends.”

I had about two and a half seconds to size up this Wayne Coyne costume before the man was dousing his face with a vigorously foaming bottle of champagne, and beckoning his passenger from inside the hatch.

Laureline’s fleeting tears after this harrowing ordeal offer us the first hint that either her or her partner harbors an emotional life, apart from that of perpetual Disgust and boredom. And they are shed no sooner in the film than the half way mark.

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The 64 million dollar question is, was the emotional dead space by design? Or is it the tell that director, Luc Besson’s new sci-fi movie lacks depth? Both may be true. And it may not necessarily take away from your experience, especially if you are an avid fan of this tenured French action film director. It did take away from mine, however.

I’ve seen Besson’s other works: The Fifth Element (1997), Leon The Professional (1994), La Femme Nikita (1990), and Lucy (2014). And my sense is that depth has never been this filmmaker’s focus. In a Besson screenplay, “ooey-gooey” is far more likely to denote spilled human or alien guts, than it is a character’s sentimentalities. The beautiful irony is that, in his best films, sentimentality occurs nevertheless. This has much to do with the brilliance of the actors Besson has commanded previously.

What would The Fifth Element be without the cool charisma of Bruce Willis? Or the fearless audacity and delicacy of Milla Jovovic? Is there anybody in the Galaxy who could play Zorg better than Gary Oldman? So ruthless and calculating, and yet quirky in a manner that fits the film’s overarching style like a hand in glove. Oldman also lent his talents in The Professional, alongside Jean Reno and Natalie Portman who, cast at age 11, arguably steals the show.

CityAwe1

In Valerian, Besson commands a whole new set of actors. Some fare better than others in this hyperactive, visually extravagant space opera. Veterans, Clive Owen (Children of Men) and Ethan Hawke (Gattica, Predestination) make the most of their limited screen time. Somehow I missed Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), but he’s in it, apparently. You can’t miss Rihanna, even as her alien character shapeshifts between a multititude of different life forms.

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Rihanna as Bubble.

In my opinion the weakest performances came from the two young leads, Dehaan and Delevingne, as Valerian and Laureline respectively. Though, in their defense they aren’t given much to work with. Dehaan especially. His protagonist is a boyishly conceited, James Bond wannabe womanizer who is both bored and boring to watch. His arrogant, aloof demeanor, and the manner in which he touts his laundry list of sexual exploits, make his girlfriend want to punch him in the face at every turn seemingly (She isn’t the only one). Strange, For a boy who purports to have a girl living inside of him the entire journey, one would think she’d have made him a little less of a jerk. Oui? Noh?

Stink Eye1
I’m going to hit you, Valerian.

Oddly enough, I get the sense this is exactly the weak male lead character Besson wanted. Perhaps to make commentary on our flailing millennial male generation, the prototype of which seems similarly inept in matters of love and interpersonal commitment. I do not believe we are wholly responsible for this shortcoming, and I do not think Besson believes this either.

Love is old, love is new
Love is all, love is you

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Unless you can see love, how will you know its missing? Indeed we seem as blind to love as Valerian when Laureline pleads with him at the film’s climax. He thinks he understands love, and believes the concept to be less important than following the orders of his corrupt superiors.

But Laureline knows he does not truly understand this mysterious fifth element. She knows because she has seen its immeasurable power via the psychic jellyfish.

“No you do not understand…Love breaks all rules.” It transcends space and time. It stops wars. “I’m not asking you to die for me. I’m asking you to trust me.

Besson fails to nourish this inspiring concept enough for it to have a significant impact on the audience’s consciousness, or at least mine. Valerian’s intended transformation from boy to man throughout the adventure is even less convincing.

StinkEye2
Seriously, I’m going to hit you.

Rather than prioritizing character development, more energy appears vested in the world building and visual engineering of the film. Indeed the true strength of Valerian is its gorgeous visuals, which rival those of James Cameron’s Avatar. This city of a thousand planets inspires a sense of wonder, like a great work of architecture. What does it mean that our young heroes do not seem the least bit impressed by any of it?


EFC 2.05 Soundtrack: “A Million on My Soul” by Alexiane


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Release Date: July 21st, 2017 (France/USA)
Rated: PG-13

Director: Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon The Professional)
Writer: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mezieres, and Luc Besson (The Fifth Element)
Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rhianna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, and Rutger Hauer.

The Inside Out: Disgust (27), Anger (13), Sadness (9), Joy (6), Fear (5)

Disgust for Anna The love experts?

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25 thoughts on “EFC 2.05 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

  1. For Tyeth

    Hi there, and I have to thank you again. I have only seen the trailer for this film and I thought the visuals were good. I saw the trailer a second time, this time in 3D and the visuals really popped but something bothered me about both viewings and that was I thought the two leads were flat and 2D. Not literally but they gave me the impression that the characters were formulaic, like the best two cadets for the job were sent in and the interactions between them were awkward. I was worried it was me but your explanation of the performance has helped. I will give it a viewing when it comes out on Blu-Ray, even if just to find out about/see more of that city! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Experience Film

      Hello, Master Tyeth! I think you especially will appreciate the craftsmanship in this film. The planets are marvels to behold.

      I have never watched a trailer in 3D. Did you see it in a theater? Or at home somehow?

      Yes I think your impression of the two leads is correct. They improve in the second half.

      I def enjoyed the experience, but waiting for Blu-Ray seems appropriate.

      Thanks for the comment 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • For Tyeth

        Hello again, I was fortunate enough to get to see Rogue One twice at my local cinema and Valerian was featured in the trailers. As I mentioned the second viewing was in 3D and I was surprised to see the trailers were also 3D! And yes, when the sweeping shot through the space traffic appeared I subconsciously grabbed hold of the armrests of my seat to steady myself! And thanks again to you,

        Liked by 1 person

  2. raistlin0903

    I saw the trailer for this one in 3D, and was highly impressed by the amazing visuals. It all looked incredibly amazing. But visuals alone don’t make a movie. I thought the characters themselves looked pretty bland, and that I already made out from watching a 2.5 minute trailer. After reading this my gut feelings were confirmed for it. I still might check this one out at some point, but am not so sure if it will be in the theatres. Probably more likely that I will see this one on dvd. Another great and highly enjoyable review, but that’s really no surprise 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Experience Film

      How’d I miss the 3D trailer!? Was it in theater? I’ve never seen a 3D trailer.

      In particular I agree that visuals alone don’t make a movie. I was tempted to turn my review into an essay about how this movie could possibly be viewed as a satire for our materialist culture, obsessed with glam and consumerism but lacking substance. But in the end I tried to focus on the psychology.

      Thanks for the kind words 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • raistlin0903

        Yep, it was in the theatre. I saw the trailer last week, it was before the new Spiderman movie. It looked visually astounding as mentioned, but I was worried about the characters after just seeing the trailer. And I guess I was right. Speaking of characters: Dunkirk had that same problem. I hope to get my review ready for that today, but was definitely disappointed by that aspect in the film as well.
        Well, your review was great: so no worries about that 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    • Experience Film

      Yes you nailed it. Because interesting characters and dialogues trigger our emotions, which color our experience, making it memorable. Thus the visuals, or whatever, is more likely to stick. I think I learned that from “Inception.”😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Bobinsky

        I learned that by reading stuff about Avatar… I remember how people praised it at that time, but now more and more often over the web you can find discussions that the hype was exaggerated and it isn’t such a great movie. And I can comprehend this kind of thinking.

        What are your thoughts about Inception?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Experience Film

        Avatar is a good comparison. Inception is one of my least favorite Nolan movies.

        Too much action, not enough character. The second half is a cacophonous bull-rush of shooting and fist fighting that I myself was unimpressed by.

        The “payoff” at the end, which I think blew the minds of a lot of people, didn’t register with me quite like the ending of The Prestige or Memento (upon 3rd viewing lol)

        I give it a 7/10

        How about you?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Experience Film

        It’s funny we’re talking about Avatar and Inception in the same discussion because those are the two movies I’ve seen in theaters that I was the most disappointed by. Haha. Avatar I give a 6/10. I dock points for the same reason as Inception, same reason as Valerian, same reason as Marvel’s Dr. Strange. I don’t care about cool visuals or action fighting scenes. I want my heart elevated and ripped to shreds by great characters and dialogue 🙂

        Like

  3. Mr. Bobinsky

    I think Nolan is overrated in general. He is a great director who did awesome movies – withour doubt, but there’s one thing that always holds me back. He produces movies that can satisfy the general audience without making them looking dumb. Any occasional person who’s not keen on cinema could say “I love that movie by Nolan” and that will make him look like a person with good taste. He is obviously consistent and above average, no doubt.

    Other part of the audience – those roughly between 18 – 45 – are his perfect audience and thanks to them his movies get incredible scores on IMDb. His movies are challenging for this kind of auditory (dammit, I sound like a real snob here).

    In his movies there all necessary elements that are needed – there’s normally a deep thought or a study of human emotions, there’s enough action, tricks and suspense, the editing and photography are incredible, the actors involved are talented.

    But that is the problem. At least, for me. By doing all these things, none of them is really complete. For me watching his movies is always fun, but it’s like drinking a usual Cabernet Sauvignon on a resort in Thailand (please pardon my snobbery and take it with humour!!!:)), you know exactly what you receive before seeing the movie. Mostly. I don’t see him experimenting, just making smart blockbusters. Smart – but still blockbusters. Advanced, often touching – but still blockbusters.

    He is trying so hard to entertain and be creative that it doesn’t feel natural. There’s too much of technical perfectionism. Inception is a perfect example of this.

    This is by no means a hate speech. Nolan, as I said, is a wonderful director. He makes cool entertaining movies in a smart way, which is a very hard thing, by the way. There are literally few directors who work in the same genre and are so consistent. But that doesn’t mean being a visionary or genius.

    Does he has his own unique style though? I’m not sure. I don’t see him experimenting, like all great directors did. Jarmusch has a unique style. Lynch does. Wes Anderson does (I choose on purpose some living directors). Edgar Wright does, dammit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Experience Film

      (Gasps) Blasphemy! How dare you criticize our cinephiles lord and savior! JK Haha 😂 😂 .

      I love your comment! I read it twice and I accept it just as you’d like me to, with humor and I understand you think he’s still a good director.

      Yes, on IMDB especially I agree he’s overrated. But I think that also tells you something important, that he’s blowing people’s minds! Specifically, he’s getting people thinking with his films (At least I think that’s the reason so many people love him). He shows them an idea or concept they could not fathom before. And in our society that’s going down the drain, at least here in the U.S., we need more people thinking outside the box like that. Or at least, there own box.

      I also think its a good thing that more people can relate to his movies because it sparks discussions like ours, no?

      Great examples of directors with their own style. I love Lynch’s style! I’m a 2nd tier fan of Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright. What did Jarmusch do?

      I think Nolan DOES have a style. It’s just Cerebral. So it doesn’t FEEL like a style. The other directors you mentioned are artsy, visually and aesthetically. They play on your emotions. Nolan plays on your thoughts. But in order to do so his films come off as colder or more technical. Maybe.

      Are you Italian, btw?

      Like

      • Mr. Bobinsky

        Ha-ha thanks for taking it lightheartedly.

        Yes, it’s true that he blows people minds. But movies like Enough Said can do it too, just in a different way. So while I completely agree with what you say about making people think out of the box (their box!),
        I still feel some pity other movies receive less attention.

        As for the style… Well, yes, you’re right again. For me it’s too close to the clipmaking style though. I named some strong visual directors because I was comparing just the visual part of the movies. So regarding thoughts and plot turns, Nolan has many interesting ideas. But there are many others too. I think what makes him unique though is that he is one of the few who managed to combine thoughts, special effects amd big budget and still look smart, haha.

        No, I am Russian, but I live in Italy since long time. And you?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Bobinsky

        Yes, it can be very different too, depending on the area (altghough this can be said about almost any state, but here the difference may he particularly strong). North Americans have a soft spot for Italy… I’d love to visit the US too! 🙂 Which state?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Bobinsky

        Forgot to answer about Jarmusch. Well, during almost 40 yeats of his career he did many notable movies and his style is easy to recognize. Slow beautiful visuals, minimalism, odd but funny dialogues, overall low key atmosphere… But with all that – this is what makes him truly interesting – his films are not hard ti watch and are not some pretentious dull art-house. They are crazily entertaining, just there is littke action. Each movie is easy to recognize as his but they are all different. Incredible attention to details and dialogues. Like a low key version of Tarantino&Wes. 🙂

        Dead Man, Broken Flowers, Down By Law, Coffee & Cigarettes are probably my favourites.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Experience Film

        Oh, I’ve seen Broken Flowers! I watched that after I saw an interview with Bill Murray in which he said he felt it was his best performance to date. I appreciated his minimalism, and that of the film.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Bobinsky

        No… I have been so keen on him before that I decided to have a break. Same with Coppola, Tarantino… Some directors have such a distinctive style that sometimes you need a long break to look them in a fresh way again,

        Liked by 1 person

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