Monday, 7 August 2017

Valerian's visuals light up the screen

Valerian and the Planet of a Thousand Cities may not be quite up there with Luc Besson’s camp sci-fi classic, The Fifth Element, but it’s an enjoyable romp for the holiday season.

In part crowdfunded – helping make it both the most expensive European and independent film in cinematic history – it’s based on the iconic French sci-fi comic series, Valérian and Laureline, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières.

Valerian and Laureline are 28th-century special agents who have been sent to retrieve the last of a species of animal, known as a converter, from black market dealers.

But Valerian realises that the cute little creature – and an unknown race of aliens who are desperate to get their hands on it – have featured in an apocalyptic dream he had.

Back at a vast space station where millions of beings from across the universe live and work together, Valerian and Laureline are plunged into further danger when the converter is stolen and Commander Filitt tells them that part of this ‘planet of a thousand cities’ has become infected by an unknown force that is spreading.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne as the leads are perhaps not entirely convincing in terms of holding the film together – certainly at the beginning – but they grow into the roles and also have welcome help from Clive Owen as Filitt, Rihanna as Bubble, a shapeshifting alien chanteuse, and Sam Spruell as General Okto Bar.

Herbie Hancock, Ethan Hawke and perhaps particularly, Rutger Hauer, don’t really have enough screen time to make a great impact.

The plot is entertaining enough, with a nice ethical heart, but where the film unquestioningly wins is in its sumptuous, superb visuals.

There are all sorts of little references, as you’d expect from Besson: I’m not sure I’d be alone in seeing a subtle thread between the K-Tron robot warriors here, the battle droid army in George Lucas’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999), the Mondoshawans in The Fifth Element (1997) and Jacob Epstein’s Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill (1913-14).

Nor does it seem too farfetched to feel that in his central alien race, Besson has looked at what James Cameron did in Avatar – and then done it better.

And in the Doghan Daguis – a trio of devious, platypus-like characters – he seems to be saying that he can do irritating characters without going too far, as Lucas did with the legendarily awful Jar Jar Binks.

All in all, eminently watchable – and probably worth seeing more than once if only to play spot the reference and to enjoy the look of it all.

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