Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I had previously never heard of the French comic books this is based on. I was interested because it was written and directed by Luc Besson, of whom I've been a fan since his early thrillers La Femme Nikita and Leon: the Professional, as well as what he is perhaps best know for in the US, The Fifth Element. I tried to stay spoiler free, but with the number of entertainment sites I frequent online, it was inevitable I would see headlines and short blurbs, although I was able to avoid anything more than a few seconds of any trailer. It is speculated that the comics, which began in 1967, might have been among the many influences for George Lucas in his creation of Star Wars, which is a possibility, but I think it a certainty that they inspired at least the look of The Fifth Element. That film contained less than 200 special effects shots, whereas Valerian boasts more than 2000. It is possible that was the only way to adapt the comics to the screen, so the question has to be, was it worth the approximately $220 million budget?
The spectacular visuals attest to the filmmakers' dedication to detail, but I would rather have seen more practical effects, and a stronger story. Many people will probably be reminded not only of the alien Na'vi from James Cameron's Avatar, the actions of Clive Owen as the Commander will seem very familiar too. He's willing to go to any lengths to maintain his control and his reputation. While it's hard to fault a space movie that begins with David Bowie's "Space Oddity," and Rhianna's dance sequence might be worth the price of admission all on its own, I'll still criticize this as too much flash, not enough substance. It looks gorgeous, but also too cluttered and chaotic most of the time, especially the action sequences with the actors running through virtual spaces, ships zipping around each other, or flying inside the giant space city Alpha, which happens to have gotten its start as our International Space Station. The opening sequence shows the station being expanded as more Earth countries develop space programs of their own, then later when alien contact has been made it gets even bigger, allowing for different environmental habitats for the various occupants.
I've been avoiding 3D features for a while, but in this case there were technical difficulties for the screening I paid for, so we were moved to the 3D showing at no extra cost. Having to wear the special glasses over my own prescription ones is never pleasant, straining my eyes and very nearly always giving me a headache. I was also never able to concentrate on anything but the center of the screen. It's possible some of the clutter of effects might have been as much a result of that than an actual fault with the film. So, even though disappointed overall, I'd still like to see it again, in 2D, so that I might be able to take in details across the whole screen. It won't be for the story or the acting, but I might be able to appreciate that better without the 3D distraction. I'm giving this a minor recommendation. If you had been interested before, don't let any of my comments change your mind. If you like dazzling special effects, exotic locales and mysterious alien creatures, this has that in spades.
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