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In the 28th century, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense, 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 each other. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force which threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Twenty years after blowing minds with The Fifth Element (1997) and eighteen years after the first of at least two failed retirements, Luc Besson has returned to epic sci-fi with an adaptation of Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières’ Valérian and Laureline (pub. from 1967 to 2010), entitled Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Many of Besson’s films have had a basis in science fiction comic books – The Last Battle (French: Le Dernier Combat, 1983), Angel-A (2005), and Lucy (2014) have vague connections to the medium, The Fifth Element is a kind of catch-all homage to the Heavy Metal/Métal Hurlant anthology magazines, and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (French: Les Aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec, 2010) was loosely based on a series by Jacques Tardi (aka: Tardi). Valerian continues the trend, but Christin & Mézières’ series is so influential on everything from Star Wars to Independence Day (1994) and, not surprisingly, The Fifth Element, for which Mézières served as a concept artist.

I’ve read quite a few Valérian and Laureline stories, but I’m nowhere near an authority on the series’ lore or particularly opinionated when it comes to adaptation. That said, I think Besson’s variations are pretty authentic modernizations of the comic’s defining elements. The episodic storytelling and emphasis on swashing and buckling feels in tune with Christin’s writing without sacrificing the needs of the plot, and its colourfully cartoonish special effects all tend to match the feel of Mézières’ art. And, in recreating these specific tones, Besson does a lot of what he does best. The dense CG vistas and cityscapes are transformative backdrops for bristling action set-pieces – some of which can, admittedly, become numbing in the same way any indulgently digitized action movie does. At the very least, Besson offers more variety than the average sci-fi action/superhero movie. Though he’s sometimes set in his family-friendly Arthur and the Invisibles (2006) mode, the dedication to imaginative spectacle makes a reasonably satisfying companion piece to The Fifth Element.

 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
However, Valerian does falls short bringing its beloved characters to the big screen. This is a mix of bad casting choices, oddly disjointed performances, and a lack of time. The time issue is expected, because, even in their original incarnations, Christin & Mézières’ characters required several issues/strips to develop into the lovable figures with full lives and evolving personas. Really, little of the universe’s complexities, beyond the sheer quantity of alien species, can be expressed in a single movie. Besson simply doesn’t have the wiggle room to paint a complete portrait of intergalactic politics (that, and he may not have wanted to make any outwardly left-leaning statements in his internationally-sold blockbuster). What we do get is a rather broad, easy to appreciate sentiment about valuing life and not trusting authority – especially military authority. It makes sense, but it’s disappointing, especially since it seems unlikely that Besson will make any sequels. Beyond these structural confines, the casting choices are the more immediate issue, especially Dane DeHaan has Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline. Both are fine in their own right and Delevingne is especially good in her scenes without DeHaan, but neither – especially not DeHaan – fit the gallant, yet compassionate heroes from the page. They also have zero chemistry and bear an uncanny resemblance to one another (I can’t have been the only one to notice this?), which makes their will they/won’t they relationship especially awkward. In both of their defenses, Besson seems to have been more interested in the bug-eyed support cast and digital actors than the lead humans. Ultimately, the issue is easy enough to overlook

 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Video


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was shot using Arri Alexa XT digital cameras and anamorphic lenses, and was then post-converted into 3D for theatrical screenings. This 2D Blu-ray release is presented in 1080p. 2.40:1 HD video. I’m sure that cinematographer Thierry Arbogast’s photography was especially impressive on a giant 3D screen, but the effect still works on a small screen, thanks to the sheer quantity of fine details and overlapping elements. Everything, from physical props and costumes, to digital creatures and backgrounds is brimming with clean, yet complex texture. There are no notable compression or over-sharpening effects and the artefacts that are present tend to match the typical ‘limitations’ of digital photography (such as slight noise within dark, warm gradations) and the Blu-ray format (sometimes there just isn’t enough umph to unload every single little decorative bit). The blurry backdrops and soft diffusion blend tidily without a lot of unintended bleeding. The tight details are matched by an incredibly eclectic, encompassing neon interiors, pastel landscapes, cosmic spacescapes, and cityscapes that utilize a veritable rainbow of hue choices.

Audio


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is presented in Dolby Atmos sound, but this review pertains to the Dolby TrueHD MA 7.1 core audio. This is a typically busy, big-budget sci-fi action mix, including brash, noisy action beats and well-rounded ambient moments. The bombastic explosions, spaceship engines, and howling creatures will push your system to its limit in terms of volume, while the unique sci-fi sound design offers impressive stereo and surround movement. Dialogue and incidental effects are clean, well-centered, and not lost in the excitement. Composer Alexandre Desplat’s score dips into some really cheesy Disney cartoon territory, but is plenty epic and fills the space beautifully during the film’s quieter moments. In fact, I’m not sure if the score and accompanying pop/rock interludes let up for more than a couple of minutes at a time, which makes it the most consistent aural element.

 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Extras


  • Enhancement mod – Here’s something I haven’t seen on a Blu-ray in a while. With this mode activated, the viewer can be taken to relevant ‘video pods’ (featurettes) whenever a prompt appears on screen. There are 13 total and they can also be accessed via the main menu with a ‘play all’ option (35:58, HD).
  • Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe of Valerian (59:04, HD) – An extensive behind-the-scenes documentary broken down into five parts:
    • Paper, Ink, Flesh, Blood: Origins and Characters – Besson, producer Virginie Besson-Silla, and creators Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières revisit the original comic and the long process of developing it for the big screen.
    • To Alpha and Beyond: Production and Stunts – The cast & crew explore the creature/set/production design, planning the action scenes, and actor stunt training.
    • It Takes Two: Valerian & Laureline’s Partnership[/i] – DeHaan and Delevingne’s discuss their characters and comic book counterparts.
    • Denizens of the Galaxy: Humans and Aliens – More on casting and characters, including Rihanna’s Bubble, Ethan Hawke’s Jolly the Pimp, the Doghan-Dagius, Alain Chabat’s Bob the Pirate, Clive Owen’s Arün Filitt, and others.
    • The Final Element: Visual Effects – A look at the extensive digital effects and performance capture processes, complete with before-and-after comparisons.
    • Wrap Up
  • The Art of Valerian image gallery
  • Teaser and final trailers


 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Overall


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets can’t quite live up to the lofty quality of its source material (material that has already been mined bare by other film properties), but it’s still a fun, entertaining, and vivid space opera with adorable alien creatures and an outrageous, space-age Rihanna burlesque dance. I’m confident that Fifth Element’s fervent fan-base will enjoy it, despite its major casting issues. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray comes fitted with a beautiful, vivid 1080p transfer, a lively, music-filled Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and a solid assortment of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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