Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Any time a movie gets a critical drubbing and is a failure at the box office, it makes me at least a little interested in watching it. Much of the time, my taste runs counter to both the critics and the movie-going public at large, so I always figure there’s a chance I might like such movies.

Which brings us to VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, a science fiction movie based on a French comic book. Now, the last science fiction movie based on a French comic book that I watched may well have been BARBARELLA. But this one was written and directed by Luc Besson, whose work I usually enjoy, so that was another reason to be guardedly optimistic.

The movie quickly establishes that over the new few centuries, the international space station continues growing and becomes the hub of an intergalatic civilization until it’s too big to remain in Earth orbit. So rockets push it out into space and set it on a course where it encounters even more alien civilizations and becomes the center of a huge space empire, with beings from a thousand planets living on it and sharing their cultures (hence the title).

Valerian and his girlfriend Laureline work for this space empire as some sort of intergalactic secret agents. (There’s a lot of handwavium and glossing over of details in this movie.) Their current job is to recover a creature who’s the last survivor from a planet that was destroyed thirty years earlier, or in the early part of the movie, from our perspective. This assignment leads them to uncover a sinister conspiracy and a threat to the very existence of the City of a Thousand Planets. There’s a lot of running, jumping, fighting, shooting ray guns, and speeding around in various space ships. Oh, and a shape-shifting alien played by Rihanna.

It’ll probably come as no surprise that I liked this movie. With a lot of spectacular CGI, it’s beautiful to look at, it moves really fast, and it held my interest all the way through. Some of the SF concepts are interesting, if a little goofy and over the top. Most of the reviewers who hate it complained about the acting, and I’ll admit, the two leads are miscast. Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevigne as Laureline both look like high school kids and don’t have much range. Delevigne is really good-looking but seems to have only two facial expressions, annoyed and really annoyed. This isn’t an acting showcase, though. It’s a movie based on fast action and mind-blowing concepts, and it delivers on those at least part of the time. And let’s face it, other than a young Jane Fonda stripping out of a spacesuit and the fact that the whole movie reeks of the Sixties, BARBARELLA doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, either. I’d say that VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is actually a better film.

Whether you’d think so or not is up to you, of course, but if you’ve been avoiding this movie because of the terrible reviews and because it bombed at the box office, you might want to give it a chance some evening when you don’t have anything else to do. I enjoyed it, and if it had spawned a series (fat chance now!), I’d have watched the sequels, too.


Buzz Dixon said...

I sooooo desperately wanted to love this movie. Every individual shot is gorgeous, several scenes are quite good, but it never seemed to jell as a whole.

Erwin-K said...

I saw Valerian on the big screen, as well. I just turned off my movie reviewer state of mind and enjoyed the film, as is. (I did the same for "JupiterAscending" with good results.) Even today Space Opera can be fun!

I graduated high school in 1965. My family subscribed to Time Magazine. Time's movie reviews were about to only ones I read in that period. I soon worked out an interoperation system for them. If they printed a review for an S-F or Fantasy movie, even if they called it "escapist trash," I needed to see it. ("Master of the World" for example.) On the other hand, if they gave a film ("Barry Lindon") the cover and five or so interior pages, I avoided it like the plague. That certainly worked for the teenaged me.

James Reasoner said...

I wish I had followed that rule with BARRY LYNDON. One of the worst movies I've ever seen. We had to go see it for a college class my wife was taking.