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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Entry updated 30 June 2018. Tagged: Film.

Film (2017). EuropaCorp presents a Valerian SAS and TF1 Films production with the participation of OCS and TF1 and in association with the Belga Film Fund, BNP Paribas, Fundamental Films, Novo Pictures, Orange Studio, River Road Entertainment and Universum Film GmbH. Directed by Luc Besson. Written by Besson, based on the Comic series Valérian and Laureline (November 1967-March 2018) by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Cast includes Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, Rihanna and Kris Wu. 137 minutes. Colour.

Military SF duo Major Valerian (DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) expose a conspiracy to cover up an intended genocide of an Alien civilization whose remnants are living as a Wainscot Society aboard the Alpha-Galactic Space Station.

This decorative and long-winded exercise in science fiction baroque from Pulp auteur Luc Besson hurls so many themes and Clichés from the armamentarium of sf at the viewer that one cannot help but admire the almost-winning combination of financial hubris and visual élan on the part of its writer and director; anyone, however, easily offended by the often-illiterate relationship of Cinema to the commonly-understood protocols of the SF Megatext may wish to leave the inchoate allure of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to those of a more painterly disposition.

The International Space Station has by the 28th century become a Macrostructure of a City travelling through deep space; "Alpha-Station" has after 700 million miles of travel across the galaxy collected a populace of over 30 million from 3,236 alien species, some breathing air, some living in liquids or amid gaseous Dimensions, some specializing in information Technology or in Money, but all, it would seem, interacting with one another via a Virtual Reality that mediates the fragile economy (see Economics) of this melange of Parallel Worlds. "To retrieve your purchases please place your items in the transmatter (see Matter Transmission) box and enter your DNA code." Agents Valerian and Laureline arrive on Alpha-Station as a result of a Space Opera-style search for the McGuffin of a "Mül converter", a small, amphibious creature capable of replicating anything it eats. Valerian receives a message of mysterious origin (see Telepathy) while in transit to the station but is too distracted by the screwball Humour-inspired relationship with partner and love interest Laureline – "My Ivy League education taught me to steer clear of bad boys like you" – to pay it much mind. He complains about her driving; she bemoans his lack of commitment.

There follows a delirious and swirling series of chase sequences – the plot of the film is not much more coherent than the management of its themes – incorporating Cyberspace, Invisibility, Transportation through various of the constituent elements of the station, an impromptu alliance with a burlesque Shapeshifter called "Bubble" (Rihanna), a Memory Edit performed by a handy cephalopod, a trio of long-nosed information brokers, a covertly-programmed Robot army and the betrayal of the agents by duplicitous superior Commander Arün Filitt (Owen). It emerges that Filitt has erased all record of the nuclear Holocaust he ordered thirty years earlier during a War between Galactic Empires of humans above Mül, irrevocably harming the largely-aquatic planet and the community of languid, peace-loving Aliens that occupied the Archipelago on its surface. Princess Lihö-Minaa (seen during the film's prologue) has transferred her soul "across space and time" (see Eschatology) and into Valerian's body and has been subtly directing his actions (see Parasitism and Symbiosis). The combination of the Mül converter with a "pearl" (a sort of Power Source capable of Xenoforming an environment to suit the Ecology of the aliens) would allow the alien race to construct a Spaceship whereby to escape the depredations of the militaristic Alpha Security Council and rebuild their civilization anew. This engenders an intense, last-minute discussion between Valerian and Laureline about love as the solution to every inter-species dilemma.

While much of the critique of Western democracy (here termed the "United Human Federation" or the "Galaxity") as prone to Imperialism and realpolitik survives the transition from comic book (first published in the magazine Pilote (1959-1989) and thereafter in various comic Anthologies and Graphic Novels) to big screen, this far less so for the comics' arguments for natural simplicity as superior to hyper-Technology, for the efficacy of graceful, Gaia-like harmony over machismo and warfare and for the suppression of individualistic impulses as a means to undermine ingrained power structures. There is, however, some echo of the comic strip's somewhat essentialist portrayal of the ability of Women in SF to manipulate men via Sex, and Besson, who first conceived of the possibility of adapting Valérian and Laureline while filming The Fifth Element (1997), shows flair for depicting the disruptive force of his protagonists via movement and a flicker-book flurry of filmic quotes. The film's budget of €197 million made it the most expensive French movie ever made on its release but as with other high-concept cinematic attempts to conjure up the oneiric capacities of Fantastika such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and Jupiter Ascending (2015), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets struggled to surpass its budget at the box office.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: The Official Movie Novelization (2017) is by Christie Golden. [MD]


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