Sunday, 13 August 2017

Valerian By Besson, Christin & Mézières

I am not necessarily a huge fan of Luc Besson, so normally if I'd heard he'd invested vast sums of his own money in a movie, and the movie had tanked, I would hardly be moved...

But as it happens, my heart goes out to him. Because that movie is Valerian, and it's enormous fun. I urge you to go see it before it disappears. 

(And, judging by the empty cinema where I saw it last Saturday night, that may not be long. Which is a real shame.)

I first encountered the Valerian comics, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières when I was working on Doctor Who, and I found them enchanting. 

The thing I remember most vividly about these colourful science fiction adventures is how they featured exotic creatures and their behaviour, instead of exotic devices and their function  — biology instead of technology.

And writer-director Luc Besson has succeeded in being true to this. Indeed, it is a pleasure to report how well he has succeeded, generally. Valerian (or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, to give it its full unwieldy title) may be rather silly...

But it is fun.

In fact, Besson seems to have absorbed the lessons of the Guardians of the Galaxy and has crafted a colourful, exotic, fast-moving science fiction romp which is cheerfully entertaining. In short, it's a Gallic Guardians of the Galaxy.

The movie's theme and treatment Besson also seems to be interestingly influenced by Ender's Game, another science fiction film with a baby-faced male lead. Plus, there's a dash of Avatar in here.

Now, the Valerian comics are actually a double act — Laureline and Valérian (the acute accent over the 'e' seems to have got lost to simplify matters), with the hero's female partner getting equal billing.

In the movie Laureline is played by Cara Delevingne, a successful model who began her career in movies with Face of an Angel, one of my least favourite films of all time. 

Here, though, she has a worthwhile movie, and her acting ability has developed pleasingly. And of course Besson is a heavily visual director, so it's no surprise that Delevingne looks so fetching clumping around in space armour and big boots. 

The eponymous Valerian is played by Dane DeHaan, who recently starred in the curious but memorable horror movie A Cure for Wellness. The two principals share baby-faced good looks and diminutive stature and have a routine, but entertaining, spiky almost-romance thing going on. They make a good team. 
Alexandre Desplat's music is another asset of the film. In an early sequence on the planet Mül he does an astonishing job of modulating from paradisiacal bliss to apocalyptic terror.

But it is in its visuals that Valerian is at its most stunning. Thierry Arbogast's cinematography is outstanding, and so is Hugues Tissandier's production design.

And Olivier Bériot's costumes must also be singled out for praise. (In the long list of credits at the end for the costume department there's the hilariously bleak one 'Dying and Ageing'.)

If Valerian has a weakness it's in Besson's dialogue — people bark "Copy that" in response to information, no less than seven times during the film. And there are plenty of other verbal clichés. 

So it's a pity the writer-director didn't get someone to do a quick dialogue polish for him. Particularly since his script is deceptively superb in its deft structure, expertly interweaving its plot threads and action sequences. (When this sort of thing is done successfully it looks easy, but it's actually very difficult to achieve.)

Incidentally, a re-writer might also have been able to fix an egregious lapse of scientific knowledge. Because unfortunately Besson seems to think "700 million miles" is a huge distance in space... 

In fact it wouldn't even get you out of our solar system.

Copy that.

(Image credits: Lots of lovely posters at Imp Awards.)

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