Back from the cinema, my third visit in the last two months, and for me that’s prolific. Between the trailers I’d seen, and my recollection of having two, or maybe three of the Valerian graphic novels in the Eighties, when they were first translated into English, I was looking forward to what I got: good, fast-paced space opera, heavy on the CGI, check your brain at the door stuff, and none the worse for that if that’s what you want to see. Usually, I don’t, but so what?
Based on the critical and financial response to the film so far, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like scoring high on both the Turkey List and the Flop List, which is a damned shame because I’d love to see a sequel. With the exception of one sequence that I’ll come to shortly, I loved what I was watching, and the only drawback was that by deciding I was just too knackered to go yesterday, I deprived myself of the chance to see the film in 3D. That would have been brain-stunning.
The film started off perfectly. Over a soundtrack of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, we were treated to a sequence that mixed CGI construction and real footage, showing the building of the International Space Station and that first handshake in space as Russian docked with American, and built on that by upping the ante, as the station grew, as the greetings became easier and more direct, as more and more nations expanded into space, before switching to humanity greeting ever more exotic aliens, with everyone bringing more and more pieces to bolt on, until the ISS became Alpha, grew too big for Earth’s atmosphere and was moved out into the cosmos: a centre for an unbelievably shapeless construction that was home to millions of races, species, cultures, all mingling, sharing, interacting.
Bloody hell, it was quite emotional.
But within all apples,there must usually be a worm. There was a planet, of lean, graceful humanoids, a plant of oceans and beaches and peace, destroyed as the bi-product of a war between cultures that didn’t even care that these people existed. One, a Princess, dies and her telepathic emanation takes root on Valerian, en route with Laureline to a mission, but in the meantime relaxing on a holographic beach. Laureline, played by Cara Delivingne, is in a bikini: in fact, she spends much of the film relatively unclad, though the film doesn’t noticably linger on her (I’d have noticed, trust me, I’d have noticed). Valerian, unsurprisingly, is trying to get off with her: they’re partners (Major and Sergeant) not lovers.
I’ve decided not to dwell on the plot because this is not the kind of film where that’s essential, and anyway it’s more of a one-thing-after-another plot rather than a carefully constructed story. Basically, it’s a series of excuses to go wild with the CGI which, being European rather than American, constructs a completely different appearance. There’s no attempt to be shiny, or new, or natural: it’s all metallics, and lived-in griminess, dark corridors and such, and a colour scheme that applies bright, steely shades rather than anything naturalistic, which I found incredibly effective. It’s a space station: it’s supposed to be artificial.
There is a villain and for those who haven’t yet seen the film, he spends a lot of time offscreen, and he’s a pretty evil bastard at the end of it, and he doesn’t seem to be the only one who thinks that way. A lot of people have complained about the absence of a clearly-identified Big Bad that everyone’s conspicuously working against, but that would have been too much of a cliche: finding out what’s going on is a large part of the momentum of the film.
And the relationship between the two heroes has been substantially retained from the comics. True, Valerian is not quite the square-jawed dum-dum leading man, but Laureline is every bit as sceptical, independent and sarcastic as I could hope. True, she needs rescuing by Valerian from one of the more imaginative scrapes I’ve seen in a long time, but that’s only after she’s gone out and rescued him. People criticise Cara Delivingne’s acting, but it was plenty good enough for me.
As I said, there was one sequence that I didn’t like and that was when Rihanna played a cameo as a shape-shifting dancer. All very clever effects, seamless of course, but, come on, it’s bloody Rihanna, and that’s going to date worse that a corded telephone and besides it stopped the film dead. And I mean dead. It’s an intrusion, an insertion, two minutes in the same spot when all the time the film is moving, moving, moving.
At least she got killed off, but that stopped the story again.
So, I liked it. I got what I wanted and expected (except for the 3D). I’ve mentally ordered the DVD already. And I’m wondering where on earth I can put the books as I start collecting them. From the beginning, this time.