Review by C.J. Bunce
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, reviewed here at borg.com, is a summer marvel, director Luc Besson’s epic sci-fi, space fantasy we loved, but was overlooked by many because of its clunky title, its lackluster publicity efforts, and its spectacular visuals that overshadowed its simple love story in the eyes of many mainstream movie critics. It deserves another look, and for those who missed the story for the special effects, its novelization by author Christie Golden is a great way to see what you may have missed. Another movie that suffered similarly, but only for U.S. audiences, was director Yimou Zhang’s epic film The Great Wall, reviewed here at borg.com, a late winter release full of inspired, colorful, medieval martial arts battles, but a thinner narrative that was also arguably overshadowed by its own dazzling imagery. Mark Morris’s novelization of the film fleshes out and clarifies the roles of all the characters that filled the enormous cinematic event.
Putting the movies aside, if you’re a fan of novelizations–if you just enjoy experiencing a film word by word, zipping along with a fun action adventure–each of these books should accompany you in your luggage on your next vacation. I’ve read and enjoyed this segment of genre fiction for years, and remember spending cross-country trips in the backseat of the family car reading the novelizations of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, and the 1989 movie Batman. Years ago before videos, DVDs, Blu-rays, and digital HD, when the prospect of seeing the movie again in the near future was slight, fans really could only turn to novelizations and the rare films that received the comic book adaptation. You might think the market may not be as great for novelizations today, yet movies continue to get re-written into novels. And many are still reading–and loving–them.
Both Valerian and The Great Wall have similar narrative structures. Both involve two protagonists that embark on a hero’s journey against a giant landscape of action and activity. In Valerian, two spacepilot operatives are charged with the mission to re-capture a stolen artifact, and along the way they are pulled into a greater conflict involving the fate of millions. In The Great Wall, two medieval warriors are on a quest to seek the rumored new creation called gunpowder, when their search is cut short by a rare, mythic encounter that could spell certain doom for the cities bordering China’s Great Wall. The relationship of each of these pairs of characters is very modern, full of dialogue with modern quips, verbal sparring and ribbing each other despite their friendships, and the characters themselves are not necessarily relatable or even likeable at first glance. If you don’t immediately buy the characters’ relationships, then the global conflict they take us through, despite the films’ epic visuals, may simply not work for you. But if you give them a chance and jump aboard with the characters, then both stories can be great fun. The novelizations are a great way to give them that chance.
Without the cinematography, the music, the sound, or the dazzle of both of these great looking movies, the novels provide fans even more world building and backstory than made it onto the big screen. Secondary characters are deepened and expanded. Military commanders whose names may have blown past audiences (Commanders Chen, Wu, and Deng) in the film The Great Wall become distinct characters with clarified motivations in the novel. Similarly, we get to witness and understand the actions of the cool and confident (and very Corporal Hicks-like) Sergeant Cooper, a key character from Valerian that the film breezed past too quickly, along with all the secondary alien characters that the key players encounter.
This isn’t to say the movies don’t have great stories. But if you found the plots hard to follow, or if you skipped the films entirely and just like a good science fiction or fantasy escape, both of these novelizations are worthy of consideration.
The Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets novelization by Christie Golden is available now here, and The Great Wall novelization by Mark Morris is available here, both from Amazon. Both are from Titan Books.