Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend sci-fi and fantasy fans finally get to see French director Luc Besson’s singular vision decades in the planning as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets arrives in theaters.  An adaptation of the fifty-year-old, popular, French comic book series Valerian and Laureline, the film delivers in a magnificent, grandiose way only Besson could deliver.  As with his sci-fi classic The Fifth Element, Besson–who also directed Lucy, The Professional, and La Femme Nikita–has added another genre-defining film to the list of must-see sci-fi movies.  If there’s any criticism due, it may be that the film in places is too much like The Fifth Element, but where Valerian falls short, it makes up for it with wall to wall action and alien creations that look nothing like anything Hollywood has ever produced.  It’s rounded out with spectacular production design by Hugues Tissandier (Lucy, Taken, The Transporter) and a riveting score by composer Alexandre Desplat (The Golden Compass, Argo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

  • Best use of 3D cinematography in a movie to date?  Check.
  • Best visual depiction of strange new worlds and new alien life in a film to date?  Check.
  • Best hold-onto-your-seats spaceship rides through these strange new places?  Check.

Credit Besson, WETA Digital, Industrial Light and Magic, and hundreds of other visual effects, special effects, make-up, costume and prop creators–Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like nothing you’ve seen.  Combine 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element, and you’ll have an idea of Besson’s big screen epic filled with all sorts of wonderful images.

Valerian is a snapshot of a day in progress in the life of two cocky space pilots.  The leads are two attractive, snarky and sassy, young and very modern, would-be lovers in a typical “will they or won’t they” set up–Valerian, played by Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-man 2, True Blood), and Laureline, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad, Anna Karenina).  Besson peppers the landscape of the big action sequences with the bare threads of their relationship, showing us if their relationship has room to be anything else beyond mere partners.  Beyond their through-line is a race to uncover the mystery behind an Avatar-inspired race of willowy peacelovers ravaged by war.  How are they related to a vision seen by Valerian, and are these peaceful people really the good guys or the bad guys?  But most of the time Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets is a non-stop rollercoaster ride as the leads assemble clues and rescue each other a time or two, as they try also to rescue a missing commander and uncover the mystery behind two unusual items in their possession: a rare magical pearl and a wide-eyed, pint-sized creature with extraordinary abilities.

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