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« More TIFF Lineups: Midnight Madness and Platform | Main | Stage Door: Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in "Angels in America" »
Thursday
Aug032017

Five Lessons Learned from Valerian 

By Spencer Coile 

Although Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is not particularly good (see Dan's review), it is at least somewhat fascinating. Luc Besson's world-building is admirable if bloated, and there is definitely a lot of thought behind the action. It would be easy to detail all of the film's shortcomings but instead, let's talk takeaways.

Five Notes on Valerian

01. Laureline really knows Valerian's name
You could turn the number of times Laureline says Valerian's name in one scene into a very dangerous drinking game. In every line she utters she repeats his name in case we've forgotten it or the film's title. The film's title was initially Valerian and Laureline and was later changed to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It's not enough that the demoted Laureline must say Valerian's name constantly, but must bombard us with his importance, too...

02. Yes, Ethan Hawke does play Jolly the Pimp
In just one scene, Hawke manages to make every person watching the film go "HUH?" Not only is he given nothing to work with in his short screentime, but he leaves you wondering why he was in the film to begin with. These questions may never be answered. If anything, though, you can at least start a conversation with, "So, how about Ethan Hawke as Jolly the Pimp?"  

03. The film really is beautiful 
Tonally, Valerian is all over the place, the character development is minimal, and the emotional component does not feel complete. Still. At least the film puts its massive budget to work towards being gorgeous. Every set piece is stunning. 

04. New Avatar. Who dis? 
It is only a matter of time before think-pieces compare Valerian to Avatar. The similarities are jarring; two different worlds and separate visions but some of the creatures look eerily recall Cameron's space epic.

05. Rihanna is actually a scene-stealer 
The pop star's presence feels shoe-horned in at best. But even if Rihanna is there solely so that Rihanna could be there, she really does make the most effective use of her time. In a movie with Cara Delivingne as its leading lady, we needed this.

There is still so much that could be said about Valerian, so many things to learn from Besson's strange concoction. If you're still trying to make sense of the film, sound off in the comments with what stood out to you whether it was good, bad, ugly, or kooky like the film itself.

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Reader Comments (6)

6. Having a rich father and a modelling career means you can stink the place out in two Summer blockbuster flops (the other being SUICIDE SQUAD) in a row.

Hollywood needs to stop making Blahra happen.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

DeHaan is miles worse than Delvigne in this. Light years worse.

I really disliked how the Rihanna character was treated, but my grievances get spoiler-y. For starters, though: at first she's just there to objectified but then the movie also wants us to consider her as a sex worker with a tragic backstory; and then she gets enlisted as an obedient, heard-but-not-really-seen, wise-cracking sidekick. It's a lot of uncomfortable tropes at once, and somehow things only get worse from there.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I totally co-sign most of this. The film really is gorgeous to look at, and for a few minutes at the beginning I was asking myself "What hath Avatar wrought?" It's definitely not a good film, but I have to say it's not bad either. It's just mediocre, which makes me feel even worse that all that great production and creature design work was wasted on something so blah.

Gotta disagree about Rihanna, though. She added nothing for me. I thought Ethan Hawke was a lot more fun, actually.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Rihanna's number really woke me up. She and Ethan Hawk really add fun to a movie that until then was pretty but dull.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I've seen it twice, and liked it better the second time. I was able to just sit back and enjoy the imaginative touches and clever flourishes.

Although I would agree it has a French sensibility of imagination and sense of play. It's not the current American model.

I don't think the actors are too young. Cara is 25, Dane is 31. Our usual imagination has been habituated to:
- actors that age playing teenagers
- actors around 40 playing 25
- the guy being 10, 15, 20 years older than the girl and that looks "normal".

I liked Cara with the bus squad, I wanted a side adventure with them (with more women in the squad). I realized that's one of the few times she has other actors to play with; mainly it's green screen. And Cara and Dane are really good at maintaining a sense of play in the green screen environment.

I found the Pearl People's Utopia to be just as dull the second time around. That languorous beach life must be the fantasy of constantly working urban professionals. I thought the Pearls were much improved by exile. In a sequel, I can see the children of the Pearls revolting against a return to Utopia, wanting to be starship captains, and engineers and physicists instead.

But that's the fun of this kind of loose fantasy. You can attach, briefly, anywhere.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I agree with other Dave S.: DeHaan should be getting the flack, not Delevigne, who was good outside of the odd comic timing. DeHaan was just...I don't even know. He fell flat in so many important ways.

In interviews, Besson said that he wanted to use this film to introduce the world, because that's what excites him most. He said he'd worry about the characters later. That's not a choice that will necessarily earn you ticket sales in America, but it's still a conscious choice. I personally loved the world. I see sci-fi mostly for the civilizations and cities and colors and costumes anyway, so I appreciated that he didn't skimp on any of that.

Also, it was more strange to me than bad. It's easy to call it bad, but so much passion went into this. The story is "dull" but Besson's concept was that this is just another day at work in the lives of two young people whose biggest concern is whether or not they'll get married. I loved that. The whole movie felt utopian and light. I was so glad to see a sci-fi series that wasn't weighed down by self-seriousness, intense allegory, rabid franchise fan pandering. etc.

August 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S.

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