Luc Besson’s SF fantasy was much maligned upon its release earlier in 2017 and left audiences as well as critics as cold as deep space. You’d believe it was a huge flop but, despite horrible reviews, it managed a worldwide gross of $225m against a whopping $177m budget, so there’s clearly appeal in this tale of two young guardians of the galaxy. Now out on DVD and Blu-ray, does this dismissed as a mess film deserve a second chance?
Based on a series of French comics beloved by Besson when he was a boy, this is the story of special government agents Valerian and Laureline, tasked with finding and guarding a precious creature whilst trying to uncover what’s behind the threat at the heart of Alpha, a 28th Century ever-expanding metropolis where all known species in the universe mix in peace. Along the way, they discover that all is not what it seems and become involved in an alien race’s struggle for survival whilst wrestling with their own romantic feelings for each other.
But if ever a film was less about plot and more about the visuals, this is it. It’s a stunningly realised vision, perhaps one of the boldest in film, with a level of imaginative sophistication which makes Besson’s earlier The Fifth Element look like an episode of Blake’s 7 by comparison. Every frame is a visual feast, with so much going on that it can overwhelm.
After a brilliant opening sequence and some beautiful early scenes set on the planet Mul with its stunningly realised Pearl people, things speed up like a formula one race and never let up. The frantic pace, eye-popping visuals and dodgy dialogue start to lose you despite a basically simple plot so we have to rely on the performances to guide us through. Cara Delevigne does a great job as Laureline, throwing herself into the action and giving someone to care about and, elsewhere, Clive Owen and Rihanna do well. But the decision to cast Dane DeHaan is perhaps the film’s biggest flaw. He’s a fine actor but is miscast here, coming across here like early Keanu Reeves - monotone, uninteresting and somewhat annoying. Consequently, there’s no chemistry between the leads and that’s a great shame.
On Blu-ray, it all looks stunning and you may find yourself watching bits again as there’s so much to take in. An hour-long documentary is broken down into smaller parts which look at the origin of the story from the original comics, special effects etc and it’s clear that the film was a hoot to make, Besson coming across as a joyous figure. Just a pity the finished film isn’t quite so joyous to watch…
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: LUC BESSON / STARRING: DANE DEHAAN, CARA DELEVINGNE, CLIVE OWEN, RIHANNA, ETHAN HAWKE / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 27TH