In 1967 Valérian and Laureline were introduced to French audiences as a science fiction comic. The series written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières ran until 2010 and was very influential in science fiction around the world, notably with Star Wars and The Fifth Element. Valerian and Laureline are classical heroes and partners as well as a couple in a universe that spans time and space. Their adventures fall into the opera category of science fiction since their story is a saga combined with rollicking action.
The only thing holding such a story back from a Hollywood treatment was how big the special effects budget would be. French director Luc Besson had longed to do a movie based on the comic but in many ways felt it couldn’t be done until he saw Avatar directed by Canadian James Cameron. He felt it pushed everything to a higher level and it pushed him to improve a script treatment he had already written of the material.
Still, it took till 2012 for Hollywood to announce the project was in development and Besson in 2015 in his first tweet indicated he would be directing. The movie would be a U.S./France co-production handled by Besson’s own EuropaCorp production house and STX Entertainment and have a budget of $180 million. To get the film tax credits for producing the biggest film in French history, Besson convinced the French government to allow it to be filmed in English. The change in law netted not only the tax credits but a $50 million investment by the Chinese in Besson’s film and more in his studio. Chinese money is awash in Hollywood.
Luc Besson is not ordinary director. His cinéma du look style is completely recognizable in the work he does. It is a spectacle over narrative that is a visual treat. The Fifth Element encapsulates a lot of that style. In addition to his artistry, Besson has become a full service studio producing such European movie successes as the Taken series. The business side of things allows Besson to pick work as a director that appeals to him such as Lucy in 2015 that starred Scarlett Johansson.
In 2015 a series of casting announcements were made as it was revealed that Dane Dehaan (Chronicle) and Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) would star as Valerian and Laureline. The cast was rounded out with Clive Owen as Arün Filitt and Rihanna as Bubble. It is difficult not to contrast the casting with Besson’s other sci-fi movies which included Scarlett Johannson in Lucy and Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element.
A lot depends on our actors making us believe and while relative newcomers can do this, a veteran performance by Bruce Willis can offer gravitas where dialogue might fail you. The only way that Dehaan as Valerian or Delevingne as Laureline could stand out is with a total buy-in on what the extravaganza. It is possible for a young actor to do this. The best example is Milla Jovovich in the Fifth Element. She learned 800 alien words and was adorable in emotional and physical length she went to make the audience believe.
It is hard not to think Dehaan is channeling Keanu Reaves. You can actually hear it in the voice. As for Delevinge, she in great in action but her emotional range never takes off because the script hold her back. The proposal of marriage by Valerian to Laureline, a demonstrated Lothario, seems destined for failure although their work partnership seems to be a confident one. And what work they do. As human agents of space and time, their adventures are a visual and action packed treat. Seeing this movie in 3D is entirely appropriate.
The cinematic spectacle and action keep people from focusing to heavily on the rough patches. Rihanna’s role is an amazing dance filled with costume changes but the dialogue is a bit wooden. Her sizzling performance though with accompaniment by Ethan Hawk is a highlight.
It is all quite the spectacle and like The Fifth Element might take a few times to catch all the Easter Eggs and tidbits tossed into the mix. For example, there is a lift right from the Taken series of movies staring Liam Neeson which director Besson is connected to. Good luck is the key to finding it.
The aforementioned Chinese money and international release may produce a sequel for this movie unlike The Fifth Element. If this the case, the relationship between Valerian and Laureline needs more definition and for heaven’s sake, don’t leave her name off the title. It was after all the full title of the comic. And ultimately, it was Delevinge as Laureline who drove the back half of the movie past the finish line.
This has been a editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations