Exactly one year from today — July 21, 2017 — “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” starring Dane Dehane and Cara Delevingne will premiere in theaters. And based on what was screened at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, Luc Besson may have once again brought to life a delicious blend of sci-fi, action, and comedy.
Besson’s filmography not only includes impressive works like “The Professional” and “La Femme Nikita,” but also the cult sci-fi favorite “The Fifth Element,” which brought a lived-in feel (as well as some breathtaking action sequences) to a futuristic world.
“Fifth Element” was famously a childhood dream project of Besson’s, but making “Valerian” looks to bring him full circle to childhood thanks to the original comic series “Valerian and Laureline,” which he fell in love with at the age of 10. Later, when making “Fifth Element,” he encountered artist Jean-Claude Mézières, who drew “Valerian,” and they worked together to create the “Element” look.
Afterwards, Mézières started saying that Besson should adapt “Valerian” properly for the screen, and so Besson acquired the rights and started working on the script. “And then ‘Avatar’ came,” he said, “and I threw my script on the garbage and I started again.”
While Besson made a big show of saying he was thankful for the generous advice and support from James Cameron, he also wasn’t shy about the fact that there was a sense of competition in play. “With Cameron, I find myself referring to Usain Bolt,” he said. “I know he’s going to win, but you’re going to be scared of me, you are going to feel my breath on your fucking back, and you’d better come with a good run. I’m going to lose with honor.”
Beyond Cameron, Besson said that he wasn’t consciously attempting to emulate “The Fifth Element.” But either thanks to his own tastes or the influence of Mézières or both, the comparisons are inevitable (in a good way).
While “Fifth Element” was rich with big effects and exotic alien creations, “Valerian” looks to go well beyond its scope — both literally (“Valerian” has over 2,700 visual effects, while Besson said “Element” only had 200) and figuratively. Much of the concept art and some of the footage was set on the space station Arena, which is now essentially the center of the universe after 700 years of construction, first built on Earth and now the size of a planet in its own right.
Besson teased that the film includes over 200 alien species, which were revealed in concept art to range from “Trek”-esque humanoids with modified heads to far more exotic creatures. “They get weirder and weirder as we go,” producer Virginie Besson-Silla promised.
With filming wrapped only five weeks ago — Besson showed photos of his post-filming vacation, which ended with a photo of a wrecked boat and his decision to return to the editing bay — an impressive amount of footage was shown to the Comic-Con crowd in Hall H. This included a scene showcasing martial arts training, a major action sequence with machine guns, a fortress under attack, and what looked like a recommissioned school bus, and more importantly a few instances showcasing banter between Valerian and Laureline.
The energy between Valerian (described by Dehane as a “space bro”) and Laureline featured strong signs of real chemistry. Given that the film’s premise heavily emphasizes their partnership (despite the fact that Laureline name has been dropped from the title), that’s a good thing.
Meanwhile, Rihanna’s previously announced role in the film was briefly teased (with only a glimpse of her appearing during the scenes screened), but according to Dehane she was on set for two weeks of the six months. Doing what, exactly? He wouldn’t say, beyond the fact that it was “so crazy, so awesome” and that when he would tell friends what they were doing, “Jaws were on the floor, they were so jealous.”
In a culture seemingly hungry for new franchises (or at least franchises not based on pre-established works), “Valerian’s” ambition and imagination make it a big gamble — but one that could be a delight. When “The Fifth Element” came out, it wasn’t well received, but 20 years later, looking at the current landscape, it’s a film that would fit right in. Or as Besson put it: “The world got as weird as me. This one will be easier.”
Check out some more photos from “Valerian” below. The film is set to premiere July 21, 2017.
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