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Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets

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Because “Valerian and Laureline” would be far too progressive for 2017


In response to Robbie Collins of Radio 5 Live: yes, the “choreography” of the Big Market scene is sophisticated and spectacular – but we don’t have any stake in what is happening so we don’t care. Indeed, the “chase sequence” that barrels through each biome of Alpha is remarkable – but it isn’t a chase sequence – Valerian is progressing literally in a straight line toward a stationary target which we see at no point – the opportunity to introduce us to these remarkable environments gradually, with atmosphere and anticipation, to establish any kind of involvement in any part of this setting, is completely missed – we are given a theme park ride through what could have been a remarkable piece of world-building, and it is entirely forgettable.

In the absence of multi-dimensional characters, adequate plotting and a compelling structure, without subtle editing, we are left indifferent and unengaged with the action, with what happens to its actors, whose dialogue therefore becomes so conspicuously screen-written that there is no suspension of disbelief. This could and should have been beyond comparison to The Fifth Element – there is such richness to it – but TFE manages pacing of scenes, plot arcs, character journeys, that elevate its pulp far beyond the popcorn banality of Valerian and into the realms of emotional engagement.

Also, dated though it may now be, TFE felt extremely hip. This was a function of the directorial and editorial decisions as much as misé-en-scene (consider how much more dated it might feel if only its aesthetic/cultural inspirations of the mid 90s were responsible for that funkiness). So can you call Valerian “retro” in its aesthetics? What era does it recall? Perhaps in future it may look, retrospectively, like the extemporal infinite present of the 2010s, amalgamating cultural hallmarks of the previous 60 years into one big grey sludge. Surely they could have drawn more on the era in which the source was written?

Not that it’s anyone other than James Cameron’s fault that the most important alien species in the film now recalls Avatar’s smurf-likes rather than, say, the terrifying entities of Forbidden Planet and other Moebius creations. In summary, for a fan of Luc Besson and The Fifth Element, I would argue this movie is all the more disappointing. I did quite enjoy the opening hour or so, even if the dialogue just didn’t work for me, and completely handicapped the two leads. But damn did it just get boring. This was the first time I’ve lifted three sets of arm-rests and laid down in case I dozed off in the cinema.

Written by James P. Campbell

05/08/2017 at 21:08

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