Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

For F*** Magazine

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS 

Director : Luc Besson
Cast : Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 2h 17m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

20 years after The Fifth Element, Luc Besson takes another crack at the space opera subgenre with this sprawling sci-fi epic. It is the 28th century, and Major Valerian (DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) are Federation operatives tasked with keeping the peace across the cosmos. Valerian is drawn to Laureline, but because of his reputation as a serial heartbreaker, Laureline rebuffs her partner’s advances. The minister of defence (Hancock) sends the pair on assignment to Alpha, a bustling space station metropolis home to 30 million inhabitants of every conceivable species, nicknamed ‘the city of a thousand planets’. When Valerian and Laureline’s superior Arün Filitt (Owen) is kidnapped, they must get to the bottom of a long-buried conspiracy. Along the way, the pair meets colourful characters including the shape-shifting nightclub singer Bubble (Rihanna) and her sleazy pimp Jolly (Hawke).

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on the classic French comic Valerian and Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières and first published in 1967. When writer-director Besson was growing up, the comics were a favourite of his, and they became a strong influence of The Fifth Element. Mézières was a concept artist on that film, and pre-dating that, many French observers noted strong similarities between the aesthetic of Star Wars and that of Valerian and Laureline. An anime adaptation called Time Jam: Valerian and Laureline was made in 2007, but a feature film adaptation hasn’t been made until now.

This is clearly a labour of love for Besson, and it’s abundantly obvious that lots of people put staggering amounts of effort into bringing this film to fruition. Environments bursting with imaginative detail are all over the movie. There is extensive, expansive visual effects work from vendors including Weta Digital, ILM, Rodeo FX and Hybride. While the film is fun to look at, after a certain point, it becomes exhausting, as if one has gotten indigestion after a feast for the eyes. This is yet another example of an adaptation being late to its own party – in between 1967 and now, audiences have seen similar visuals in many sci-fi films and TV shows. Beyond the obvious Star Wars and Star Trek connections, Valerian is also quite reminiscent of the Mass Effect video games. There is a race of slender, sylph-like tribal aliens with translucent, glowing skin, which will instantly conjure up memories of the Na’vi from Avatar.

Besson busies himself far more with the world-building than with developing the story. The plot is surprisingly difficult to follow, until everything is laid out in an exposition-heavy scene towards the film’s conclusion. While the action set pieces and chases are relatively thrilling, every other scene feels like a diversion, and it seems like we take extended breaks from furthering the plot to poke around some corner of some extra-terrestrial city. Our heroes don’t go through that grand an arc, and because of the episodic nature of the central adventure, it seems like we’re watching a stretched-out episode of a TV series. Audiences might be tired of origin stories, but perhaps that would have served this well, since most viewers outside France aren’t overly familiar with the property.

The film’s biggest weakness is the casting of its two leads. At every turn, DeHaan and Delevingne look woefully out of place amidst the dazzlingly designed surroundings. Valerian and Laureline should be swashbuckling action heroes, charismatic, larger-than-life figures. DeHaan and Delevingne aren’t the obvious picks to lead a sci-fi action adventure, and that’s a significant problem. Leaning into, instead of rejecting, the archetypes would play better, since this is something of a tribute to the space opera genre. Beyond their inability to convincingly inhabit the other-worldly environments, DeHaan and Delevingne have minimal chemistry with each other. The bickering rom-com relationship is tiring rather than tantalising, most of their interaction consists of Valerian harassing Laureline, and a lot of their dialogue borders on Star Wars prequel, Padmé and Anakin cheesiness.

The movie is packed with characters, but none of the supporting cast has that big an impact on the story. Owen does next to nothing, and Kris Wu stands around the control room a bunch. Hancock mostly appears as an image on the screen giving orders to our heroes via video call. Rihanna gets an extended dance sequence, which is entertaining, but is yet another moment when it feels like the story comes to a screeching halt to turn its attention to a distraction. Her character Bubble is sympathetic and is more interesting that either Valerian or Laureline, but she’s only in the film for a bit. Hawke has fun as the cheerfully cruel Jolly, but it amounts to little than a cameo.

Valerian serves up spectacle in spades, and packs in a lot of weirdness that’s sufficiently different from standard Hollywood blockbuster fare. However, it can’t help but feel derivative, even if its source material is a progenitor of the media that this film appears to borrow from. This is meant to be a light-hearted jaunt, but a key plot point centres on war crimes and genocide. It’s often close to being immersive, but is hampered by marked unevenness and miscast leads.

Summary: Visually, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets serves up bang for your buck, but no matter how dazzling the effects or how thrilling the action, you’ll have a hard time believing Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as space-hopping super agents.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Life

For F*** Magazine

LIFE

Director : Anton Corbijn
Cast : Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton, Alessandra Mastronardi
Run Time : 1 hr 52 mins
Opens : 31 December 2015
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene and Some Nudity)

It can be said that a photo of someone is a sliver of a life frozen in time. It is 1955 and photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) of the Magnum Photos Agency is out to create art, tired of the same old set visit and red carpet assignments he has been given by his boss at the agency John G. Morris (Edgerton). At a Hollywood party thrown by director Nicholas Ray (Peter J. Lucas), Stock meets young actor James Dean (DeHaan). Stock quickly identifies Dean as a fascinating potential subject and pitches a photo essay for LifeMagazine to Morris. Stock eventually convinces Dean to let him tag along, taking candid un-staged photos around L.A., New York and the farm in Indiana where Dean was raised. Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner (Kingsley) is intent on pushing Dean as the next big thing, but Dean rejects the pageantry involved with presenting himself as a new matinee idol. Stock and Dean gradually go from being photographer and subject to true friends, all while Dean’s status as an icon for the ages is being moulded.

            It seems that garden variety “cradle to the grave” biopics just won’t cut it anymore, and a movie about a real person has to have some kind of hook to stand out from the crowd. Steve Jobs takes place behind the scenes of three key Apple/NeXT product launches, and Life focuses on the relationship between James Dean and Dennis Stock, the photographer who took some of the most iconic photos of the star. Screenwriter Luke Davies had originally intended to pen a traditional biopic about James Dean, but was struck by the photos that Stock took of Dean walking in Times Square and looked into the background of said photos. Director Anton Corbijn is himself a photographer, famed for being U2’s official photographer and the director of many of the band’s music videos. As such, it is easy to see why he was drawn to material, perhaps feeling an affinity with Stock.

            Life proves incredibly frustrating because for a film about a figure who lived fast and died (very) young, it ambles along at the most leisurely of paces. In order to capture the rising star in his most unguarded moments, Stock hung out with Dean and this movie could be titled “Hanging Out with James Dean”. When we hang out with friends, noteworthy occurrences are usually infrequent. In the film, Dean attends an acting class conducted by legendary teacher Lee Strasberg (Nicholas Rice), then goes for drinks with a few classmates and dances. It just so happens that he’s dancing with Eartha Kitt (Kelly McCreary). We glimpse a who’s who of 50s Hollywood luminaries including Elia Kazan (Michael Thierrault), Raymond Massey (John Blackwood) and Natalie Wood (Lauren Gallagher), but all the glitz and glamour is intended to be secondary to the central friendship of Stock and Dean. It’s akin to a kid at Disney World being dragged past Star Tours by his parents and forced to sit through the Hall of Presidents.


            James Dean is hailed as something of a mythic figure idolised by many and casting someone to play a personality whose look and attitude has been influential far after his death must have been an immense challenge. DeHaan might only resemble Dean on a foggy night from 30 feet away but he does make a conscious effort to convey Dean’s brooding intensity. There are moments when the performance comes across as whiny and others when it feels like someone playing dress-up, but one can tell DeHaan’s done his homework. Fellow Harry Osborn James Franco has also played Dean, in a 2001 made-for-TV biopic.

Pattinson has spent most of his post-Twilightcareer trying to distance himself from the vampire romance franchise and while he’s not a terrible actor, he’s not great either – at least not yet. Pattinson does develop a chemistry with DeHaan and the relationship progresses believably. The film depicts the dissolution of Dean’s romance with Italian starlet Pier Angeli (Mastronardi), though it seems like the film is eager to get her out of the way so the bromance may commence. Kingsley shows up to do some very delicious scene-chewing as Warner, less head honcho and more terrifying overlord of tinsel town.


Lifeviews James Dean through a photographer’s lens, pushing the glitz and glamour out of frame as much as possible. Perhaps through observing Dean, Stock changed and impacted the actor in some way as well. The approach is hit and miss – sometimes, Life’s quiet approach distinguishes it from melodramatic broad strokes biopics but at others, this feels like a boring movie about a fascinating subject, never digging quite deep enough.



Summary:While thoughtfully crafted, there are considerable stretches where Life seems to come to a standstill, the low-key approach working both for and against it.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong