Saturday, 1 December 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson, 2017, 
France-China-Belgium-Germany-United Arab Emirates-USA

Despite the title, the scope is a handful of planets at best and the implied awe of the title is captured by an over-saturation of CGI. But it’s the weightless kind of CGI, the kind that thinks quantity dazzles itself out from the nodding requirements of realism or physics. There’s so much of it and it’s filmed with such a giddy plunging camera that it really doesn’t leave too much of a mark. There’s a stillness to ‘Blade Runner 2049’ that allows time for its CGI vistas to unlock your wonder, for example; there is even a pace to ‘Black Panther’ that allows Wakanda to make an impression with its utopian vision. Or ‘Solo’ is a decent example of a faux-realism, a credibility to give matter to the FX bonanza.Look to 'Avengers Infinity War' to see how such a saturation of fakery needs an alert script to capture interest as well as imagination. Luc Besson is very much style over substance but here, there’s the blight of inconsequentiality that comes with too much reliance on digital effects. 

But worse than this, although based on a long-running and influential pulp French comic series – even though I have not read ‘Valérian and Laureline’ by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, going since the Sixties – the film feels like nothing but a superficial rendering with dialogue set around ‘Star Wars’ level but with less interesting characters. The bickering between Valerian  (Dane  DeHaan)and his lover Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is of the puerile and tedious kind – he is trying to make up for being a rat by marrying her why she is playing the difficult ice maiden that will give into his dubious charms eventually – so there isn’t much to take from that.

There’s the Rhianna impression showreel (reminiscent of Besson parading Natalie Portman in a variety of pop-culture personas in ‘Leon’, except with more shape-shifting), Clive Owen doing his best swishing villain, and Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock cameos, but as Peter Bradshaw says, “- no actor is given much to work with in the Google Translate script.” Yes, there interesting details and incidents to distract but they ultimately add up to very little more than a cascade of diversions (the fishing episode, for example). When it uses Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ to win favour, it’s a little too close to Zack Snyder’s grab-bag mess, ‘Sucker Punch’. Worse, some of the aliens verge on the Jar Jar Binks side.

It often plays like a thin framework for the cut scenes of a console game you are watching someone else playing.The thin drama of a comic space opera is usually more evident in the transition to film and this does not have the same wit as, say, ‘Flash Gordon’ or ‘Barbarella’ to be much more than a vaguely pretty spectacle. 

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