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How primitive we’ll likely seem
To generations yet unborn.
They’ll look at microchips and deem
Them obsolete, as we do steam.
Our present will be like a dream
Before the future’s morn.

I wish that I could see such things,
As interplanetary trips,
And alien discoverings
And cars that fly with plasma wings.
I’d rather see what that dream brings
Than some apocalypse.

MPAA rating: PG-13

It boggles my mind that people complain about no originality in Hollywood anymore, and then the fifth Transformers film makes millions while Valerian flops. Luc Besson’s French import based on a classic French comic immediately sparked my interest based on the trailer alone, and I knew I had to catch it on the big screen. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is easily one of the most visually imaginative films I’ve seen, resplendent in its CGI-heavy universe that resembles Star Wars, Star Trek, and Avatar on steroids.

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It starts out with one of the rosiest visualizations of first contact ever, a brief but brilliant montage of mankind’s collaborative camaraderie expanding to include thousands of alien races. Centuries in the future, the diverse species of the galaxy will converge aboard the space metropolis of Alpha, and human government agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are tasked with protecting it when a mysterious danger arises. That’s about as general a description I can give, because the plot is fairly simple at its core but so surrounded by frenetic action and less-than-necessary tangents that it seems more complicated than it is. Yes, it probably didn’t need a memory-eating jellyfish or a shape-shifting pole dance, but Luc Besson’s exuberance for his material is obvious and fun in this all-over-the-place approach.

Most of the criticisms aimed at Valerian focus on the casting, and I’ll admit Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne would not have been my first choices to play the two leads. Neither imbues their character with anything very unique, and their personalities are rather flat as a result. Yet I wouldn’t say they were bad but rather passable. There’s nothing overtly mockable in their relationship like Anakin and Padme, and their chemistry and interactions are enough to maintain our interest in everything that happens around them. While Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, and Rutger Hauer show up to lend some brief recognizable star power, the more interesting characters are the CGI alien creations, like the three gremlin-bird-things that wander around trading information like money-grubbing Ferengi. Rihanna as a shapeshifter offers an especially enjoyable addition to the lead duo, though I wish she had had more screen time.

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More than anything else, I enjoyed Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets because it showed me things I’d never even imagined before:  pristine alien beaches for harvesting energy pearls, glowing butterflies you do not want to touch, extra-dimensional shopping malls located in the middle of a desert. For an independent film, the Oscar-worthy visual effects rival anything that Hollywood has put out. The action scenes were spectacularly thrilling, and I didn’t stop to care about the film’s flaws when I was watching Valerian escape from a crime boss through a multi-level alien bazaar while his arm is trapped in another dimension. It was just a fun ride, particularly an extended shot of Valerian bashing through wall after wall of Alpha’s various alien habitats.

I will gladly defend Valerian based on how much it entertained me, and I wouldn’t doubt that it will become a cult classic, not unlike Besson’s other quirky, polarizing sci-fi The Fifth Element. Nevertheless, I’m torn on how to personally rank it because the closer I get to the end of the year, the more I realize I’ll have to remove genuinely good films from my Top 365 list to make room for this year’s additions. At this point, I’m not sure that Valerian warrants that, since I must acknowledge the relative weakness of the characters and plot, including an extended glimpse of life on one alien planet that goes on for too long. Even so, it’s a film I greatly enjoyed and plan to see again soon, so perhaps it will rise further in my estimation after another awesome visit to the future.

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Best line:  (Doghan-Dagui, the three information traders) “We know how humans work. They are all so predictable.”   (Laureline) “Clearly, you have never met a woman.”


Rank:  List Runner-Up


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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A Happy Thanksgiving to all!