by Pierre Christin, (based on the comic book series "Valerian and Laureline" by), Jean-Claude Mézières (based on the comic book series "Valerian and Laureline" by), and Luc Besson (screenplay)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is bad.
It is so bad that it made me actually angry.
It is so bad that I got bored and would have left were it not for my viewing companion who insists on never leaving a movie. Never have I been presented with something so visually enticing that is also so very, very boring.
When my husband came home and asked me what the movie is about, I told him that despite having spent two hours and seventeen minutes watching it I was not sure how to answer that question. I shall try to answer it for you, Dear Bitches, because that is My Job.
Valerian is loosely based on a comic book series called Valerian and Laureline, which is full of fun, humor, and excitement and, unlike this movie, totally devoid of workplace sexual harassment. In the movie, Valerian and Laureline are agents for some human military organization. They do daring things for reasons that are unclear. Eventually they have to save a group of pearlescent humanoids (whom I hereby name The Pearl People) whose planet was destroyed by an Evil Military. The plot is sort of like Avatar, only less subtle in its message (image that for a moment) — not that a message of “It’s wrong to commit genocide” is a bad message. It’s just obvious. Along the way there are a million tangents, none of which make any sense.
I truly thought that all I required from this movie was that it be pretty, but it turns out that I have to be able to care about someone or something in the movie to be entertained. Valerian is being compared to The Fifth Element and to Jupiter Ascending, two brilliantly beautiful movies that were as otherwise as dumb as a bag of hair.
However, The Fifth Element had the criminally underrated Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, a character who was both funny, a little scary, and incredibly endearing, and it had funny, memorable moments that have made it a long-term favorite.
Note: At this point, my dear friend Heather, who copy edits my posts, stepped in to say, “What? The Fifth Element wasn’t dumb – it was AWESOME. It was complex. It had MOOL-TI-PASS. It’s one of my favorite movies.” Discuss amongst yourselves.
Meanwhile, Jupiter Ascending was, empirically speaking, a terrible movie, but the actors hurled themselves into it with so much energy that it was fun. Of course mileage will vary here, but Mila Kunis attacking cleaning toilets and shooting bad guys with equal verve made the movie so bad it was wonderful.
In this movie there’s nothing to care about, although I was fond of The Pearl People because they seemed to be nice to each other. Valerian is supposed to be a rogue who later has a conflict where he’s all, “I’m a soldier and I follow orders” which…what? Since when? He’s supposed to be charming but alas he is not. He’s supposed to be hiding vulnerabilities but he must be hiding them pretty damn well. He’s not a brooding bad boy or a charming rogue. He’s just a very bland jerk.
Laureline seems to be going for deadpan but it just comes off as kind of dead. The bits that are clearly supposed to funny aren’t. There’s no excitement because there’s no reason to care about the outcome. It’s a romance, but the stars have no chemistry, not to mention the fact that Valerian basically sexually harasses Laureline all the time.
Fun fact: The Pearl People are introduced in an idyllic scene in which a character wakes up, pets her adorable pet, goes outside to the beach, and twirls around like a Disney Princess. My daughter leaned over and whispered, “If she starts singing, I swear to God…” Sadly, she did not sing, she just wafts about emanating “I’M SO HAPPY I’M CLEARLY DOOMED” signals.
The only people in this movie that seem to be having a great time are Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. Rihanna does a whole pole dance thing during which we can contemplate how hot she is (empirically speaking – very hot) but given that Rihanna is playing a sex slave named Bubbles, what the fucking hell with the sexy dance, people? Also, in the future, are we really going to have the exact same sexy nurse and sexy schoolgirl fetish outfits that you can buy today around Halloween? SEX SLAVERY IS NOT SEXY. It will shock no one to hear that Bubbles, who describes herself as an illegal immigrant, makes an epic sacrifice so that Valerian can get in touch with his feelings.
This is a movie in which a character has to stick a giant jellyfish onto her head for Reasons and is subsequently kidnapped by rainbow butterflies. You guys know I love shit like that, right? There’s a pirate named Bob who has a submarine. There are killer robots. The fact that someone put all this money and time and passion into a project which includes all these wonderful elements and then somehow made it boring enrages me. I feel personally offended.
I’m going to give this movie a total pass on the basic laws of physics and astronomy and biology, but I still have questions. For starters, why must Laureline’s boobs, whether in a bikini top or in the stupidest armor ever, constantly be in the center of the screen (compare to how women’s faces are in the center of the screen in Mad Max: Fury Road). Why are two agents who are supposed to be great at working with aliens so fucking racist all the time? Why does everyone, even CGI characters, seem slightly sedated? Why aren’t Valerian and Laureline even a little bit upset that their colleagues are eaten by a giant space dog?
Here’s my advice. Save your two hours. Time is precious. Watch the teaser trailer, which is incredible and also short. Look at images online. Check out a behind-the-scenes art book. Read the comics. Also, if you can, watch the opening of the movie, which takes the viewer through the early days of space exploration by humans to the time period in which Valerian is set. This sequence is simple, yet cleverly done, and truly moving. It also manages to convey a lot of information simply. If only the rest of the movie had accomplished the same.
The City of Shifting Waters
I have one thought about the trailer for the upcoming movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and that thought is: “Dat is purty.” I’ll be reviewing the movie, and I know it’s important to approach the film with an open mind. However, I strongly suspect that my movie review will also boil down to: “Dat is purty.” In keeping with this theme, my review of the first Valerian graphic novel The City of Shifting Waters, originally printed in installments starting in 1968, is “Dat is purty.” Also, this comic is seriously and delightfully insane.
Valerian and Laureline is a French comic book series that was first published in 1967 and ran until 2010. The City of Shifting Waters is the second story arc, but the first to be collected in graphic novel form. This story is without a doubt the most late 1960’s thing in the history of all late 1960’s things (Laureline literally wears flowers in her hair), but it’s also eerily appropriate to 2017 since it deals with global warming (caused by the explosion of a hydrogen bomb depot at the North Pole) and a flooded, tropical, abandoned New York City.
I’ll let Valerian’s boss explain the plot:
Galaxity’s only political prisoner, the dangerous Xombul, has escaped. That madman who wanted to dislocate our society to become its dictator is now free. The worst thing is that he got his hands on one of our spatio-temporal ships and is moving around history freely. If he gets it into his head to modify our past, our civilization’s very existence is uncertain…He showed up in New York in 1986…and you’re going to follow him there.
Either phrases like “spatio-temporal ships” are music to your ears or they aren’t, and if they aren’t, this is not your series. It seems that the years from 1986 to the 24th century are “a mysterious era.” Most of civilization was wiped out in the disaster caused by the hydrogen depot’s demise (which happened in 1986). So Valerian and Laureline, two spatio-temporal agents, have to head into the unknown of past Earth to capture Xombul. This involves a tsunami, killer robots, and a guy named Sun Rae who runs a criminal organization and plays the flute. At one point Laureline gets shrunk (she gets better), and at another point everyone ends up running through Yellowstone National Park while yelling, “THE ROBOTS ARE COMING!” It’s space opera crossed with, one suspects but cannot confirm, a lot of LSD.
The art is both busy and stunning. Prepare yourself for sensory overload. The images of a New York strangled with vegetation are haunting. The hovercraft escape from New York looks and feels like it’s actually in motion. Yellowstone is a hellscape of bubbling lava. Youdon’t get nuanced facial expressions, but you do get exquisitely detailed and surrealistic landscapes.
This is not a romance comic. Valerian and Laureline have a strictly platonic relationship and as far as I know their relationship stayed that way all the way through the comic’s run. According to Wikipedia, the longer the comic ran the more progressive it became. “The City of Shifting Waters” has a shrinking, furious Laureline saying “This kind of thing always happens to the girls!” but it also gives her a lot to do, including being a crack shot. According, again, to my beloved Wikipedia without which I’d have no career, Laureline advances from sidekick to a more equal footing in “The Land Without Stars.”
I can’t review the entire series based on one story arc, because the series evolved over time. What I can say is that “The City of Shifting Waters” is goofy fun in the old Buck Rogers sense. The plot isn’t very interesting (they chase a bad guy), and the characters are pretty basic, but the visuals are incredible. It’s a joyride through space and time made excellent by fine art!
'It wasn't until the balance tipped and the influx of fans-turned-pro brought their numbers higher than the Old Pros that we began to see profound changes in Batman's character. The fan mantra of "He'd have to be crazy to do what he does" became actual policy, and "The World's Greatest Detective" became "The Most Dangerous Man on Earth." Wolverine in bat-ears. (Yes, Marvel's unexpected breakout star was shaping how ALL the characters were portrayed.) Writers and editors with soft, cushy, well-paid lives began to live vicariously thru Batman (and others) and "grim and gritty" took over.' - John Byrne
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