One of the most anticipated genre films of 2017 was Valerian And The City OF A Thousand Planets. Deservedly so because it was an outer space adventure (not enough of those these days) directed by the legendary Luc Besson, the creator of such notable recent genre classics like the Passenger, Lucy, The Fifth Element, and more.
The film’s narrative and characters got based on the classic French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. It stars Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline, with Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu and Rutger Hauer in supporting roles.
Valerian was released by STXfilms on 21 July 2017 in the United States, and France on 26 July, by EuropaCorp. It received mixed reviews from critics, who criticized the plot and some of the casting but praised the visuals. It grossed $225 million worldwide, but due to its high production and advertising costs, it was considered a commercial failure following its release in the United States. In other words, it was a box-office flop.
The first time I saw the film, I admit it didn’t strike me as being a grade A movie or story. The second time I watched it, I was not alone; the people I watched it with were not real fond of it, but I came to realize a little later these folks were hardly connoisseurs of cinema for here or anywhere else. The second viewing left me with questions about the film and why I had been feeling let down and disappointed by what should have been a great movie.
So, I watched it again and discovered it IS a great movie, and it has a marvelously imaginative story. I am embarrassed to admit, turned out I had not paid enough attention the first two times. The main problem with the film, I think, is the two lead actors, who didn’t appeal to audiences in the U.S. and other countries outside of France. This is just the tip of the iceberg of cultural differences that spelled box office doom for the film. I think, for a lot of people the style and manner of storytelling in the movie is something that got lost in translation between here and France because it is a terrific science fiction story.
Before you ridicule me and my hypothesis about this film, consider this, what other movies have France and The USA disagreed on before regarding their quality, where one found them disappointing and even ridiculed them while the other celebrated their greatness? Does the name Jerry Lewis ring a bell?
I think it’s important to remember that Besson is known for his distinctive filmmaking style and associated with what the movement critics call Cinéma du look. Awarded multiple times for his work, including being nominated for a César Award for Best Director and Best Picture for his films Léon: The Professional (1994) and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999). Besson won Best Director and Best French Director for his sci-fi action film The Fifth Element (1997). He wrote and directed the 2014 sci-fi thriller film Lucy and the 2017 space opera film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
We live in a world of cultural differences and in the case of something like art that is primarily subjective, cultural differences play a more significant role than say liking a car or another object. In the example of this film, there’s lots of evidence to support the notion that the widespread lack of enthusiasm regarding this film may be more about and caused by cultural and anthropological differences than for artistic reasons. It’s possible a lot of Americans in their usual manner of rejecting anything they not used to, are not ready for a different approach to filmmaking. We live in an age when every movie fan considers him or herself qualified to judge movies mercilessly while never considering a different point of view as valid.
Every director has had swing and a miss making a film, it’s the nature of the beast, but Valerian is no lemon of a movie it is a rich and sumptuous kaleidoscope of vivid outer space adventure surrounding the crime of genocide and resulting cover-up by a rogue admiral is a marvelously memorable tale told well. I’m not saying the film is perfect; I think it’s a little overwhelming, that is, possibly a little too busy visually, although delightful in its very ambitious CGI frenzy pf portraying a quite fascinating and engaging universe. Also, the attempts at creating a flirtatious, romantic relationship fall somewhat flat on its face, and the two lead actors failed to appeal to American audiences; maybe they were too French for American audiences.
Still, overall, Valerian And the City Of a Thousand Planets is an excellent film filled with wonderfulness and marvelous moments from beginning to end despite how you might react to its two lead characters. One thing is for sure: this film deserves a lot more love than it got on Rotten Tomatoes- 48% critics, and 53% viewers score. Maybe there’s a second chance for it in your future; if so you’re in for a treat.