Sunday, August 13, 2017

Valérian and Laureline

As long as I've tried, I haven't ever liked any of Luc Besson's movies.

I am a huge fan of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas). Since, say, 1990 I'll say it's my favorite sci-fi fantasy movie and for the longest time I hated sci-fi and fantasy movies. But I wanted to broaden my tastes. The colorful imaginative alien worlds and species along with futuristic space ships and colonies finally became of particular interest to my artistic sensibilities. And The Phantom Menace is what led me to discover this latest personal cinematic obsession.

But key to appreciating The Phantom Menace is recognizing its inherent drawbacks as a giant budget VFX franchise entry (PG-13, positive values, kid-friendly) and being able to overlook them in favor of finding something you've never seen, and personally, some camp and space oddities that are fun in a shocking looking at a trainwreck at times kind of way. Still, since 1990 the only sci-fi movies I truly deeply love are the Star Wars prequel trilogy and The Matrix trilogy. But I love the look and feel of: Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven), Starship Troopers (1997, Verhoeven), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg), Minority Report (2002, Spielberg), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron), Avatar (2009, Cameron), Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott), Alien: Covenant (2017, Scott) and John Carter (2001, Andrew Stanton).
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017, Luc Besson) is a big-budget sci-fi fantasy screwball comedy that rapidly jumps from all over several sequences in a quaintly comic serial manner. The best thing going for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is its art. It just feels like it delivers the promise of what I'd imagined and hoped to see based on my connotations of the term 70s French comic book. I'm very uninformed when it comes to comics, especially 70s comics or French comics; but names like Jean Giraud/Mœbius, Heavy Metal, H.R. Giger, and Frank Frazetta always draw my attention and leave me wanting to see more.

Similar to what I find to be The Phantom Menace's greatest strength (believably creating and populating another universe), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets offers 302,036 different species in Alpha (the space station where the title comes from). And this is the source of all the film's eye-popping imagery, along with the heaping assortment of inventive sequences. First, the beach utopia is so colorful and surreal in its depiction of the alien ecosystem; and the jumpcut to VALERIAN (Dane DeHaan) sunning as LAURELINE (Clara Delevingne) enters in a black bikini (we are introduced to her by way of a close-up of her ass before we even see her face) on their own beach establishes the correct genre tone taking us into the enjoyably unfamiliar. Cara Delevingne in black bikini with her bushy eyebrows and high ponytail is a total movie star.

Secondly, the Big Market sequence is one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles of sight and scale. (The narrative device that enhances this business is the set of goggles that setup the possibility of having this scene play out simultaneously cross-cutting from different dimensions.) And well there's also the benefit of Luc Besson's passion of dizzying heights when he creates his visual geographies. The scene where Valerian is hit by heavy metal ball bearings and sinks through a series of floors is awesome. And as much fun as Big Market is, Alpha is an even larger maze of chutes and ladders where Valerian at one point gets in a dogfight piloting his skyjet then later has to escape running through a wall that he breaks through into more assorted rooms, including an orchard, and an underwater civilization.

There's this one character the commander is speaking with who looks so amazing in his thick white plastic coat with clear red bubbles and purple blob body who only appears on screen for a few seconds but it's moments like this that make me feel the craft here is worth appreciating.

The Paradise Alley set piece rounds out the city of a thousand planets and introduces BUBBLE (Rihanna) in a cutting-edge music video really cool gimmick that allows her to effortlessly morph around the stripper pole from a cabaret Sally Bowles outfit to nurse to jump rope schoolgirl to 70s rollergirl to French maid. As Bubble, Rihanna channels Jake Lloyd as ANAKIN for her performance and I love it. The ham was needed. Like The Phantom Menace, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is camp. I mean come on, the entire plot centers around a rainbow kinkajou who shits pearls. But it's some of the best, most artistically adept, coolest camp around.

Oh yeah before I forget, normally I don't associate movies with political messages (ahem Avatar coughing), but, in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the good guys were attacked (6 million casualties) by a bad guy (a government commander who lied by telling everyone they had weapons of mass destruction) and I think it's all just a coincidence so why read anything into it. And I think there's a whole bunch of hints about gender diversity which of course I'm not saying is bad. Like, this might just be me, but while Clara Delevingne is strikingly high fashion sensationally cute and sexy, she is a lesbian from what I hear and I found absolutely zero chemistry between her and her male costar; nor do I buy the playlist maguffin. I look at Laureline as the smart one who puts up with douchebag Valerian and his sexual harassment only for the greater good of the universe. And Valerian has a woman trapped in his body the whole movie. Also all the aliens are like gender swapped, like the father who talks with a woman's voice. Progress evolves slowly.

I love Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.


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