Comic-Con: Luc Besson’s VALERIAN sounds like a massive return to sci-fi form

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So I know I’m in the unpopular minority here, but I kind of really dug Lucy. Yes, the narrative for Luc “Fifth Element” Besson’s trippy 2014 sci-fi actioner was based entirely on one utterly ridiculous concept (no, we don’t just use 10% of our brains, unless we are Darryn Bonthuys), but it had the type of ballsy big ideas that you generally just don’t see in Hollywood blockbusters these days. What can I say? I’m a sucker for cinematic ambition. Which is why the news coming out of San Diego Comic-Con surrounding Besson’s latest big idea sci-fi blockbuster has me grinning like an idiot.

We’ve spoken of and seen bits of pieces for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets before. It’s a Fifth Element-esque space opera starring hot rising stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, based on a classic French comic that is not only cited as being one of the influences for Star Wars, but which Besson fell in love with at the age of 10 and has been dreaming about turning into a film ever since. That’s a lot of legacy to live up to, and it reportedly looks like it may do just that.

Besson took to Comic-Con’s vaunted Hall H – his first ever appearance at the convention – for his Valerian panel, and by all accounts brought the house down. The director was joined on-stage by his wife and co-producer Virginie Besson-Silla, as well as stars DeHaan and Delevingne – who respectively play the titular Valerian and Laureline, “spatio-temporal agents” who travel through time and space to protect humanity across various worlds in the 28th century – to talk about the movie and debut concept art and five unrelated scenes from it. The film just wrapped principal photography a few weeks ago and they had barely begun post-production for the over 2,700 VFX shots needed to bring this sci-fi universe to life (Besson revealed that there will be about 200 different alien species seen in the film) so the scenes were reportedly mostly dialogue driven and had some temporary VFX, but it was apparently still so good that it resulted in a standing ovation that lasted for over a minute.

The footage hasn’t been made available online, so you’re going to have to make do with some second-hand descriptions. Here’s snippets from /Film‘s detailed take:

The first sequence, scene 141, showed Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running down the hallways of an unfamiliar spaceship. DeHaan is wearing a sci-fi suit that can best be described as looking like something out of Pacific Rim. His partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is guiding him where to go over a communicator, and directs him to a dead end.

What follows was an absolutely crazy sequence. Valerian activates his suit, which transforms around his head, and runs straight through the wall. We continue with him in third-person video game POV (Besson claims he’s never played any video games) as he plows through not only that wall but other walls in a single seamless shot. At one point he crashes through a wall and there is no ground on the other side. He uses his gun to shoot little pods for him to leap off of like a frog on lily pads, as he continues on his sci-fi parkour run. I can’t express to you how cool this shot looked. Besson tells us in the final film it continues even further, lasting over 45 seconds.

Another sequence, scene 183, shows Laureline in a similar spacesuit being escorted by two guardians in green uniforms. She asks them to cuff her, telling them she’s getting the urge to escape. When they try to do so, she manages to kick their ass and steal their gun. As she escapes she runs into three creatures with big duck nose faces.

The next sequence we screened was scene 51, involving Valerian and Laureline in their spaceship. Laureline is driving and Valerian begins complaining about her choices, sparking a typical married couple argument. Lesson describes the couple as a Mr. and Mrs. Smith-like team, but “humans in a world of crazy.” Their ship lands on a desert planet where a group of Mad Max-like scavengers await them. Valerian and Laureline come out dressed like tourists in Las Vegas.

The next scene shows Valerian walking through a colorful futuristic city district, with all sorts of fun craziness going on in all corners of the screen. Ethan Hawke appears as a guy in a cowboy hat with a nose ring chain who lures him into his club to see a show.

The last and final scene they screened was a continuation of the desert planet sequence shown earlier. Valerian and Laureline are running in their touristy clothes away from a huge monster-like alien creature, which looks like something out of Star Wars. One of the human scavengers remote-controls a big gunner using a futuristic VR helmet, trying to stop the creature from getting our heroes. The duo gets onto a school bus and the group of scavengers try to escape the huge creature, but it jumps on top of the back of the bus and starts tearing the roof apart. Valerian smashes out the front windshield and the duo escapes through the front of the bus as their spaceship meets them in the air.

During the presentation of the footage, it was revealed that Rihanna has a secret role in the movie. According to DeHaan, “Rihanna’s part is so crazy. Whenever I would tell anybody what I was doing for those first two weeks, their jaw was on the floor and they were so jealous. That’s all I can say.”

He also went on to talk about his character of Valerian, who he described as “a space bro. He thinks of himself as the most capable soldier in the universe, there’s a lot of luck on his side, and he’d be nothing without Laureline.” Delevingne describes Laureline as a “strong, independent, hardworking, determined individual. They wouldn’t be able to do what they do without each other… It’s a wonderful thing to be in such an incredible pairing.”

While plot details were still kept under wraps, it was revealed that the story takes place over a 24-hour period, and that at least one scene in the film will involve the characters traveling between dimensions. Because clearly our normal universe is not crazy enough. Besson actually used to think the story was just too weird and thus impossible to turn into a film, but it was James Cameron’s visually incredible Avatar that convinced him that it could be done.

It was also revealed that the titular “City of a Thousand Planets” was the gigantic space station Alpha, where most of the movie takes place. It’s home to 17 million inhabitants, and sees humans having to deal with over 800 different types of species. This results in all kinds of crazy alien characters and worlds on display, which is glimpsed in the footage. And it’s very much that – a glimpse – as according to Besson,  “I don’t want to seem pretentious, but you’ve seen nothing.”

With The Fifth Element – which actually boasted creature designs from Valerian’s original comic book artist Jean-Claude Mézières – Besson also had plenty of out-there design work. Despite its cult-classic status now, that wildly creative style saw the movie receiving some mixed reviews upon release. That same over the top creative tone is apparently visible throughout Valerian, but According to Besson The Fifth Element‘s craziness was just a bit misunderstood when it was released, but modern audiences would be more accepting.

“Twenty years ago ago, I was weird. Twenty years later, the world got as weird as me.”

Based on the endless gushing reports by everybody in attendance at Comic-Con flooding the net right now, I think he’s probably right.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets releases on July 21, 2017. Here’s the film’s synopsis:

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives for the government of the human territories charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Valerian has more in mind than a professional relationship with his partner — blatantly chasing after her with propositions of romance. But his extensive history with women, and her traditional values, drive Laureline to continuously rebuff him.

Under directive from their Commander (Clive Owen), Valerian and Laureline embark on a mission to the breathtaking intergalactic city of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis comprised of thousands of different species from all four corners of the universe. Alpha’s seventeen million inhabitants have converged over time — uniting their talents, technology and resources for the betterment of all. Unfortunately, not everyone on Alpha shares in these same objectives; in fact, unseen forces are at work, placing our race in great danger.

Last Updated: January 4, 2017

Read  The final trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has landed

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Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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