So I kind of liked Lucy. Yes, I know that the entire concept is based on a silly urban myth, and the film really went to some unexpected places (which I actually dug, to be honest), but it was the closest director Luc Besson had come in years to reigniting that epic sci-fi creative spark he had with the classic Fifth Element. And for his next project, Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets, there’s serious potential not just for that spark’s return, but for it burning even brighter than before.
Now there’s a reason I mentioned Fifth Element in the same breath as Valerian, because without the latter we would probably have never got the former. That may seem chronologically paradoxical at first, until you learn that the upcoming movie is actually an adaptation of Valérian and Laureline, a French comic book published in the 1960’s which a 10-year old Besson would fall in love with and use as inspiration for many of his works.
And now he finally gets to make a movie out of it, which, as he explains to EW, would probably never have happened if it wasn’t for another sci-fi blockbuster.
Jean-Claude Mézieres, who was the father of Valerian, he worked on Fifth Element for a year, and he was telling me all the time, “Why you don’t make the film?” And I always answered, “We cannot.” There are 10 or 12 human characters, and the others are all aliens. So the technique is not there. We had to wait for Avatar.
I saw Avatar and threw my script for Valerian in the garbage. [Laughs.] I was inspired by James Cameron. He invited me on the set of Avatar. And I asked him questions and he was very open and very sweet. He was sharing with other directors. He helped other people like me to progress.
Now it must be noted that as cool as Avatar was, its slightly derivative script was not its strongest asset. But luckily, while Besson is definitely taking some technical tips from Cameron’s work – as you should from the biggest movie of all time – he is adding a whole lot of his own flavour and sci-fi depth to this story, while still keeping it accessible.
I allowed myself much more freedom [after I started writing it again]. I centered the story to make it more real, more human. If you don’t like sci-fi, I want you to still like Valerian. And the other part was: Let’s try to do everything, before someone tells me its impossible. Let’s have the imagination go to the limit. And let’s be so super complicated, with aliens and robots and all this, but to make it look easy like a dance. You watch the thing, and it’s fluid and funny and wild. It’s not deep and complicated. It’s ultra sophisticated to do, but it looks easy. Like a cocktail where you don’t even taste the alcohol [laughs].
As the comic’s original leading duo of Valerian and Laureline – “spatio-temporal agents” who travel through time and space to protect humanity across various worlds in the 28th century – the movie stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, two serious up and coming young talented actors. They’re definitely going to be needing those talents as the vast amounts of visual effects in this film will more than likely find them acting opposite nothing. That may be a limitation for some, but Besson says that he’s used to it.
When I started to write this at 13 years old, I was living in the country of cheese, and I wanted to make movies. But when I open my windows I see cows, so believe me, that pushes your imagination. Because you want to escape. I start to read Valerian when I was 10. At the time there was no Internet; there wasn’t even a TV at home. So I read and just had my imagination. So when I look at bluescreen, I see everything. My imagination is very comfortable with bluescreen.
This movie also holds a special place in young Luc Besson’s life not just for kindling his imagination, but also for kindling his first romance.
[The comic] was sci-fi which was pretty rare in the early 70s. And it was a guy and a girl, and there weren’t many female heroines at the time. So the first girl I fall in love with, when I was 10, was Laureline. She’s a tough cookie. And she doesn’t say “Yes, yes, yes” to Valerian all the time. I loved that about her.
One of the most memorable aspects of The Fifth Element was of course the movie’s costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. This time around, Besson doesn’t have a world famous couture fashionista on hand, but he was personally involved with a group of hand picked designers to get the looks just right. Some of which even came from fans!
[I was involved] since the beginning. When I started a couple of years ago, we had a selection of 6,000 designers from all around the world. We finished with 10. Basically five of them worked for a year. And many of the costumes come from them. Half come from them, and half come from Olivier Bériot, who is the costume designer. And then we had this big contest where we received a lot of drawings, and we picked the best 20, and they’re also in the film. It’s a long long process. We started three years ago.
Besides for these pics, Besson hasn’t revealed much else about the movie other than it will also be starring Clive Owen, John Goodman and Ethan Hawke. And also Rihanna – yes, that Rihanna – in an even more secretive role. The covertness of the pop star’s casting has lead some to guess that she would be playing the film’s big villain, but Besson says that it’s nothing that predictable.
I can’t tell you [if she’s playing the villain]. The big difference between this and the Marvel pattern is that with Marvel you know after five minutes who’s the villain. They do films that are super well made, but this pattern bothered me a little bit. What’s new here is we have two agents, and over the course of one film, it’s a police investigation, in fact. So you don’t know who’s exactly bad until the end, because it’s an investigation. That’s why I can’t talk too much. But it’s a real story. That’s what I love about it.
And don’t think you can go rustle up some old copies of the comic book on eBay to do some research and figure out the movie’s characters and the plot, as Besson revealed that he’s doing a bit of his own thing.
There is flavor from the comic, for sure. When you read a comic book, it takes you 20 minutes. The film is two hours. So I take the essentials, but I have to go to other worlds. But when you see the film, you will remember in the comic and say, “Oh yeah, yeah, this and this.” The characters are there and a big chunk of the story.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is currently mid-way through principal production, and is scheduled for release in July 2017.
Last Updated: March 31, 2016