Luc Besson’s movies are an acquired taste, and his most recent, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, is no exception. It’s a great looking movie with enough quirks to make it different from all the other comic book adaptations, but failed to connect with a worldwide audience, nearly bankrupting its studio, Europacorp.
The Production: 3.5/5
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) have been tasked to retrieve a Mül converter believed to have been stolen and is about to be sold on the black market on the planet Kyrian ddep within its multi-dimensional Big Market. The Mül converter is a small animal capable of replicating virtually anything it ingests, and it the last of its kind when the planet Mül was destroyed as collateral damage in a battle that took place just outside its orbit nearly 30 years ago. After a thrilling chase through the multi-dimensional streets, Valerian and Laureline retrieve the converter and head for Alpha, a giant city in space that began hundreds of years ago as the International Space Station. It is there that they turn the converter over to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen), who informs them that Alpha has been infected with a toxic force that has killed anyone who has tried to breach it and it is growing at an alarming rate. Filitt attends a summit to discuss the issue with representatives from the many area of Alpha, with Valerian and Laureline assigned to him as bodyguards. At the summit, Filitt is kidnapped by refugees from Mül in an effort to retrieve the converter. However, the converter was being guarded by Laureline at the time. Valerian and Lauerline are now tasked to find the Commander and free him, and find out what the toxic force is and who is behind it.
Director Luc Besson is an acquired taste, and I’ve found most of his films that I’ve seen to be, at the very least, visually interesting and often stunning, but sometimes lacking in a cohesive story. He is best known for the films Le Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and more recently, Lucy. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is his return to science fiction since The Fifth Element twenty years ago, and has been a pet project of his since he was a young boy, reading the French comic books Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières first published in 1967. Besson’s film is visually stunning (I’ll be shocked if it does not at least garner Oscar nominations for Art Design and Visual Effects). Standouts are the opening sequence on the planet Mül, the entire Big Market sequence, and Rhianna’s dance transformation scene, to name but a few. On the surface, the story is an entertaining one. One of the biggest problems is that much of what Valerian and Lauerline uncover is almost all by coincidence or circumstance, not from any real investigative work. It also doesn’t help that Dane DeHaan is badly miscast as Valerian, who doesn’t hold much screen presence here and has very little chemistry with his co-star Cara Delevingne, who is one of the best things in this movie despite not having much to work with. She’s having fun with the role, and it shows in her performance. As does Ethan Hawke’s performance as Jolly the Pimp, a role Besson envisioned for Dennis Hopper (which was Hawke’s cue to the character). Clive Owen does nothing more than growl and bark his orders as Commander Filitt. Valerian may not be a very good movie, but at its core, it is an entertaining and at times odd movie (in a good way).
3D Rating: NA
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was captured digitally on Alexa XT cameras and completed as a 2K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision high dynamic range. Lionsgate’s 2160p upscale includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10 (this review is based on HDR10). There is a slight increase in fine detail when compared to the included 1080p Blu-ray, most noticeably in the textures of fabrics used in many of the uniforms and the skin of the armadillo-like Mül converter. Contrast is also improved, with deeper blacks and increased shadow detail, especially in some of the underwater sequences. The major improvement, though, is in the skins of the pearl creatures from Mül, adding a more distinct translucency in their appearance. Colors are also much more vibrant in this UHD version.
The UHD disc contains the same Dolby Atmos mix on the included 1080p Blu-ray, and it is everything one would expect in an Atmos track for a movie of this kind. It is wide and expansive, with precision-placed sound effects in front, behind, and above you (even in a 5.1.2 configuration). LFE is strong, especially during battle sequences, without ever being too boomy. Alexandre Desplat’s score is also more immersive with the addition of the height channels. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout, never getting lost in the mix.
Special Features: 3/5
As with most Lionsgate releases, all of the Special Features content from the Blu-ray edition are also accessible on the UHD version.
Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe of Valerian (1080p; 59:04): A fairly extensive look at the making of the film and its origins, viewable as one long documentary or as five individual segments – Paper/Ink/Flesh/Blood: Origins, To Alpha and Beyond: Production and Stunts, It Takes Two: Valerian & Laureline’s Partnership, Denizens of the Galaxy: Humans and Aliens, and The Final Element: Visual Effects.
Enhancement Pods (1080p; 35:58): Fourteen short segments covering various aspects of the production, viewable as one long documentary, individually, or as branching featurettes when activating Enhancement Mode on the 1080p Blu-ray – Alpha Introduction, Princess Lȉho-Minaa, Empress Aloȉ, Destruction of Mül, Igon Siruss, Motion Capture Cameras, Kris Wu Set Tour, Melo the Converter, Peal Guns, Kris Wu 4D Scan, Paradise Alley, Boulan Bathor Emperor, Emperor Haban-Limaȉ, and K-Trons.
The Art of Valerian (1080p): Still gallery of concept drawings.
Teaser Trailer (1080p; 1:39)
Final Trailer (1080p; 1:51)
Digital HD Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy thru UltraViolet retail partners.
Although Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was considered a financial failure ($180 million budget – the most expensive film from France – and a worldwide box office take of $225 million), it still manages to entertain with its eye-popping visuals and immersive sound design.