Easy access to free movies leads to some serious indulging for me. Last night, I watched VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (from 2017), a monster budget sci-fi movie independently produced via private funds and crowd sourcing by a French husband and wife team, Luc Besson and Virginie Besson-Silla. I found a lot of the visuals to be what a dear friend of mine calls “chop suey,” i.e., a big, busy mess. Put another way, much of the overly-bright and frenetic CGI imagery made me think of wads of multi-hued Day-Glo bubblegum getting spat out simultaneously from the mouths of hundreds of small children.
The movie’s script and character development left a lot to be desired. Taking place just over four hundred years in the future, the narrative focuses on a rather two-dimensional pair of government agents serving the United Human Federation. The Federation’s base is a massive city in space, Alpha (originally the much smaller International Space Station), populated with millions of sentient, interdependent species from thousands of planets.
Engaging in a cliche-loaded back-and-forth, an annoyingly cocky Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) spends seemingly every spare moment trying to convince his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), to marry him. The two are assigned to protect Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) as part of a plan to investigate and solve the problem of a mysterious, toxic force inhabiting the core of Alpha. Frankly, the plot often felt secondary, drowned out by so much visual cacophony. I can’t remember the last time I saw something so over-produced as this screen drama is– although AQUAMAN came very close.
That all said, I found the race of peace-loving Pearl people interesting and beautiful, even if they did seem a bit copied from James Cameron’s 2009 movie AVATAR. Whenever any of them were on-screen, there were actually characters for me to like and care about. And Barbados born singer Rihanna creatively danced as a shape-changing, out-fit switching alien in a particularly entertaining scene.
The movie’s ultimate message of peace and reconciliation is a good one. This is semi-believably played out between a villainous Commander Filitt (Owen), who made me think of any number of corrupt Republican politicians in DC, and the sympathetic Pearl people, with perpetual adolescents Valerian and Laureline serving as mediators and saviors. Obviously, these two are meant to appeal to video gaming viewers under twenty-five (or even younger), the primary target demographic for this production. As a middle-aged non-video gamer, I was left to connect with whoever and whatever else showed up along the way in this big piece of junk food cinema, if you can accurately call this “cinema.” And that’s fine with me. I shamelessly admit to not completely outgrowing such trashy fun now and then, particularly since I can see it for free.