Monday, July 31, 2017

Valerian Directed and Written by: Luc Besson

Directed and Written by: Luc Besson

Hello and welcome, now usually I don’t do movie reviews, although I did do a guest review for Fantastic Four… Which we are not going to talk about.  Ever Again  Nor do I really intent to make a habit of it, however given that I did do a review for the Valerian and Laureline comic and I did see the movie with my editor Dr. Allen,  Hello everyone.  I am going to inflict myself upon you all. We thought it might be interesting to do a brief movie review, we will be talking about the movie as a stand alone and as an adaption of a prior work.  As such this review will have two grades.  First let me talk about Luc Besson.

Mr. Besson was born in 1959, in Paris France to a pair of diving instructors who divorced and remarried when he was 10, leaving him feeling isolated.  We almost didn’t get Luc Besson the director, he wanted to be a Marine Biologist but an accident at the age of 17 rendered him unable to dive.  As he was sitting there wondering what do with his life, a friend invited him to a movie set and he was convinced.  He was gonna make movies and he did.  Mr. Besson has to his credit films like Nikita, Leon: The Professional, 5th Element, Lucy and now Valerian.  Which is what we’re going to talk about today.

First off, the film looks amazing, the visuals are great.  The setting of most of the film, Space Station Alpha aka the city of a thousand planets is awesome, it’s like Babylon 5 only insane and on drugs.  Specifically LSD. I will concur that, like with The 5th Element, the visuals were pretty good, and I liked the degree of stylization in dress and architecture.  On the surface [read:the world that the elites live in], it looks like the sort of neon-techno orgy that a decadent society free from all want would look like...and the seedy underbelly looks exactly like the sort of seedy underbelly a society with that high a GINI coefficient would produce.  

Sadly, the writing doesn’t match the visuals.  The plot is fairly mediocre and while not executed badly, it’s not carried out with any great level of skill either.  This is a story you’ve seen several times before and you’ve seen done better.  The world-building was substandard as well.  With something like Babylon 5, you know why the station is there, what it’s purpose is, and can get a feel for the political landscape inside a few minutes. I was left wondering “Why is a space station that was cobbled together over the course of centuries and then sent to drift through space (without propulsion… in 400 years it should still be in Earth’s neighborhood, not seventeen lightyears away) seemingly the center of galactic governance?”.  Nothing is ever forthcoming in that respect.  I’m actually pretty annoyed about the treatment of a minor character who was brought in to solve a problem that she wasn’t really needed to solve and then dies… For no reason I could figure.  That was just so transparent that it knocked me right out of the movie. Honestly, she was the only character I gave a damn about as well.

The acting is not great either, a big problem for me at least is the relationship between Valerian and Laureline which I found vague and not very well explored.  They’re clearly in a physical relationship of some type (some sort of weird “friends with benefits” thing with a side order of resentment, miscommunication, and what looks a lot like workplace sexual harassment because both have become--and then stopped being--more attached to the other at different times) but I’m often asking why given the sheer amount of doubt that Laureline expresses in Valerian and the hostility. Their relationship just wasn’t something I could really believe in and considering that a lot of the movie hangs on it… That’s a bad thing.

On the military side, Valerian and Laureline are supposed to be agents in some sort of special forces.  They’re not police given that they conduct operations outside of their national boundaries without the permission of the host government, not to mention their military ranks.  As a Marine, I’m going to get up on my high horse and rant about that for a bit.  Their ranks make no damn sense.  Valerian is a Major, for… reasons and Laureline a sergeant.  However, Laureline is the one with a “fancy Ivy League education” (given her behavior in the movie, I’m left wondering just what her degree is in, underwater basket weaving?) which in most if not all 1st World militaries is a fast track to the officer corps.  Frankly Valerian acts more like a Sgt Major and Laureline acts like a Lt with anger issues (She gets very violent, to the point of beating a captive man unconscious). Military ranks are not just pretty words!  They mean things!  It would have been better if they were just referred to as agents or something for the whole movie.  I don’t expect most people be to be bothered by that but it annoyed the piss out of me. Also consider the level of competence on display.  I have no idea how Valerian even survived training, let alone made it to the rank of Major.  Good initiative and capacity to think on his feet, but his planning threshold is about five seconds.  That does not a good officer make.  

We basically have a visually staggering world with hints of a great setting with characters that are fairly unlikeable and a plot that isn’t really worth it.  This movie isn’t a terrible movie, the plot is serviceable like a microwave dinner and the acting is well done enough that you can believe people were paid for it.  So this isn’t Batman Vs Superman (If you disagree that it was an objectively bad movie, go back to your hole, you are alone in this world.{I take no responsibility for the comments of my editor})  But that doesn’t make it a good movie either.  Sadly Dr. Allen and I have discussed and we must give this movie a grade of C-.  Go see Atomic Blonde instead. For my part, instead of giving this movie a grade, I would call it aggressively mediocre for “Immortan Joe Declaration” values thereof.  The movie screamed “WITNESS ME!”, and that is my only response.

Now let me talk about it as an adaptation.  Now, changes must be made when translating a story to a new medium.  For example, in the comics Valerian and Laureline travel time as often as they do space the movie drops that, perhaps to avoid confusion.  Although I feel an audience that watches Dr. Who and Back to the Future could figure it out.  That said I can live with that change.  I can also live with Laureline being changed from a redhead to a blonde (we live in an era where characters have their gender and race changed and as often as not it’s a good change[Black Heimdal=Awesome] , why whine about hair color?).  Keep in mind as well that I am not a well-studied fan of this series, having only read to Empire of a Thousand Planets (which I liked!) but from what I’ve seen this is what the movie and the comics have in common:  There’s a pair of agents named Valerian and Laureline who operate as paramilitary protectors of their society.  They work in space.  This is everything the comics and movie have in common.  

Massive changes have been made to the setting, gone for example is Galaxity and instead we have the United Human Federation which is shown to us as a rather milquetoast science fiction society.  The relationship between the characters has changed, Valerian is made into kinda of a meathead bro instead of the crafty agent I saw, in the comics. Yeah he was two-fisted but he was also capable of cunning (as is proper for a manly hero in the pulpy Age of Chrome).  Laureline’s personality is more violent and confrontational than in the comics where she tends to be disarmingly charming, and while capable of violence, tends to prefer to out think her enemies.  Now some of that is an artifact of their times, as the comic started in the 1960s but I do think more effort should have been put in to retain what made both the setting and characters different and interesting.  I mean consider this; before the comic was published the name Laureline didn’t exist, the creators made it up.  Now thousands of women have that name.  That’s a real world impact.  Frankly this series, even from the little I’ve seen, deserved better than this.  As an adaptation I give Valerian a D+, Mr. Besson would have been well served to get a professional writer for this.  

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen

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