A world of pure imagination

Very early on in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, there is a reference to Willy Wonka’s ‘World of pure imagination’, and this is most definitely where you will spend the next two and a bit hours (although I couldn’t help wondering if the reference hadn’t been put in there just for reviewers to pick up on as their opening gambit!).

Of course, this isn’t just any imagination; this is freaky Frenchman, Luc Besson’s imagination – the man who makes Tim Burton look sane and restrained. And it’s been set free, with a reported $210m budget to help him bring it to the big screen.

The result is a visual gift that never stops giving. Unlike most sci-fi, where you get the occasional wacky alien-packed bar to set the scene, Valerian’s multiple life forms are a constant presence in all their weird and wonderful beauty, complete with no less than 2734 special effects shots.

Personally, I’d like to have seen more of the 200 different species involved in the plot, and many of them end up as little more than window dressing to a very human based story. But perhaps I’m just being greedy.

The humans carry things along nicely, with Cara Delevigne particularly (and surprisingly) impressive as the feisty Laureline, and Clive Owen doing that sinister baddie thing that only British actors seem to be able to pull off. It’s just a shame that Woodane DeHaan’s Valerian doesn’t give Laureline a better run for her money, and I found their lack of chemistry left both her and the film floundering on more than one occasion.

Fortunately, the pace, the action and the breathtaking beauty of the film more than makes up for its occasionally clunky dialogue – even when Clive Owen starts channelling Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup in his over-dramatic confession scene.

There will inevitably be some who will call Valerian derivative, and certainly you can see Star Wars in the Moroccan market, the braid-heavy military uniforms of the World State Federation and even the use of a garbage chute. The residents of planet Mül are also rather close cousins of the Na’vi from Avatar. However, it is worth remembering that the source material for Valerian pre-dates all of these, and it is this that was plundered by George Lucas and James Cameron, not the other way around.

While Valerian may never be hailed as a sci-fi classic alongside these earlier films, this is not for any lack of ambition. If anything you’re left with a sense that Besson bit off more than he could chew in trying to do so much in one movie. With such a rich, vivid and vibrant world around them, the pretty standard human action-adventure story was always going to come up a little short, even without its DeHaandicap.

So is it worth your time and ticket money? Absolutely. There is no denying that Valerian is a work of genius. A mad, crazy, slightly unhinged genius perhaps, but a genius nonetheless. Just don’t wait for the DVD. If ever there was a film that demanded the biggest screen possible, and even 3D if you can find it, then Valerian is it.







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