Director Luc Besson’s new sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has some of the most dazzling special effects ever seen on film. But science fiction author Anthony Ha feels that the movie falters badly when it comes to plot and character.
“This would make a great silent movie,” Ha says in Episode 266 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It’s gorgeous, and there’s always something interesting to look at, but occasionally the dialogue is just excruciatingly bad.”
Writer Zach Chapman agrees that the visuals, including an opening montage showing hundreds of years of future history, are the film’s primary appeal. “It’s kind of like the ultimate movie that you would put on on mute at a party,” he says. “People would look up and go, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool,’ and then continue their conversation.”
But fantasy author Erin Lindsey says that despite its flaws, Valerian is worth watching—and worth seeing on the big screen. “I don’t generally like live-action films in 3-D,” she says, “but this is one example where I probably regret that decision.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley is just pleased to see a big-budget space opera that’s not a sequel, and says he appreciates Valerian for its vision and ingenuity.
“I’m glad this movie exists,” he says. “I think every science fiction fan should watch it, just be aware of its problems.”
Listen to our complete interview with Anthony Ha, Zach Chapman, and Erin Lindsey in Episode 266 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Erin Lindsey on Valerian:
“Some of the most imaginative scenes—and the fun scenes—actually didn’t have anything to do with, or not much to do with, the central story. I didn’t mind that so much because they were just a lot of fun to watch. So maybe a little bit like the Mos Eisley cantina scene in Star Wars. Although that one does have quite a bit to do with the plot, what are really the standout parts of that scene are the texture that they provide. It’s the costumes and the creatures and the music and all the ambiance that goes with that. And I think this movie did that really, really well. And especially with sci-fi having been so mainstream for so long, it’s kind of tough to introduce something new and different, and I think this did that pretty well.”
Zach Chapman on Valerian and Laureline:
“I read the first two—for me it was The City of Shifting Waters and Empire of a Thousand Planets—and they were fun for what they were, but the panels are just covered in text, and it’s all text that doesn’t need to be there. It’s all describing the art, or something like that. But once he lets the artist do more of the storytelling, they read much faster, and they’re much more fun. … Each one reads differently. One of them was much more of a comedy, and then one of them—On the Frontiers—read like an Ian Fleming book, and even the main bad guy was kind of like a double-0 agent. … They’re in Moscow, and it takes place in the ’70s or ’80s on Earth. It’s all about time travel in the comic, because they’re time travel space agents.”
Zach Chapman on casting:
“I think it could be that Luc Besson is not great with younger or less experienced actors. I feel like I’m always going to be comparing this movie to The Fifth Element, because they’re so similar. They’re based off the same source material, in many ways. But if you look at The Fifth Element, they’re veteran actors in their prime, and then in this movie the best actors are the side characters. Like Ethan Hawke is just a side character. I would watch a movie about the flamboyant Ethan Hawke cowboy. Make a movie about that and I’ll watch it. He was like the Chris Tucker of this movie, but in a much smaller part. And John Goodman too, as the discount Jabba the Hutt.”
Anthony Ha on Rihanna‘s character Bubble:
“The other thing that really bothered me was there’s this small—but to me really crazy—moment where she has cycled through a bunch of transformations, finishing on Laureline, which is presumably what Valerian wants to see, and he says, ‘No no no, I have an offer for you, and I want to see the real you.’ And so she transforms into her natural state, which is this translucent alien, and he says, ‘No no, that’s not what I meant,’ and so she transforms into sexy Rihanna again. And I was like, ‘That is so messed up,’ that he’s like, ‘Real you, but hot.’ And it was done in this way like, ‘Well obviously the alien you is disgusting, and I would never want to see that.’”