How could Valerian fail? Luc Besson, $200 million budget, the stills and clips I saw beforehand were visually spectacular. And then I watched it last night. I would have fallen asleep if the flashing colors hadn’t made my eyes hurt. Besson made a movie with fantastic visuals, but he forgot to include little details like a sensible plot and relatable characters and some motivation for wanting the characters to succeed; it’s like being given the job of making a cake, not bothering with substance, and building an elaborate confection out of nothing but marzipan and lots and lots of food coloring.
It starts out interestingly enough, with a series of scenes starting with a contemporary ship docking with a space station, and visitors and residents shaking hands. Then, over time, the station gets bigger, more ships come, more handshakes, and eventually aliens show up, and we see a succession of weird aliens. Well, not so weird. My first disappointment is that all of the aliens are still all two-eyed bipeds with hands that can be shaken — for all the enthusiasm for Besson’s imagination, it has flopped down and died in the first 10 minutes. One of the tedious things about the visual effects in this movie is that he’s just ramped up the garishness that we saw in The Fifth Element — there are many scenes that are just incoherent, full of loud flashing colors and random design elements. It’s a lot like a Michael Bay movie without the violence.
The second disappointment is simple innumeracy. The space station has grown so much it has to be moved out of Earth orbit…to the Magellanic clouds? That’s quite a move, all the way out of our galaxy. But then later we learn that it was moved 700 million miles, which is just a small fraction of a light year. Scale and scope are completely confusing in this movie.
Then we cut to a distant alien planet called Mül, although in my head it was actually the Planet of the Androgynous Supermodels on a Beach Shoot. We’re introduced to the McGuffin of the movie, a magical rat thing (it looks a bit like Skrat, from the Ice Age cartoons, with warts) that, when fed these blue marbles, poops out buckets full of duplicate blue marbles that are tremendous power sources with ten times the energy needed to power an interstellar starship, but which the supermodels use to wash their face with in the morning. Suddenly, the planet is destroyed. Supermodels look weepy and horrified.
Fast cut to our Heroes, Valerian and Laureline. Valerian is a cocky frat boy. Laureline is aloof. They’re in love, I guess. We need to be told that, because you sure aren’t going to see it in their chemistry. The whole movie is then about these two young people scurrying about to reunite the Supermodels with Magical Rat Thing and a Blue Marble, although they don’t have a clue what they’re doing themselves. Neither do we. There’s some irrelevant nonsense about a growing danger to the space station and bad robots and misunderstandings and nefarious conspiracies that don’t really matter, and then it ends with some treacle about the power of love.
That’s it. That’s the whole movie. Two hundred million dollars worth of marzipan and food coloring. Skip it. Watch the psychedelic wormhole sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey again, it’s about as flashy and will leave you no less confused.
Which makes me think…maybe Valerian would have been more entertaining if I’d been high on ‘shrooms while watching it.