Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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When I went to the cinema to see this film I was left deeply uncertain as to whether I had liked the film or not. I tried a couple of times to write a review back then, but I just couldn’t put into words what had bothered me about the film. When I re-watched it the other week I figured out what it was I don’t like.

I don’t like the title.

It’s a strange thing to have bothered me, but the reason is very much because the title places emphasis on Valerian, when the film itself is centred around both Valerian and Laureline. And why does the film centre on two protagonists? Because the comic book ‘Valerian and Laureline’, which the film has been adapted from, does so.

My problem stems from the fact that Laureline is likeable, whereas Valerian, while he certainly has his heart in the right place, is a bit dubious in his attitude at times. I don’t think it helps that there is no chemistry at all between these two characters; the actors didn’t make me believe that these are two people in love. In lust, on Valerian’s part certainly, but not in love. Skewing the emphasis from one character when it was really about two bugs me, especially because it is skewed towards the man, when in truth I much prefer Laureline.

That little quibble aside though, it is actually a really good film. The story slows down in places and goes off tangent from the main plot, but it does keep going, and it does get to a satisfying conclusion in the end. Generally as a writer I judge a film on the plot and the characters, and while they could have been better in this film, the film makes up for it because of another important factor that is crucial for science fiction to work properly. The storyworld.

The settings in this film from a lost paradise, to the market in another dimension to the City of a Thousand Planets which itself gave a multitude of different environments kept my attention on the screen. It is an imaginative extravaganza and I love this film for doing that.

Admittedly, saying that makes me a hypocrite. Generally I bash films for using their special effects to wow me. However, because they did have a decent and fairly original story to entice me in as well (makers of Avatar take note), it sits better with me that they used green screen to create a very different world from many I have seen on screen before. In many cases the setting was relevant to the plot as well, so it wasn’t like the filmmakers were boosting ‘look what we can do’ without reason.

The plot might slow down in places and the title is a bit deceiving in who the main character is, but this is a fun action packed science fiction film set in a very futuristic world, and in terms of utilising imagination, it definitely wins points for that. The overall message from the plot is certainly to be commended. (Slight spoiler – it is about forgiveness.)

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