Comic books and films are no stranger to using the cold, blackness of space as a setting to tell fantastical stories. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a 2017 film directed, produced and written by Luc Besson, is the latest sci-fi adventure set across the stars. Based on the iconic Valérian and Laureline comic book series, Besson’s film blends adventure, mystery, romance and predictability into one ride. Is there some excitement hidden within?


Our tale opens with a montage of mankind’s space travel ventures, beginning in 1975 with authentic, low-quality visuals spanning a 4:3 aspect ratio. The picture quality drastically improves once we progress to the next time frame, 2020, as we see the construction of a space station. The hi-tech ship, dubbed Alpha, accumulates innumerable races from across the universe, but it reaches critical mass by 2150, forcing mankind to set it adrift in space.

Four hundred years later, our namesake hero Major Valerian (portrayed by Dane DeHaan) bears witness to a curious dream, wherein a kind-hearted, if underdeveloped, species of human-esque aliens endure a catastrophe: debris falls from the sky, destroying their planet. Although some of them manage to seek shelter in an abandoned spacecraft, their princess fails to make it in time. As we see her emit an energy wave, Valerian wakes up. His ship informs him via a scan that his dream might have been a message of some kind from across time and space.

Valerian and his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), travel the galaxy to keep peace. Their relationship with each other, however, is shown to be strained; he proposes to her, but she declines, citing his commitment issues. They still function well professionally, successfully weaving through a trans-dimensional marketplace to procure an invaluable artifact, a Mül converter.

Afterwards, Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen), their boss and the overseer of Alpha, informs his staff at a meeting how a “powerful” entity has infected a sector of Alpha, rendering it inhospitable. Valerian attends this session with Filitt, as his bodyguard, while Laureline keeps watch outside with the converter affixed to her armor. The meeting is cut short when the humanoid aliens, the same variety from our unexcitable protagonist’s dream, crash the summit, incapacitating everyone aboard. However, they don’t harm anyone, only leaving with the frozen Filitt. Once the crew is thawed, Valerian dons a ship and chases the aliens into Alpha’s dead zone, crashing in the process. Laureline defies orders and follows him, inserting her head into a prophetic jellyfish in order to learn Valerian’s exact whereabouts.

The two reunite, although an orc-like species abducts Laureline shortly thereafter, inadvertently forcing our hero to befriend a shapeshifting stripper named Bubble (Rihanna). The trio successfully escape, although Bubble succumbs to a fatal wound. In her last act of unearned audience sentimentality, she urges Valerian to take care of Laureline. As this is occurring, General Okto Bari (Sam Spruell) attempts to unlock the files pertaining to the mysterious planet Mül – something Valerian was unable to achieve previously given the files’ 5 Star clearance requirement.

At this point, all of the dangling plot threads coalesce into the truth, as our cardboard protagonists connect the dots we, the audience, have likely already deduced. Ultimately, the film ends as it lived: safely. None of the two primary characters were ever convincingly in danger, and the one fatality that came the closest to meaning anything, Bubble’s, still fell flat given the limited, stilted screentime she enjoyed. The special effects and CGI – including Mül’s aesthetics, Bubble’s transformations, the hallucinogenic jellyfish and the dual-dimensional marketplace – were realized well, and they’re Valerian‘s biggest draw. The cast’s performances could generally be characterized as monotone, though the bland script and plot didn’t offer them much to work with.

Those who wish to see a closer look at the creation of the movie can watch the “Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe of Valerian” special feature. This five-part exposé showcases glimpses of the crew filming, discussing their experiences and the inspiration that fueled Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. There’s 59:05 minutes of material present, which is well worth watching for those who enjoyed the film. Similarly, fourteen “Enchantment Pods” discourse the production staff’s thought process behind creating key scenes. You can also elect to overlay these across the film itself; doing so will place a button prompt on the screen at the pertinent moment, allowing you to instantly watch the scene’s respective Pod. An art gallery, teaser trailer and the final trailer cap off the Blu-ray’s bonuses.

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