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Valerian… was perhaps the worst movie I have ever seen based off a book. Taken on its own merits, however, it was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.
“Based” on Melanie Gutierrez’s best selling series of YA sci-fi/romance novels, the film is Valerian… in name only, giving fans (like me) no more than ten seconds to settle in for what we expect to be a filmed adaptation of our beloved book.
It is then that we are introduced to Sparky, a twenty foot tall robot who is carrying our two leads in its innards. They emerge naked from a misty silverwebbed orb and embrace to kiss, so I’m guessing Valerian and Xitan are no longer brother and sister. They are no longer tribal orphans either; rather, all the tribes have been merged but since the discovery of a powerful, unstable energy source the fate of the thousand planets is at risk.
In director Arthur Deco’s Valerian… each of the thousand planets has four moons instead of one, probably because someone thought four thousand would look better than only one thousand in the film’s many, many, maaaaany cgi-scapes, and each tribe has four fleets for undoubtedly the same reason. Of course this means the Fire Spiders must now number in the hundreds of thousands, so the new math at least appears to be equally applied.
But to make room for the inflated population (and screentime), some sacrifices have been made: gone are the majestic Gromes, the mysterious Soulglobe, the Hall of Crystals, Zormoof’s Urns (including the thrilling decoration scene), and the double-crossing character of Rolbador including all his colorful henchwomen.
The Valley of Commodore is starkly absent as well; the entire second act of Gutierrez’s original story has been excised, leaving Fropod’s motivations for stealing the Hubris Monument fairly suspect, although the alteration does help flesh out the old alchemist and his magical paintings, here given marvelous life in some of the film’s most visually stunning sequences.
The characters of Tryl and Feck are turned into a new creation, Pumsy, a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe (because why not) who acts as the Bear Worm, who now can allow instantaneous inter-dimensional travel. That’s right. No longer necessary is the three chapter fan favorite plotline where Xitan must free each of the seven Moonbeams before Valerian can activate the Outer. Now they merely let Bessie (their A.I. ship, here given an Australian accent) take them to Pumsy, who, after getting her turtle soup reward, simply grants their wish to visit the Realm of Ashes where they may restore the tidal balance.
Casting two young unknown actors in the leading roles of Valerian (Brittany McHarris) and Xitan (Jeffery Joseph Lantham) seems like a bold move, but probably not from a financial standpoint, as it no doubt allowed the producers more funds to spend on special effects. The newcomers do a fine job with the roles, however, acting scared, happy, confused etc when necessary.
With outstanding cinematography from Ray D. O’Shack (Seconds, Key Largo), the film displays a marvelous sense of space, whether we are in Bessie’s cramped cockpit or under the canopy of stars in the extravagant finale set in the scissor store. Thankfully the dreaded shaky cam never rears its ugly head as each and every detail is on razor sharp display, especially in the film’s climactic battle scenes where everything, from the tiniest pimples on the Shadowhale’s buttocks to the massive skysnakes that attack the alchemist’s energycastle, seem absolutely tangible.
Despite the oversized scale of the story, we are treated to enough intimate moments of character development to balance the eye candy with the pathos, and we can empathize with those characters more as a result (Lantham’s five minute crying jag was particularly moving). Quietly filmed and confidently performed, Deco (The Virgin Spring, Day of the Locust) lets these subdued scenes play out, contrasting them against the more rapid pace of the movie’s two hour running time. The editing is efficient without calling attention to itself. Soundtracks in modern day space operas usually rely on an eclectic mix of ancient (classical standbys) and modern (this month’s “hot” DJ) but Deco utilizes a sparse, solely electronic design and it works quite well, emphasizing the creepier moments beautifully and giving the action scenes plenty of zing.
If you can overlook the fact that Valerian… the film is not Valerian… the novel then go and see it on the big screen. A movie like this cost a shit ton of money to make, so the least you can do is see it on a fifty-foot screen.
In theaters worldwide.