While many films stand the test of time, others fade into obscurity. Whether this happens over a period of years or almost instantly upon a film’s release, each of these titles have slipped through the cracks of our collective memory to join the ranks of the Films That Time Forgot.
With acclaimed director Luc Besson writing and directing, space opera Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was once an exciting prospect. Financed by Besson himself, the film racked up a production budget of a whopping $180 million, making it both the most expensive European and independent film ever made.
Sadly, despite having the Fifth Element director at the helm, it flopped pretty hard. This isn’t surprising – it would have needed to gross $400 million worldwide in order to break even – but it’s still a shame for Besson, who clearly viewed the film as a labor of love.
Based on the French sci-fi comic book series Valérian and Laureline, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has a lot of promise right out of the gate. From the first few scenes, it’s clear that the film’s visuals are something to behold, but its lengthy opening scene rendered entirely in CGI depicts an alien culture speaking a fictional language experiencing the destruction of their planet belies the film’s inability to meet its own lofty expectations. Like the 2+ hours that follow, it’s beautifully presented, but it’s distinctly hollow and uninteresting.
The film then introduces its protagonists, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who are immediately revealed to be irritating and poorly written, respectively. They’re thrust into a plot to uncover a galactic conspiracy and save an unfairly oppressed people in a story that sounds far more interesting than it actually is. Along the way, they stop at a few planets that allow for some genuinely interesting sci-fi moments – such as a market that exists in a separate dimension and a huge inter-planetary hub that houses countless species – but while it’s occasionally able to capture the imagination, it simply can’t hold it for very long.
Despite a promising concept and impressive visuals, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is innately dull and relentlessly tedious. Its dialogue is some of the most contrived, unnatural, and cringe-inducing ever to be committed to film, and it’s constantly at odds with Valerian‘s polished look.
Besson’s love for the source material is made abundantly clear, but this is achieved through moments of blatant fan service that reference comics that much of the audience won’t be familiar with. This is another way in which the film falls flat, but even there, it’s hard to feel much about it beyond vague irritation that it’s taking longer than it needs to.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is exactly the sort of vapid vanity project that Hollywood has begun to steer clear of. It’s all shine and no substance, with its actors wasted attempting to bring life to their shoddily written roles. It’s thoroughly uninteresting, despite its generally impressive visuals, and although it was a box office flop, it was still far more of a success than it deserved to be.
Some of its weirdest moments include Rihanna as an exotic dancer/shapeshifting blob creature and Ethan Hawke as a very campy cowboy space pimp – and while both of those characters have definite promise, the film’s writing lets them down in much the same way it does for the rest of the film.
There’s simply nothing worthwhile about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, aside from its presentation. There’s no impressive acting, no gripping narrative, and no deeper themes. It’s fluff of the highest order, and at times, it’s actually painful to watch.
Summary: On the outside, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks good, but there’s nothing whatsoever inside except disappointment. Its title essentially tells you all you need to know – the focus is entirely on the male lead, it’s far longer than it needs to be, and it’s somehow both confusing and far too simplistic at the same time.
Highlights: The market existing in another dimension and the action sequences fought by Valerian’s disembodied hand are genuinely fun for all of a couple of minutes.