French filmmaker Luc Besson has earned quite a reputation as one of the more influential action directors out there, but he also has played frequently in the realm of science-fiction, most memorably with his 1997 movie, The Fifth Element.
Conveniently, the 20th anniversary of that film has Besson returning to a similar space opera with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, this time adapting Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’ French graphic novel that had a big influence and impact on his earlier film. According to Besson, the movie is mostly adapted from the 1975 graphic album The Ambassador of Shadows, but that’s only one of 22 graphic novels starring Valerian and his partner Laureline.
For Besson’s movie, Valerian is played by Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) while Laureline is played by Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad).
Earlier this week, LRM had a chance to get an early glimpse at the new 3D trailer debuting Wednesday, as well as to ask Besson and DeHaan some questions, along with a group of other reporters.
Checking Out the New 3D Trailer
This brand-new trailer is an impressive piece of promotion for the movie, giving us a lot more information about the characters, the setting, and the story than the teaser released back in November, although it also includes some of the scenes we’ve seen before.
The new trailer opens with a Humvee-like truck whizzing across a desert and a person comes up to tell Dane DeHaan’s Agent Valerian that he’ll be flying solo for this mission, but he responds that he has a partner, and we see Cara Delevingne, as Agent Laureline, smiling at them. Then a giant beast like a cross between a bear and a dog bursts out of a cage behind them and attacks the Humvee, tearing through the roof as other soldiers inside start shooting at it.
This leads to the scene from the first trailer of the two agents jumping from the destroyed jeep to the hatch door of a spaceship, which flies away from the desert planet. The person talking to him says that he’s late to which he responds, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
As the opening bars of the Beatles song “Because” starts playing, we get a fantastic look and our first introduction to Alpha, the city of a thousand planets of the title, where thousands of different alien species have come together to share their resources. It’s declared to be “paradise,” as we get a bunch of amazing screen shots of this city to which Valerian proclaims exactly what we’re thinking, “Amazing.”
There is an unknown force threatening to tear this world apart, one that isn’t very clearly defined, but it’s made clear these two agents are going to be necessary to help save Alpha. The trailer proceeds to cut between scenes of some of the different environments which they’ll explore in the movie, including an underwater world where Valerian and Laureline are being chased by large whale-like creatures. We get glimpses at all sorts of aliens, some more humanoid than others, as well.
This trailer also gives us our first look at pop singer Rhihana as a character named Bubble--we see her quickly on a stage doing a quick change bit--and it was generally a pretty cool trailer, not only because we get more of an idea what the story and stakes are for Valerian and Laureline, but because we also learn more about their relationship.
More importantly, the film just looks enormous in terms of the scope of the (quite literal) world-building in play, and the visuals look simply spectacular, showing that Besson has clearly upped the ante since making The Fifth Element twenty years back.
After watching the trailer a couple times, we went down to the Lincoln Ristorante a few blocks South for some breakfast, and both DeHaan and Besson came by to take a few quick questions.
Below are some of the highlights of those conversations...
Why Luc Besson Decided to Make Valerian
Despite having read the comics when he was a child, Besson only started to think it might be possible to adapt the graphic novel once the technology got to the right place:
“I started reading it at ten but I never thought of doing it, first because it was impossible--you have two characters and one thousand aliens, so how can you do it? It’s just impossible. I think it was just part of my childhood, but then one day I hired Mézières, the guy who drew the comics, for The Fifth Element, so I worked with him for six months. He’s the one who bothered me and said, ‘Why are you doing this stupid film? (talking abut The Fifth Element) Why don’t you do Valerian? You say you love it, so why don’t you do it?' I said, ‘Because we cannot,’ then I started to think about why I haven’t thought about this and then I started to write a little bit in case the technology would be ready someday. Then the technology became ready. What’s interesting about the technology is that we’ve reached a point where the limit is the imagination, that’s it, which is good news for me because that’s all I have.”
Besson also notes that the original Valerian comics might have had some influence on George Lucas’ original Star Wars, especially for the design of the Millennium Falcon, which looks eerily like Valerian’s Interloper spaceship.
Filming in 3D
Luc Besson spoke with us about the decision to release Valerian in 3D, but not shoot it that way:
“The funny thing is that I met the 3D team once we were shooting already. They had seen a couple of dailies, but I didn’t want to do it during the shooting for sure, because now the transfer is so good, and it’s so painful to shoot in 3D. I want to be with my actors, I want to be able to have a small camera for certain shots--I want to be intimate some times. You cannot be intimate with a double camera, it’s just impossible. They were supposed to come back with a recommendation, but they said, ‘The way you frame the film. Don’t change anything, because you’re already using a lot of the space.’ In fact, when I was younger, I started with pictures, and I love music and architecture, and everything is about math when you have the frame. I love all the films from Kubrick--they were very symmetrical. Naturally I built my frame to always be in CinemaScope, so you always have a second plan, so I didn’t have to change anything.”
Creating This Amazing World Using Blue Screen
“There were very few practical sets, but there was an intense amount of pre-vis that we could always see what they were trying to accomplish,” DeHaan says about shooting a film almost entirely on blue screen. “We knew what all of the aliens would look like, who they were and that kind of thing. People in motion capture suits, but a lot of it really is relying on Luc, who operates the camera the whole time. He’s always got it on his shoulder, and he’s there with you, and he’s had this movie in his head his entire life, so there’s a lot to just rely on Luc and just trust in his vision, because this is his baby and he’s just trying to bring that to life.”
The Movie's Distinctive Tone
Both Besson and DeHaan had some thoughts on Valerian’s tone and what’s going to help differentiate it from other movies coming out this summer:
Luc Besson: “Generally in life, I don’t like to take myself too seriously, so as soon as I’m too serious, I just crack a joke, because at the end of the day, when you make movies, we’re not saving lives every day. We have to chill. What’s important about the structure of the film is that you have the big story, which is 28th Century full of aliens everywhere, a crazy story, and then you have the little story, which is about this guy and this girl, and he desperately wants to get the girl and the girl is very old-fashioned, saying ‘I will have one man, he will be the father of my kid and that’s it. The rest, I’m not interested.’ It’s the story of everyone: Does the guy get the girl? So you can be in space, you can be in the 12th Century, you can be in India, whatever, and I love this little story also. I think it’s the mix of the two that makes it very human, because everyone can relate even if they don’t specifically like sci-fi, at least it’s funny. Then the second, if you like them, you will want to know if they end up together or not. I love this very, very old-fashioned story and the very eccentric hyper space story. I like the mix of those.”
Dane DeHaan: “I think we want it to have a lightness to it, for sure, to be completely entertaining. We’re not going for the dark, gritty version of Valerian, but that’s Luc’s esthetic. I think it has an esthetic and a tone to it that only Luc could archive. I think also that would be difficult to achieve, even within an American studio system, because there’s something so unique and singular about Luc’s voice, and that in a way could only be done, given these circumstances.”
The Relationship Between Valerian and Laureline
DeHaan also had some thoughts on the boy tries to get girl aspect of the movie:
“Valerian really loves Laureline. I think he wishes they were more than just co-workers, and I think Valerian is the kind of guy who thinks he’s really good with everything, but doesn’t realize that a lot of that has to do with Laureline having his back and the luck that’s involved. I think they definitely are always saving the universe together, but I think he’s always in pursuit of something more, and that’s why there is always a flirtatious thing going on between them.”
Working with Rihanna
One of the other key members of the cast is pop superstar Rihanna, playing a character Bubble, who only appears very briefly in the trailer, and Besson didn’t want to say much more about her or her role in the movie:
Luc Besson: “She’s just the queen of earth already. She’s the biggest artist, she’s wonderful. Is she interested in making films? That’s the first question, because if she’s not real about it. Some people say, ‘Oh, we’d love to play...’ but it’s a hard job. The first meeting was about, ‘Do you really want to play in movies or is it just something on the side?’ She made it clear that she was serious about it. She really wants to do it, so that was the first phase, and the most important one for me. The second one is to find a schedule, because I think the Pope and the President has more time than her, because she’s so busy. When you got her on the set, first, she put all the entourage out so she’s really by herself, and she liked to be almost like clay. She’s offering herself like, ‘Okay, do whatever you have to do.’ She’s really generous. She’s not saying, ‘Oh, no, it doesn’t fit me...' This kind of bullsh*t where you’re in trouble.”
Dane DeHaan: “Rihanna wasn’t around the whole time, but she was right there in the beginning and her part in the movie is pretty special. I think when people see the movie, they’ll realize what a good time I had.”
As far as the decision to use Beatles music for the trailer, Besson only found out after sending footage cut to the song to the people in charge of the music rights that Paul McCartney was actually a sci-fi fan himself.
Taking Risks with Valerian
Lastly, DeHaan talked about the biggest challenge making movies like Valerian and even his last film, A Cure for Wellness:
“I think there is a risk involved with making more original content, but that’s ultimately way more exciting to me, I guess. There are certain movies where obviously you can just rely on that people are going to go see, and a movie like this, there is risk involved in doing something more original and doing something maybe people haven’t heard of, and you need to introduce the world to it. Taking risks is way more interesting to me--it’s how I’ve always been taught to do things.”
Before Besson left us to catch a plane to L.A. to do more promotion there (and presumably even more in Las Vegas at CinemaCon), Besson was pressed about which of the Valerian graphic novels he might want to adapt next. He wouldn’t say which one, but he did say that he’s already writing the screenplay adaptation:
“I like to be ready in case it’s working,” he says. “If it doesn’t work, you’re always ready. There’s nothing to prep, but if we’re lucky and people like the film, I would love to do a second one for sure, because I love the characters. They’re fun together, Cara and Dane, so I want to do one more.”
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is scheduled to open in North America on July 21, 2017. Look for the trailer right here on LRM sometime tomorrow.