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Friday, July 28, 2017

Ten Thoughts on Valerian (2017)

All Pics from this movie were removed by request. Use your imagination.

1. Okay, so I cannot get into Valerian with out first talking about Luc Besson. Le Femme Nikita, awesome. The Professional, mind blowing.  Besson's style was unique and illuminating. He made hard edged action movies with a solid character based core. You felt these movies in your guts, and The Professional was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had at a theater. I can't talk about The Professional without getting into Jayson Hammett, my late friend and movie going compatriot, who was as crazy about movies as I was and who was with me the night I saw The Professional, and then sat with me as I watched it again for the next showing. When the movie came out on VHS, Jayson bought me a copy, complete with the awesome review blurb, "Makes Speed look like a slow ride to Grandma's House".  When we found out that the French cut had an additional hour of footage, Jayson was the first to grab a bootleg from Note: that cut makes some of that creepy subtext in the US cut, not so sub.

The point, Besson was a God to us during those glorious days before THE BIG FALL.

2. THE BIG FALL took place in 1997. I had been working at Riverdale Cinemas, just south of Atlanta, for the past four years. I couldn't escape. The pay was terrible, but working the booth, and the steady stream of free movies and Mountain Dew was too good to leave. There was always some movie two weeks away that I had to stick around for. Building new prints, and screening them on Thursday nights to the gang of coworker friends was glorious. In 1997, the trailer to The Fifth Element hit, and for the Cult of Besson, who believed the Man God could do no wrong, we felt our brains melt from its ultra-rad awesomeness. This was before internet, you knew nothing about these movies before the trailer hit, and your could not watch the trailer whenever you wanted to on your phone. You had to be sitting in the theater, and because I worked there, I drooled over that trailer for months before the movie hit. The movie came out, and that weekend Jayson and I hit the theater for the Sunday night screening. Walking up to the theater we saw fellow movie nut, coworker, and good friend Seth Hancock with his brother Josh walking out into the parking lot, having just seen the last showing. Their eyes were glazed over and they looked sad and confused. "How was it?", I asked. "I don't know", answered Seth, as he and his brother wandered silently back to their car. It was a bad omen. After the movie, Jayson and I sat on the curb and sorted through our broken expectations. We couldn't come to grips with the big sugary dessert Besson had made. We wanted broken hearts and bullet holes in space. It took me 15 years to appreciate The Fifth Element, not until I had seeped in enough real life trouble could I see the value and necessity of that big strawberry intergalactic milkshake.

Location of THE BIG FALL

3. So the trailer for Valerian hit, and I flashed back to 1997. Oh no, not again! Fool me once! I'm older now. Level. Grounded. Besson is no longer the filmmaker I adored in 94, His legacy tarnished green and greasy from 20 years of producing and writing indistinct, boiler plate thrillers like the Transporter and Taken series. Lucy had moments, but could not reconcile its big ideas with its action movie trappings. The Family was terrible. The Messenger was propped up by his reputation but in the end, forgettable. I never saw Angel A, and never wanted to see the Arthur and the Invisible movies. But, Valerian could be something. I knew Besson's brand of sci fi now. I had more realistic expectations. But he said in interviews that he had been planning on making this movie for the last 40 years, and that did not bode well. How can he have any perspective after grooming something for that long. He is such an institution, could there be a Gary Kurtz there to tell him, "Stop it! Stop it!"

4. There was not a Gary Kurtz there to tell him to stop.

5. Luc Besson should not write his own scripts. He should not write other people's scripts. He is a visual guy, and directs polished, efficient movies, but he doesn't make movies about human beings. That scene at the end of The Professional with Leon sending Matilda away down the shoot to safety, and their interaction, the dramatic, emotional weight of that moment, that was Besson at full power, and he just doesn't seem interested in that anymore. You want a hair stylist, Besson is your guy.

6. I know I am not reviewing this movie on its own merits, or at all. Besson's early work made too much of an impact for me to divorce myself from it. I can get through Fifth Element now without getting too angry. I know Valerian is a space fantasy, and I should loosen up and stop throwing up the "Not The Professional" butt hurt nerd flag. I love the genre. I love spectacle. I paid extra to see this in 3D. But this movie has major problems. Fifth Element did some of this better.

7. Watch this movie and tell me who the antagonist is? What are the protagonists doing? Why are they doing it? Are they in any danger? What does this scene have to do with anything? Am I too dumb to see why I should care? I was two hours into the movie, checking the time on my phone, wondering why the two heros are meandering around, in no peril, on some bland mission, that they had zero stakes in, with no defined opposition. The flash and spectacle was huge, but after a 30 minutes effects real, without a compelling story to tell, boredom thick as a Novocaine drenched towel wraps around your head nullifies all that visual pageantry parading before you. At least Fifth Element had Gary Oldman as the heavy. This movie has... NOBODY! (There is one, but nothing is revealed until the movie is almost over, way past the time I stopped caring)

8. The two leads are supposed to be military bad-asses, but they look like children ripped from a JC Penny Back to School catalog. Pretty. Vacant. The dog shit dialog Besson gives them is embarrassing, Attack of the Clones embarrassing,  and not for a second did I believe in their relationship, or sense a dime's worth of sexual tension. They are plastic people in a plastic world with plastic puppy love problems. And their needs, their wants, their drive? I have no idea. To do their job? To do what they're told? They are supposed to be motivated by this love they have for one another, but the actors's total lack of chemistry torpedoes any dramatic weight this might have. Mannequins in Space!
I. Love. You.

9.  So angry nerd venting done. There are some great things in this. Concept Art Orgy! I loved the designs in this, with the exception of the three gargoyle ducks. Everything in this has a level of detail that is staggering. If the story had been compelling, I could see this being a totally immersive experience. One for the ages.The design of the death squad robots, a combination of a S&M Frankenstein's monster and a black muscle car, is pretty rad.

In fact, there are so many cool visual ideas in this that I recommend the movie just on this level. I loved the space suits, and the rubber monsters, and the space city. Visual Perfection.  I would buy an "Art of Valerian" book to really soak in the images.

10. I have not read the comic that this was based on, but a Utopian space city populated by a thousand different alien species all sharing their strengths and cultures is such a great concept that it made me want to seek out the source material.

BONUS - The opening credits, getting us up to date on the movie's universe was so perfect and really made me think I was about to see something great.

So in the end, 4 out of 10. But I am not disappointed. 1997 prepared me for this nonsense.

Sam Drog

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1 comment:

Larry F said...

The death squad robot pictures above there looks a bit like the Destroyer in Thor