It ain’t over until the floating fat man soars. That’s the hope anyway.
When I say “over,” I mean the debate raging in my mind about cinematic space exploration. Perhaps “suspended until a later date” would be more accurate. The fate of big-screen science fiction seems to hang in the balance right now, and director Denis Villeneuve might just be the man who controls The Spice.
If you haven’t watched the trailer for his “Blade Runner 2049,” do it. Seriously, do it. Hot on the heels of “Arrival,” he appears to be the new futuristic/interstellar golden boy. After he brings Rick Deckard back from replicant purgatory, he’s slated to tackle the “Dune” reboot. If there’s a franchise with more potential than Frank Herbert’s ecological/religious/socio-political odyssey, then I’m Baron Harkonnen’s personal surgeon.
“Valerian and Laureline” is another franchise I thought had a lot of potential. Please take my franchise potential evaluations with a grain of Melange. The French comics upon which the film “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is based began back in the late ’60s, and opened up a whole new world of time travel, interdimensional mayhem, and teenybopper romance. Christin and Mezieres’ creations didn’t stand alone; they were part of an apparent supernova of like-minded writers and artists who were re-envisioning the future in terms both cartoonish and deadly serious. See Moebius, Frazetta, Lob & Druillet’s “Lone Sloane” series, “Heavy Metal” magazine, etc.
I’ve previously worshiped at the altar of writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky on this blog, and his “The Incal” series fits in nicely with the other artists mentioned, at least partially because it was inked by Moebius. Jodorowsky also hired Moebius to inform the world of his own failed “Dune” film, and “Valerian” director Luc Besson is no stranger to his work, either. Besson’s much-loved “The Fifth Element” drew heavily on the dense and surreal imagery of Moebius. I’ve always viewed that film with mixed emotions due to Chris Tucker delivering one of the most grating performances on either side of Jar Jar Binks, but ultimately found enough heart in it to look past its flaws.
Unfortunately, there can be no such ignoring of VATCOATP’s flaws. They tower as high as the cityscapes that will apparently define the future metropolis. Dane DeHaan does a spot-on impression of Keanu Reeves at his most vacuous. The dialogue is flatter than DeHaan’s affectation. The pacing is so glacial that it leaves the audience feeling like someone who wakes up early in a cryo pod on the way to Saturn and has no choice but to stare at the ceiling through the plexiglass while they wait to die.
And I love watching random shit float through space as much as anyone.
Perhaps the reason it flopped at the box office is that it appears to have no idea what it wants to be. Is it a sci-fi nostalgia trip for Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers? Is it a kids’ cartoon that has no idea how to market itself to children? Is it soft-core space erotica that just doesn’t have the guts to be “Barbarella”? I have no idea. The teaser deployed The Beatles’ “Because” over some truly psychedelic imagery, and filled me to the tips of my tentacles with anticipation.
About halfway through the movie, I realized that it would have been far better if the entire thing was a “Fantasia”-esque collection of imagery and songs, specifically with no dialogue whatsoever. It even starts off so auspiciously with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” – and a well-cut montage of humans’ intergalactic perspective being blown wide open – that I turned to my buddy and said, “I love it already.”
There is no taking back that declaration now. Just as Besson can’t retract the giant space turd that he dropped into Clive Owen’s mostly stellar filmography, I can’t simply hop in my XB27 spatio-temporal pod and leap back to a time when my hopes for the film were as bright and virgin as the sand on the planet Mul. If I could, I would tell the producers of the similarly doomed “Passengers” to join forces with Besson and just make one movie between them. At least then we would now have a pretty, terrible movie with two competent actors at its center.
As someone who often is willing to make the argument for style over substance, “Valerian” is the movie that broke my will. It could have been called “World Building is Not Enough,” or “How I Learned to Stop Mindlessly Enjoying and Hate the Bomb.”
If you’ve not yet seen “Valerian,” maybe don’t? When Herbie Hancock delivers the most believable performance in the film, and he’s not playing a cut off “Thrust” in a dope space disco, you know it’s fucked. Watch it on Netflix if you must, but don’t say EVERYONE didn’t warn you. Just peep that preview, and you’ll see absolutely everything that’s good about the movie. Same goes for “Alien Covenant.” Unless you saw “Prometheus” and thought “You know, what this movie really needs is an ’80s-slasher-film-shower-sex scene!,” you’ll be better off.
Or just go watch the trailer for “Blade Runner 2049,” and cross your goddamn appendages that Villeneuve keeps up his winning streak. While the best science fiction can often paint the universe in a rather bleak light, the fact that there are characters left at all in the future to continue the sentient struggle for survival always fills me with some small optimism. Especially in times such as these.
After that, we’ll wait together for the floating fat man to fly again, and hope against hope that “Dune” doesn’t get derailed a fourth time. Two bad adaptations and the stymied dreams of a true auteur are enough for any space opera to suffer. Let the sleeper awaken!