A space vehicle chase scene in the desert; all wide shots with Kubrickian symmetry.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne punch, kick and judo-throw faceless bad guys. Sassy one liners abound. Steel-blue lights course through futuristic biotechnology. High-concept exposition voice-over. Clive Owen tells Dane he has *impending deadline* amount of time to save the world. More punch, kick, pow! A Rihanna cameo! Cara closes with the sassiest quip of all. Cut to black.
The trailer for Luc Besson’s Valerian (2017) showcases the director’s straddling of Bruckheimer-esque escapism with sci-fi world-building on par with Ridley Scott and del Toro. There’s not much to be gleaned regarding storytelling here. But Besson’s trailer is so unapologetically visceral, loud, and fun, it hardly matters.
The film is based on the French sci-fi comics Valérian et Laureline (1967-2010), which follows the eponymous time-travelling space agents (played by DeHaan and Delevingne respectively in the film) on their escapades in a 28th Century intergalactic empire. The series combined detailed world-building with action-adventure, humor, and humanist politics. It’s particular brand of space opera left a clear imprint on Star Wars, which is probably why a lot of the trailer’s imagery feels like it could have come from Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII. One can also see the comics’ influence on Besson’s world-building in The Fifth Element (1997). Such textural familiarity works against the Valerian trailer, but you could chalk that up to it’s being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t fault a Hamlet adaptation for having the same plot as The Lion King.
Other than that, well, it remains to be seen what Besson will do with pleasurably archetypal characters and a now-all-too-familiar sci-fi flavoring. Will Valerian offer a fresh take, a competent genre-exercise, or a stock array of action set-pieces decked out in grey spandex and tech with glowing blue lights? I’m just relieved there was no sign of a giant sky beam anywhere (I’m looking at you, Disney & Time Warner).
After the trailer, Besson and DeHaan joined press at a reception to answer questions about the film. You can find our chat below:
Is this designed to be stand-alone? Because Besson rarely does sequels. Is this supposed to be series builder?
Dane DeHaan: Well I think Luc would like to make other ones. You know, really, we just want people to be excited about this one, and go see this one. And then I think we take it from there. But he’s talked about making at least two more if he can. If people like it when they see it, then, you know, that’s the plan I guess.
It seems like you’re trying to be space-Indiana Jones.
DeHaan: That’s cool! I like that, I like Indiana Jones! I think there’s definitely a sense of humor to it. It’s definitely not like a DARK, SUPER DARK superhero thing. I think there is—Luc has a really fun sensibility and he wants to keep people entertained. You know, I guess in that way it’s like Indiana Jones.
How much of it was costumes versus CG?
DeHaan: It was almost all-CG. There were some people in costume sometimes, but there’s so much CG that when I’m watching the trailer I’m seeing it for the first time. Yeah, lots of blue screen, lots of people in motion-capture suits. Yeah, it was all in Luc’s head, so, it’s cool to see it in real life.
How CG-heavy was this compared to [The Amazing] Spider-Man and other things you’ve done? How challenging was that?
DeHaan: Way way more. Like, ten thousand times more than Spider-Man. I think in Spider-Man we were in front of green screen for like the last two weeks. [For Valerian] I was in front of—we used blue screen—but it was six months, like, every single day, it was blue screen. Just having to rely on my imagination and Luc having a really good imagination. There may be like one practical set piece, but there are so many more special effects in a movie like this one.
What was it like working with Rihanna in this film?
DeHaan: It was pretty awesome. I think they’re kinda keeping her part a secret, but I think when people see what her part is, they’ll realize what a good time I had working with her. And she was around for a couple of weeks, but it’s definitely a couple of weeks I’ll never forget.
I just saw you blush and smile.
DeHaan: Well I don’t think I’ll be the only one blushing and smiling with her part in the film [laughs].
Do you think that this is a “comic book movie”? Or do you think that because it’s based on the French comics, it’s got a different sensibility than some of the others we’ve seen?
DeHaan: Yeah well, I think, it’s a movie based on a comic book so I guess that would make it a comic book movie. But I think what’s unique about it is not just that it’s French but that it’s not controlled by an American studio you know? So, like, making a movie like Spider-Man, it’s almost like making a movie by committee, you know? Ten people giving their opinion at all times. But there’s something about this movie that’s truly unfiltered Luc. Nobody’s telling Luc what to do except for Luc. And he has such a unique style, I don’t think he would have been able to achieve that within the American studio system. I think that’s one thing that’s unique about this picture.
Valerian seems like something you [Luc Besson] have wanted to do your entire life
Luc Besson: I started reading it at [age] ten, but I never thought about doing it. First, because it was impossible: you have two characters and one thousand aliens. It was just impossible. I was totally captivated by it in my childhood. But then one day I hired [inaudible], he was there in Fifth Element. I worked with him for six months. And he’s the one who bothered me and said, “why are you doing this stupid film?” He’s talking about The Fifth Element [laughs]. “What about Valérian? You say you love it, why don’t you do it?” And I said, “you cannot.” But then I start to think and say, “hm, I’ve never thought about it.” And then I start to write a little bit in case the technology would be ready one day. And then the technology become ready on day [laughs]. It’s interesting that with the technology, the limit is the imagination, you know? We’ve reached a point where the limit is the imagination. Which is good news for me because that’s all I have so…[laughs].
You talk about incorporating 3D into it, about deciding when it was going to best utilized…
Besson: The funny thing is, I met the 3D team at the beginning, and—not at the beginning, we were shooting already, they had seen a couple of the reels. I didn’t want to do it during the shooting for sure, because now the transfer [i.e.- 2D to 3D conversion] is so good, and it’s so painful to shoot in 3D, so painful. 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 sometimes. So, you cannot be intimate with a double-camera, it’s just impossible. And, they [the 3D team] were supposed to come back with a—how you say—recommendation, and they said, “actually it’s fine because you frame—the way you frame the film, don’t change anything because you’re already using a lot of the space.” Cause in fact when I was younger, I started with [still] pictures, and I love music and architecture, and everything is about math and when you have a frame—I love all the films from Kubrick [which are] very very symmetrical. So, naturally [that’s how] I built my frame: it’s always in cinemascope, so you always have the second plane and [so on]. So I don’t have to change anything, and they said “don’t change anything.”
So later on, when it [3D] was added, what was the discussion there? Do you just let them…
Besson: I just give the thing [to them], and there’s three versions: One is light, one is middle, and one is high, in terms of depth. And I chose the middle one. The high one, the big one, was too much. It’s too much “TADA!” [jazz hands gesture]. I’m fed up with the 3D where you get [hit] on your face with every weapon, a fry pan, and you know…
So if you do a sequel, which comic do you think you might pull it from?
Besson: Uh, there’s twenty-nine of them so…[laughs]
I’ve been slowly reading through them so, is there anything that sticks out to you beyond what you’ve already done?
Besson: Few. Few of them.
Will you tell us?
Besson: No [laughs]. No, because I’m writing already.
Are you set then on doing sequels?
Besson: No, I like to be ready, I like to be ready in case, it’s working. If it doesn’t work, you’re always ready. There’s nothing to prep [laughs]. But if we’re lucky and people like the film, yeah I’d love to do a second one for sure. Cause I love the characters. They are fun to write. Every time I see Cara and Dane I’m [makes crying gesture].
What’s interesting about this film and something like The Fifth Element is that you have to make the audience feel these very real stakes, but at the same time there’s this sense of play that’s child-like. When you work with the actors, how do you get them to navigate that? Where, it’s not a farce, but at the same time, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Is that something you work with when you speak to the actors?
Besson: Well, generally in life, I don’t like to take myself too seriously [laughs]. So, as soon as I’m too serious I just crack a joke [laughs]. Because at the end of the day we make movies, you know? We’re not saving lives everyday. We have to chill. And, I love the—with the structure of the film what’s very important is you have the big story, which is 28th Century, full of aliens everywhere, like, crazy story. And then you have the little story, and the little story is about this guy and this girl. And he desperately wants to get the girl and the girl is very old-fashioned. She says, “I will have one man, he will be the father of my kids and that’s it. The rest, not interested.” And it’s the story of the life of everyone [laughs]. Is the guy going to get the girl? You know? So, you can be in space, you can be in the 12th Century, you can be in India, wherever. And I love the story, this little story also. And I think it’s the mix of the two, which makes it very human. Cause everybody can relate, even if someone doesn’t like specifically sci-fi [sic], at least it’s funny, and then, the second [thing] is like, you like them [the characters], and you want to know how they are going to end up together or not. I love the two: this very old-fashioned story, in a way, and a very eccentric, you know, hyper space story. I like that, I like mixing them.
Could you talk about your use of “Because” [in the trailer], I’m assuming the Beatles song is in the film as well…
Besson: Not necessarily.
Okay, well could talk about your approach to the music in the film?
We get this idea in the beginning, I loved it: To here this song with this image was like “oh my god, amazing.” But they never sell the rights to anyone, and, the only way to know, is to try, [laughs]. So the thing we did is, we edited the entire thing with the music, we take all the words. And we say, “okay, here is what we want to do.” So when they watched it, they said, “fuck, that’s…that’s, good!” So…and I heard, that it was Paul who said, “okay.”
Besson: Yeah, McCartney. He likes it. And I didn’t know that he’s a big fan of sci-fi and so…But I didn’t know. So we were lucky [laughs].
I wanted to ask about Rihanna…
Besson: Rihanna, the first thing was like, does she want to play [the role]? She’s the queen of earth already. I mean, she’s so…she’s the biggest artist, wonderful. Is she interested in making films? That’s the first question. If she’s not real about it…some people go “oh yeah we’d love to play, but it’s not my job so…” [Our] First meeting was really about, do you really want to be in movies? Or is it just one thing on the side? And she made it clear that she was serious about it. So, that was the first phase, and the most important one for me. And, the second one is to find a schedule, because I think the pope and the president have more time than her. She’s so busy. But when you get her and you get her on on set, she’s really…First she puts all her entourage out [off-set] so she’s really there on set. And she wants to be almost like clay, you know? She’s offering herself, “okay, do whatever you have to do.” She’s really joyous, you know? She’s not saying, “oh no, don’t take the 25mm [lens] because it doesn’t suit me…” With that kind of bullshit, you’re in trouble [laughs].
Photo Credit: Courtesy of STX