Walking in to Hall H this morning I didn't care about Luc Besson's next film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. In fact I was considering bailing on the presentation; I was there to see Oliver Stone present Snowden, and I was feeling very chilly towards Valerian. But I began to thaw after Besson and his producing partner/wife Virginie Besson-Silla presented concept art from the movie, revealing Alpha, a space station with thousands of habitats for the 200 alien species that pop up in the movie. The art we saw was detailed and gorgeous, with crazy futuristic cityscapes, Blade Runner-inspired urban environments and strange and wonderful alien beings. The visual imagination on display was staggering.
Then Besson presented about seven minutes of footage, featuring a bunch of unrelated scenes. Dane DeHaan is Valerian, and Cara Delevigne is his co-pilot and partner Laureline, and together they get into some scifi adventure trouble. In one sequence the duo land their spaceship on a rocky desert planet, and Valerian and Laureline argue about her driving, giving the impression that these two are long-time bickering friends. When they land they're met by a contingent of troopers in scrappy, futuristic armor, but Valerian and Laureline are dressed like tacky tourists - they're supposed to be undercover. There's humor and gorgeous design on display in these scenes; one of my favorite touches is that as Laureline lands the ship the soldiers simply turn their heads away from the clouds of dust it is kicking up, never once reacting to the huge starship that is landing within inches of them.
Another sequence sees Laureline and Valerian finishing that mission, and they're bringing a case back to the ship. But they're soon chased by a strange creature - described as being like Woola from John Carter by Vulture's Kyle Buchanan - and they have to hightail it to an old school bus that's been repurposed as a military transport (this is the year 2700 by the way). One of the soldiers controls the roof-mounted turrent using an AR helmet - he holds his hands in front of himself and mimes shooting a machine gun and the gun fires. At first I thought I was seeig unfinished FX but then realized it was something cooler.
In a totally different scene Laureline is captured by two beige-shirted men, and she beats them up and uses their own handcuffs on them in a very Black Widow-esque way. There was a scene where Valerian is wandering around the red light district of the space station Alpha and he's accosted by space pimp Ethan Hawke, who brings him into his club to present Rihanna, dressed like Sally Bowles from Cabaret.
The big money sequence was Valerian searching for the quicket route through the station and Laureline guiding him straight through walls. He suits up and runs at full speed through a wall, through a loading bay, through another wall, into an indoor orchard, through another wall to a giant empty space into which he leaps, firing a gun that creates blue blazing energy pedestals on which he runs, fording the void and running into a tunnel that is filled with giant balls, and he disappears into them. There was footage of Valerian fighting aliens and a bunch of other quick snippets.
The movie is based on a popular French comic series, Valerian and Laureline, and Besson says he's been a fan since he was ten. You can see the love on screen; while the (unfinished FX) could be a little chintzy, Besson has done a herculean job of world building even in these few minutes we saw. The tone was fun adventure; Valerian seems to be a little too impressed with himself and Laureline seems more capable. The environments are exciting and the aliens are cool. It doesn't have the stink of Star Wars on it, but rather feels like a successor, aesthetically, to The Fifth Element.
All of a sudden a movie I had totally written off has me intrigued. That's the weird magic of a good presentation in Hall H.