I attended the Valerian press junket, sponsored by STX Entertainment.
Just in case you've been living under a rock recently, one of the most amazing movies of the year, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, July 21. I was recently invited to attend the press junket in Los Angeles, and of course I said YES. Luc Besson, the creative visionary behind the Fifth Element? How could I not go?!
When speaking with someone who'd already screened the film, he told me, "Valerian is like the Fifth Element on steroids." Let's just say that I had high expectations for the film as I walked into the theater for our screening.
I grabbed some popcorn and settled in to watch the movie, and let's just say that the opening scene alone blew me away. That statement made, "It's like the 5th Element on Steroids?" YES IT WAS.
The animation, the visual effects, they were just breathtakingly beautiful. The characters were so well developed, especially the dynamic between Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline was comical, but also touching and well, it felt REAL. I loved their banter, and how they fought together as a team in Alpha.
As a woman, I have to say that my main takeaway from the story was how strong and fierce Laureline was. I absolutely LOVE when a confident, independent woman is portrayed onscreen, especially in a movie like this. This isn't a Jane Austen novel, this is a sci-fi-type fantasy movie, and for me, Laureline stole the show!
It's always difficult for me to "review a movie" without giving always all of the details, I really hate to give spoilers! So how about I just share the official movie synopsis?
About Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The visually spectacular new adventure film from Luc Besson, the legendary director of The Professional, The Fifth Element and Lucy, based on the ground-breaking comic book series which inspired a generation of artists, writers and filmmakers.
In the 28th century, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories.
Under assignment from the Minister of Defense, the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha—an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with each other.
There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force which threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu
Directed By: Luc Besson / Screenplay By: Luc Besson / Produced By: Virginie Besson-Silla
Interviewing Luc Besson and seeing the sparkle twinkling in his eyes while he discussed this passion project with us at length was not only refreshing but inspiring. Meeting other creatives similar to me is always exciting, but meeting him? It was decidedly different. Special.
You could easily tell how much of himself he poured into this film, the thought behind it, and how much of his pride oozed out of him as he spoke about it with us.
He described this post-production feeling as being 'almost naked' while waiting to hear what everyone in the world thinks of what he'd just done. Who can't relate to that, you know?
About those STUNNING visual effects
"First, when you start with this kind of film, you have to be very modest because there’s a lot of big huge sci-fi films around called Marvel, DC Comics. So, you have to be humble and say, 'Okay, how I can get in?'
And I talk with a lot of designers, creative people of their experience to big studios and other films and one thing that I learned is the frustration because the way the big studio works most of the time is, by the moment they greenlight the film and the moment they have to release the film, it’s very short.
So, they prefer to hire creators for eight weeks, but 60 of them. And then, you do this, you do this, you do this. The method is very good and makes good films. And I tried to say,'Okay, I’m going to use this frustration because these guys sometimes--they ask to do this thing, and that’s it.'
And if they say, 'What about if he just'--no, no, no. Don’t think. Do the thing. 'Okay.' And they continue. And, at the end, you feel that they want to participate more. They have ideas.
They have things. So, what I did is I sent a letter to all the schools around the world, schools, creative schools, like design schools and things. And I said, 'We’re going to make a film--a sci-fi.' They don’t know which one. 'If you want to participate, send a space ship, a world, and an alien.'
So, we received 2,000 submissions. And I picked up 15. And I hired five for an entire year. They don’t have the script. They don’t know each other, and the only person they have contact with is me by Skype once a week because one was in China. The other one was in Brazil.
And the only person they have seen for a year is just my face here like this. And we have this little private conversation every week where I try to protect them because I want the full creativity of these people. They are not here to think, 'What will be in the film?'
I just want them to go 360. 'Go. You don’t need to give a certain numbers of drawings per week. I don’t care. Just talk. Let’s go.'
We go organic. Then, we go very technological, and then, we come back. And so, I work with these five guys for a year. Then, they get a little burned. So, I bring six more new for eight months. They get a little burned. And then, I take the 12, and I put them in the same room for six months."
About the filming process
"Honestly, the secret is the preparation. Preparation is everything. By the moment we have 95 percent of the financing and it was in May in Cannes--and I start the sixth of January. So, it was six months (of preparation). But, we prepped almost a year before. Twenty weeks (of filming). Actually, I finished three days earlier, which is unheard of on this kind of film. You always hear that they have six weeks of reshoot or--no, I finished three days earlier."
About his amazing cast
"If you find the actress or the actor who is perfect for the role, that’s unbeatable. If you choose someone because he’s known or because you think he’s going to make money or things, three years later, you never know. Just take the best person for the part.
And there’s 29 albums of Valerian, and I started reading it when I was ten. So, basically, I know very well Valerian and I know very well Laureline. So, if I’ve seen one, I can tell. And I was convinced and Dane in one minute, one minute. His smile, his eyes, his blue eyes, the tone of his voice.
And he’s kind of like charming, a little bit, which is perfect for the role because he’s not the typical hero. He’s a little too much. He’s like pretentious a little bit. He’s very lucky most of the time, and she’s handling it. She’s the boss."
About staying true to himself
"I have five kids who bring me back to earth every day. I’m on my bike in Paris or at the green light, you know, like, 'Hey, hey. What’s up?' I love the contact--I don’t want to live in a bubble. The only bubble I have is my head when I’m dreaming of films. So, I can write.
But, the rest of the time, in fact, I enjoy the reality of life. I enjoy being sitting on a bench and watching an old woman walking like this across the entire park in half an hour or seeing this jogger who is like 60 and trying to pretend he’s 30. I love all this life. It’s the best thing."
I got the chance to interview the two stars, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, too. Their excitement for working with Luc and creating this groundbreaking film was effervescent.
About working with Luc
Dane: "You can tell every day on set, you know, that he was making the movie he’s wanted to make his entire life. And it’s the only movie I’ve made for this long period of time where like, you know, four months into it people are still really happy to be there."
Cara: "I think that’s when I first fell in love with the film is just listening to him talk about it. I’ve never heard anyone talk about something with so much love apart from their own children, honestly."
About the physical preparation for the film
Dane: "We had to be in incredible physical shape just to do some of the shots and not pass out.I would get to the set two hours early every day and just to the gym. But, the sword fighting--in the movie, I was actually pretty stoked because I went to theater school, and we did an insane amount of sword fighting.
And I didn’t think it was anything I was going to actually ever get to use in the real world. So, when I found out there was a sword fight--yes--I remember them being like, 'You know, you have like two months to learn it.'
And I was like, 'Oh no, guys. I got this.' And they totally didn’t believe me, and within like three sessions, I totally got the fight
And they were like, 'Oh wow. You can fight with swords.' And I was like, 'Yes, I told you I could fight with swords.'"
Cara: "I think--yes--just in terms of the physical stuff, Dane really set the bar really high with just how much he was up every single morning 6AM. And I was just like, 'Wow, Dane. I’ve really got to catch up with you.'"
About the special effects and working with the blue screen
Cara: "I think it made me really happy, to be honest, working on a blue screen all the time because it you got to use your imagination so much. I kind of felt like a kid again. And also, the only kind of hard bit was sometimes when there was a moment where this stuff is spit in my face, and I have to kind of scream. You know, you’re trying to make or scare this tennis ball. And you’re like, 'I’ve got to remember I’m terrified.' And then, for a moment, you’re like, 'I’m just screaming at a tennis ball. And I feel so weird.'
And if someone else is watching, you kind of take yourself out of yourself, and you’re like, 'If I was watching myself, I’d feel really stupid right now.' But, you kind of just have to trust that it will look right at some point."
About the costumes
Cara: "I don’t know if it was my favorite to wear. But, looks-wise, obviously the space suit’s incredible. But, there were a lot of technical difficulties with the lights and the LEDs. They always seemed to get in the way--this one light which would never stay on.
Space Coachella. I mean, Luc definitely has a knack with the style for sure. He’s an incredible artist."
Dane, regarding Luc having say in the costumes: "Yes, he has his hands all over this movie. I think he’s just been--he’s been developing it for so long. And honestly, I think it’s one of the things that makes our movie stand out because it’s not an American studio movie and it’s just completely his movie, he had his hands all over it. And he’s been developing it his--I mean, in a way, his entire life."
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, by STX Entertainment, hits Theaters July 21!
If you haven't seen it yet, you just have to watch the Valerian trailer, it will blow your mind!
History is on the march. Watch the trailer for Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – the groundbreaking cinematic event a lifetime in the making. See it in 3D and RealD 3D July 21.