Once upon a time there was a precocious 10-year-old French child with dreams of Hollywood stardom blazing in his young eyes and a well-read space opera comic book in his back pocket.
That kid was director Luc Besson and the precious comic was Valerian and Laureline, the fabulous French graphic novels by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézieres. Besson's new film chronicles the wild adventures of a sexy pair of intergalactic spacio-temporal agents as they investigate an all-consuming evil that threatens to destroy a colossal communal space station known as Alpha.
So influential was Besson's immersion into this psychedelic world of starships, aliens, robots, exotic planets and cosmic creatures that many of the visuals and concepts trickled into his cartoonish 1997 sci-fi adventure, The Fifth Element.
Now, fifty years later, as special effects have transcended anything the filmmaker could have ever imagined, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is hurtling into theaters on Friday with its visual feast of sci-fi delights born from the pastiche of these cult comics Besson devoured growing up in Europe.
Starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delvingne, this supernova of startling imagery is poised to explode across theater screens worldwide, showcasing nearly 2500 special effects elements from Weta Digital and Industrial Light and Magic.
Being the biggest independently financed film ever produced at a cost of $185 million, Valerian needs to accelerate at lightspeed into movieplexes and entice fans of hardcore sci-fi flicks and comic book junkies to earn back its stratospheric investment.
To prime you for the vibrant Valerian experience, I've composed a viewers guide to some of the key elements and characters you'll see in this sci-fi spectacle.
Many of the spaceships and aliens encountered might already seem familiar as the Valerian comics and spinoffs have been "borrowed" by a multitude of modern filmmakers like George Lucas and his Star Wars Empire, which owes a HUGE debt of gratitude to the Valerian books.
Strap into your crash couch and let's descend into the colorful collage of one of comics' most important space opera sagas ever conceived and sing the heavenly praises of Valerian and Laureline.
The Source Material
Unfamiliar to most American readers, Valerian and Laureline ran from 1967 to 2010 and was conjured up by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres. It is a collection of fantastical stories and graphic novels that has sold over 10 million copies worldwide, compiled into 21 volumes and translated into sixteen languages. Originally serialized in Pilote magazine in 1967, Luc Besson has taken his story mostly from 1975's Ambassador of the Shadows, the sixth volume of the space opera series. This also has the distinction of being the first English translation of Valerian spanning four issues of Heavy Metal magazine in 1981.
Valerian and Laureline
This dynamic 28th century duo are special spy operatives for the Spacio-Temporal Agency which dispatches their agents though space and time to quell uprisings and threats to the continuity of the universe. Valerian hails from Galaxity, the capital of the Terran Galactic Empire on Earth. Laureline is originally an 11th century French peasant who discovers the identity of Valerian and assists in his escape from the bewitched Forest of Arelaune. She's whisked back to Galaxity with Valerian where she's instructed in the ways of the time-traveling police force and partners up with the head-strong, love-sick Earthling.
Also known at Astroship XB982 in the comics when it debuted in 1969, this is the primary mode of transportation for Valerian and Laureline and allows them to zip into any specific point of time and space in the universe. Yes, it does bear a striking resemblance to the Millennium Falcon as it was a primary influence for George Lucas when he was concocting Star Wars. The battle-worn, burger-shaped spy ship is equipped with an onboard supercomputer named Alex that displays a wicked sense of humor and outgoing personality.
Called Point Central in the original comics, this is the fabled City of a Thousand Planets that becomes the primary focus of the screen story. A vast multi-cultural citadel of accumulated alien races, civilizations, ports, docks, power plants and cities all amassed over hundreds of decades and first erected at the center of the most traveled roads in space, Alpha is now the nexus of intergalactic commerce and diplomancy and a living mosiac of species. This convergence of talents, technology and resources has a diameter of 12.4 miles and is home to 30 million inabitants representing 3,236 races speaking 5,000 languages.
Commander Arün Filitt
Played by Clive Owen in the movie, one of only five human characters in the movie, this is Valerian and Laureline''s direct superior at the Spacio-Temporal Agency and the one who spins them on their perilious mission to Alpha to discover the unknown threat to the gigantic space station.
The Doghan Daguis
Named The Shingouz when appearing in the comics, these are short, snouted alien creatures found as triplets and have with a strong affection for potent alcoholic beverages and adept at procurring information to trade or sell. This trio of Shingouz are of particular use to Valerian and Laureline as they act as instrumental sources of intimate details that allow the time-tripping agents to infiltrate groups and locations they would otherwise be cast away from.
Played by superstar pop singer Rihanna, Bubble is a shape-shifting, extraterrestrial exotic dancer and entertainer who performs for Valerian, doing a flash-change from vampy cabaret singer to nasty nurse in the blink of an eye. The talented glampod is forced to exhibit herself at an underground sex club, working for Ethan Hawke's Jolly the Pimp.
These strange underwater creatures whose bodies are radioactive and are featured in the film and the comics, notably the sixth volume, Ambassador of the Shadows. Residing as one of the multitude of species on the gargantuan space station, Alpha. (Point Central), they are highly respected for their talents as psychologists.
Melo the Converter
This was called a Grumpy Transmuter in the comic books. Since Alpha has no common currency, this creature's energy-charged body can be drawn upon for resources. Its biological makeup allows it ingest, then manufacture exact replicas of any small object or material like pearls or diamonds. Found on the planet Bluxte, it once cost an expeditionary force six months of mobilization while the hunt to capture one lasted. Entrusted to Laureline who must ensure its resources are not depleted too fast. Oh, and yes, it's grouchy but the film version just seems cude and cuddly.
Omelites are expert-level programmers that have evolved using advanced information tech and are constructed with an impenetrable outer shell made up of armor-like mechanical components. Primarily responsible for the endless IT development and maintenance on Alpha.
Admirers of all varieties music, this sonically-sensitive species hails from the planet Kas Onar, 5,000 light years from Earth. A peaceful race that created sound sculptures to be used for interstellar communication, healing, and outer space travel. These creatures are not featured in the comics and might be a radical reinterpretation of an alien named Kistna, seen in the 13th volume of Valerian, On The Frontiers.
The Pearls are a peaceful, celestial beings from the planet Mul who live a life of holistic harmony with the universal elements. These elegant fishermen can emit an energy pulse through their bodies that travels through time and space. A key element of the screen story's momentum is the mystery of this species' extinction.
The galaxy's most notorious space pirate, this ugly thug belongs to the Kodhar'Khan race, born on Karkos, a tiny, desolate moon orbiting planet Kirian in Dimension 2. Voiced by John Goodman in the film, he's the biggest criminal in the universe and is always armed with an array of wicked weaponry.
An anti-riot, combat police robot with a nasty reputation for brutal efficiency. The warrior-like K-Tron serves as part of the elite law-enforcement force for Alpha's Council of Elders.