Writing Movie “WRONGS”
By Jim West
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Directed by Luc Besson
Written by Luc Besson
Luc Besson has had great success in Sci-fi with The cult classic The Fifth Element, and great character driven films like Leon: The Professional. His films always has visual flair and are always action packed. He does these things quite well. Although this is his adaptation based upon graphic novels he loved as a kid; his reach in trying to deliver a cohesive story steps aside for visual fair and action sequences. When you take your trip to the City of a Thousand Planets, come for the visuals, fantastic landscapes, neat alien species, but leave all sense of orbiting around plausibility behind.
Here comes the spoilers.
The film opens with a brilliant montage of how the space station eventually grows in to an intergalactic hub for other species to connect and share their knowledge with other species. Decades pass and the now oversize mega station has to be relocated from Earth’s orbit. Years and years later there are over 800 million species living in the manufactured planet named Alpha, and all species coexist in relative peace. We jump to a beautiful beach planet where the alien race harvest energy pearls. Several spaceships come crashing down on the planet and an explosion destroys the planet. We are then introduced to special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) relaxing on a virtual reality beach. It is up front and very obvious that Valerian has strong feelings for Laureline. In fact as they arrive for their mission to retrieve something, Valerian proposes marriage. Wow. He sure does work fast. We learn his rank is Major. She is a Sergeant. Now unless in the future military ranks are drastically changed, DeHaan just seems very young to play a Major. I would have left his character at Captain and later in the film have him promoted. Just a nick pick I know, but for those ever affiliated with the armed services would agree his is way too young to be at that rank. That affects plausibility. Also the relationship is too over the top at first, and I would have slowed it down and let it come across more subtly.
Valerian and Laureline meetup with their escort team on a desert planet and the visuals are astounding. Again Luc Besson excels at this with ease. We are at a large sand arena which it is revealed to be a virtual linked marketplace that you cannot see unless you are wearing the special glasses or goggles. This is at face value a neat visual, but the virtual reality fails when it come against reality. The action that takes place on one single level is plausible because we keep cutting back to Laureline walking next to Valerian as he is in the virtual marketplace world. Yet he crashes several levels down in this VR world yet he doesn’t crash down past the ground in the real one. This immediately kills the plausibility and suspension of disbelief. The VR world is also larger than the arena walls. Besson switches views between the VR world and the real one in effort to show them connected. One sequence has Valerian jumping over crates and vehicle sin the VR world and then cuts to show him actually doing the same to real trucks parked in the area. Yet you undo the suspension of disbelief right there. I can see the idea he was trying to accomplish, but this idea unravels and the idea becomes a gimmick. To correct this have participants go into a resting state similar to Inception or The Matrix and project themselves to the VR world, and you do away with this issue of plausibility. Yes you take away the scenes of him and Laureline interacting as they do in these scenes, but you replace this with her perhaps fighting off the bad guys goons trying to disconnect Valerian too early.
After this mission the two discover a bigger plot at play, and when their commander is kidnapped they go after the aliens responsible. The aliens are the survivors from the planet that was destroyed earlier. Now the montage that Besson gives us about their survival and arrival to Alpha is as brilliant as the film’s opening montage. They hid in the shadows and learned from all alien species and used knowledge to empower their survival and eventual plans to rebuild their world. The only missing piece is in the hands of Valerian and Laureline of the items they collected in their earlier mission. Clive Owens gives us the film’s baddie as their commander who is trying to cover his tracks on a mistake made long ago. Some issues here are his ease to just lock out people from classified files, and erase information on a race of aliens. You would think this far into the future the council overseeing him and Alpha would have caught unto this sooner. To extend plausibility here would be leave the film ending with the suggestion that there are others involved in this cover up. A conspiracy that involves others would allow a possible sequel. Yet to believe one man erased records, murdered not only ONE officer (the guy who knew the most intel on the alien race of the planet destroyed), but all the other ‘teams’ he sent down to the false radioactive zone. How does any number of soldiers die and the general and others do not have a clue about it? This means the commander HAD to have had help. Help to override the computers, records, sensors, and go unnoticed. None of this is explained or shown, but the simple fix is to end the film that there are others involved and it may go higher up the council. Suspense is heightened for the film and this easily covers this plot hole. Cliché, but works as a quick fix.
In closing, any sci-fi or fantasy film requires suspension of disbelief. Yet the more plausible you make things the easier it is to believe in the story being told to you. Close the plot holes, slow play the romance, and give sequences more plausibility and you have a great film ready for a sequel.
Thanks for reading Writing Movie ‘WRONGS’.