A lot can happen in over fifty years, from the two nations of The United States and The Soviet Union meeting in space for the first time, to that space station which was the result of international co-operation finally meeting with an alien race decades later. Not simple one, but thousands, and the Alpha station became too unwieldy to stay in Earth's orbit as masses of races were adding their representatives to it, so was set adrift into the Solar System where it became one of the galaxy's great centres of diplomacy. But it is about to be the focus of trouble, as an alien planet falls victim to an intergalactic war and its peace is shattered - this has something to do with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne).
And who, pray tell, are they? If you knew your French comics history, or if it at least stretched a little further than Asterix and that copy of Heavy Metal you noticed on a newsstand once, then you would be aware they were a spacefaring couple who were the brainchild of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and one of the favourite reads of a young Luc Besson, who had done his best to bring them to the screen in a different form with his nineties hit The 5th Element. That was not strictly based on one of their plots, though stylistically the similarities were deliberate, but with his Europacorp company looking disaster in the face, he apparently thought drastic measures were needed and a blockbuster was in order.
With that in mind, a gazillion dollars (or two gazillion euros) were spent on the budget to Valerian, with the consequence that they lost a huge amount when it was rejected by the mass audience as a risky gamble not worth taking - who wants to see a French comic adaptation when you can hang around and a new Marvel movie will be released in a week or so with characters you might have heard of? There's even a new Star Wars entry at the end of the year. You get the idea: in spite of how silently influential Valerian had been outside of France, it was such an early touchstone that it looked like a rip-off of itself by the time Besson got around to realising his teenage dreams and making a movie out of the material.
Not helping was the peace and love message that had been integral to The 5th Element was replayed practically scene for scene here, and that sincerity and faith in the power of affection had been a sticking point no matter that the previous effort had been otherwise a hit with audiences - it was even less convincing here. Yet for all the second hand quality, and the general air of a daft as a brush flop that followed it about early and refused to leave, Valerian did find fans, becoming as with David Lynch's Dune or much of the output of the Wachowskis, one of the most expensive science fiction cult flicks ever made. It was easy to see why when you regarded what else fell into that category: the generous budget all over every frame, the indie quirks blown up to outer space scale, the "nice try" air of ambition over sense... it was present in abundance.
Dane DeHaan, despite having been trying for some time, remained difficult to envisage as an A-list hero yet here he was again, giving it another go as if his life depended on it, and Cara Delevingne, the filthy rich fashion model aiming for leading lady status, may have been a safer bet for star quality but remained the idol of teenage girls who were not traditionally sci-fi nerds, no matter how long it had been argued nerd culture was now dominating the globe. Nevertheless, the off-kilter fit into their roles did make this distinctive, or would have done had they not been swamped by a riot of outlandish imagery, Besson's imagination running rampant to craft a whole department store of candy-coloured chocolate boxes jostling for shelf space and a place in the shoppers' purchases. It was, quite often, delirious to watch in a way that hardly anyone else was trying, in the West at any rate, and that could be endearing, with extended cameos from Rihanna (coaxed into a dance number), Herbie Hancock (!) or pimp Ethan Hawke, or an even shorter one from Rutger Hauer for human identification purposes. The plot's detective yarn nature excused the issues of bafflement to a point, but Valerian was a mess, if a glorious one. Music by Alexandre Desplat.