I first saw the trailer for Valerian City of a Thousand Planets at the start of the year and automatically I was excited about this, I am a real sucker for CGI heavy films that use a lot of MO-CAP and Green Screen, I’m also a fan of Dane Dehaan so of course I was going to see this film.
For those of you who don’t know; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a 2017 Sci-fi film based on the 1967 graphic novel: Valérian and Laureline written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. The film stars; Dane DaHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna and more.
I saw this film today and it was not like I expected at all, think of this blog post as somewhat of a review, however I want to discuss a few things in particular.
Firstly I think I have to say how (as cheesy as it sounds) blown away I was by the visuals of this film – I don’t think I have ever been so entranced by the aesthetics of a film this much before. I was seeing creatures, lands and even technology so far beyond my imagination, there were so many instances where I literally had to remember that I’m not really in space 700 years in the future. It was all so phenomenal from the designs of characters and worlds, to the beautifully realistic visual effects and animation. I wish I could say more to praise this as it really was astonishing. If you’re trying to think of something to compare it to visually – it was like Star Wars meets Mad Max but with a little more shine to it, if that helps create a picture for anyone.
I actually went to see the film with a younger cousin of mine and he expected exactly what I expected him to expect. He expected this film to be a generic Sci-Fi film complete with all the overused tropes but I’m glad to say that it wasn’t like that at all! It had a very complex but interesting story line that managed to keep me interested for the entire 2hrs 20mins (although that could have had something to do with all the visual splendour) which is a real achievement for someone with such a short attention span. Seeing as that is exactly what I went to go see the film for, I’d say that’s a pretty satisfactory trip to the cinema! But wait, there were a few things in this film that really made me want to hate it! and I’m going to discuss these things with you now.
I’m sure many people saw this coming, I know I did. This film isn’t as bad as it could be, I’ll give it that but there were some really cheesy, generic or just lame parts to the script that I couldn’t help but cringe at. There are so many times in the film where the two main characters Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline have playful and flirtatious banter with each other and most of it does come across really funny and witty, however other parts just made me uncomfortable. I really wish I could think of some examples of this but I don’t remember any word for word. I’m not sure if this is due to the writing or the acting – I feel more inclined to say the writing as I don’t think any of the actors did a bad job in this film, I feel this may be a sort of George Lucas situation where the actors did the best with what they were given – but the relationship between Valerian and Laureline didn’t sit well with me, I was under the impression from the trailers that this pairing was a platonic one, I didn’t doubt that the two may get together in the end but I thought this film was mainly about their friendship. Boy was I wrong, even in the first 10 minutes of the film we can see a shirtless Valerian pulling a bikini wearing Laureline on top of him and rolling around with her on top of a sun lounger whilst making wise cracks and jokes at each other much to Laureline’s disgust. With the occasional vague sex reference thrown in, this scene was kind of uncomfortable to watch seeing as this is literally the first time we are introduced to these characters, we don’t know their backstories or their relationship fully yet, yet we are thrown into this weird embrace even though it appears only one of the characters is romantically interested in the other. That reminds me, I don’t think we are ever really told much about their backstories, we don’t even know how long these two have known each other! The first full action scene with the pair is actually really entertaining to watch, I really liked it however there is a part where Valerian casually asks Laureline to marry him to which she coyly avoids the question and again, this is early on in the film it just felt like a romantic narrative was forced when I’m not sure if there needed to be one.
Now is probably a better time than any to note that I don’t actually know very much about the original source material, therefore a lot of these issues could be due to what was originally written in the comics rather than what the filmmakers chose to put in.
Now for the part that almost made me give up on this film. I’m not sure if it was extremely obvious or just because I do film studies and have done research into this kind of thing however – like most Sci-Fi movies – this film constantly put women in provocative instances, even without the audience fully noticing. It was embarrassing to see, I had such high hopes and excitement for this film, I was gutted when I started noticing all of the women in Sci-Fi tropes. I came to the conclusion that this film was written in the form of a male fantasy and I can give you many examples as to why.
It’s fair to say that model/actress Cara Delevingne is attractive to many, she’s a model so of course there are men (and women) in the world that quite frankly – drool over her, so seeing her as part of these women in sci-fi tropes wasn’t all that surprising to me. Not that Cara Delevingne should have to deal with this due to her attractive looks, it’s just what usually happens to beautiful girls in these kinds of films, much to my dismay. As mentioned before in the first few minutes of the film we see Cara’s character Laureline mounted and pinned down by Valerian which of course is part of the male fantasy/the male gaze – seeing a beautiful woman in provocative situations. It would be fair of me to note however that Valerian is also in these positions in this scene, however it is him that initiates it all. There is also a moment later in the film where Valerian does the same move as in the gif below whilst standing up therefore he has Laureline restrained while he makes flirtatious banter from behind her – to me this felt like a power move – something seen regularly in films that use the male fantasy.
The next instance I recognised the women in Sci-Fi trope pop up is during the first action scene I mentioned earlier, the two change out of their beach wear and into something a little more undercover and “touristy” in order to fit in. We see Valerian in shorts, a vest top with a Hawaiian shirt on top of it and what do we see Laureline wearing? A bikini/ some kind of swim suit underneath a ripped sheer dress, do I need to say anymore?
Perhaps I am being nitpicky with these however I do draw the line at robot suit boobs. That’s right, Valerian and Laureline have the exact same suit except; Laureline’s breast armour had breast outlines. Now I’m no mecha suit designer but surely she could have just the standard armoured plate?
Valerian is portrayed as the “space bad boy” who does as he pleases, Laureline makes a note of his “playlist” which you then find out is almost like a back catalogue of women he has been involved with, making Valerian out as the kind of player type. Which once again, I believe feeds into the male fantasy.
The final parts of the film which caused me to roll my eyes include Rihanna. Laureline finds herself kidnapped and Valerian comes to the rescue, he is told that he must find (which if memory serves me) a “Glamour Pod” I may have got the name wrong there. So he goes down what I remember as being a street or an alley way that goes by the name ‘Paradise Alley’ maybe? which is FULL of beautiful women in various dazzling outfits all approaching Valerian and asking him questions, complimenting him as he walks past all the exotic clubs. Which, do I even need to say it? Is OBVIOUSLY part of ‘the male fantasy’
Valerian is then escorted into a club by a literal Pimp like it’s in his name; “Jolly The Pimp” Where Valerian watches Rihanna perform; she performs some kind of burlesque dance with a pole and various outfit changes that include a very short nurses outfit and a very short maids outfit among others… yeah, I know. Not to say that this is a bad situation, Rihanna did an excellent job in this scene, she literally spins and holds herself up on the pole, it’s very impressive. I just believe that this scene was kind of pointless, it didn’t do much to drive the plot only – you guessed it- feed into the male fantasy! I was honestly shocked that this scene managed to make it’s way into a 12 rated film. Rihanna’s character; Bubble then helps Valerian rescue Laureline but then dies very shortly after, she must have only had around 15 minutes of screen time all together, I mean does that not prove that her scene was a little pointless to the plot?
Other than the awkwardly close filmed passionate kiss at the end of the film, this was most if not all I remember of the film playing into the male gaze/fantasy and honestly, it kind of ruined the film for me. I was so excited for it and really wanted to love it, I even managed to look past the cheesy dialogue! However the obvious show of women in this film just made me so uncomfortable. I’d say see this film for the amazing, amazing visuals – it will blow you away, just be aware of these women in sci-fi tropes as they will pop up every 20 or so minutes into the film, I can say that I enjoyed this film overall, just not as much as I would have given everything I’ve spoken about today.
If you’d like to learn more about women in Sci-fi trope, I have found this very insightful video that discusses the ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ trope in Scifi/Fantasy films.