Valerian and the City of a Thousand Empty Seats

Nothing says modern movie poster like the contrast of blue and orange. Look it up, almost half of them use this same color scheme.

Growing up, my favorite movie was always “The Fifth Element” by Director Luc Besson. I always loved how grounded yet fantastic the sci-fi world was, and it’s a style that I never really saw anywhere else. When I saw the commercials for “Valerian” in 2017, I was incredibly excited that it looked like he was making a movie with the same style using modern visual effects to create an even more fantastical future.

When it finally came out, I ended up not seeing it in theaters because it had lukewarm reviews, but I ended up watching it for the first time on in-flight entertainment on a flight to Texas. Not really the best way to watch a movie, but I did end up liking it enough to buy it on Blu-ray and finally watch it at home.

I really enjoyed the film overall, and I don’t really understand why it got such a lukewarm reception in the box office. It had all the quirky sci-fi goodness that I wanted alongside amazing visual effects that created a compelling story.

But you’re not reading this to hear me go on about the good parts, are you?

So apparently they are actually white, but they do have blue eyes

While I did enjoy it overall, it most certainly had its share of flaws. I think the first of which is the opening scene, that shows us a beautiful alien planet inhabited by aquatic-like creatures. They wear pearls, live in giant shells and are — of course — blue, because what other color would the fish people be?

Its not that this scene is bad, it just feels too out of place in the earlier part of the film and too ham-fisted in the latter half.

Oh yeah, before I go further, I will be spoiling this movie’s plot, but its plot is its weakest point by far, so I don’t feel like you’ll be missing any of the experience by me spoiling it.

See, these blue people get introduced in the beginning only to be thrown away until they become relevant in the end of the film. While I like having sympathetic antagonists, I feel like this scene would have been better later on, maybe played on top of them explaining themselves to our heroes, so the movie can start on a note more befitting of its overall tone.

Speaking of our protagonists, let’s talk about them for a hot minute.

These two are 31 and 25, yet both look like I could see them walking around campus

We follow a pair of baby-faced space cops as they attempt to solve everyone’s problems through sheer luck and ignorance. The male protagonist Valerian is really hard to enjoy on screen for one reason alone: his voice. Don’t get me wrong, Dane DeHaan is a great actor, and he does a great job with the character for the most part, but throughout the entire film he is forcing himself to use this awful, deep voice that is very obviously not natural. Its almost like he’s trying to do a Keanu Reeves impression, but his voice most certainly isn’t naturally deep enough to pull it off, so he just feels insincere whenever he speaks.

Both of the actors do an amazing job with the physical acting though, as they are constantly adding small actions that really bring the characters to life while giving us deeper glimpses into each character. I see a lot of people complain about the romance between the two being bad, but that was very obviously the point. They are two incredibly flawed people who care for each other deeply despite the differences in their personalities. Deep down they care, even if they clash on the surface.

As I said earlier, the story of the movie is one of its worst parts. It is really simple and filled with many clichés and tropes, but that almost feels purposeful to me. This movie isn’t about the direct line of events on the screen — It’s really about the world it takes place in.

The plot exists to show us slices of this immense world full of bizarre beings and alien cultures, to offer us a guided tour through a small piece of something huge. This is something shared between “Valerian” and “The Fifth Element,” that the universe the film takes place in is so huge and different with just enough familiarity for us to recognize it.

The science fiction in Besson’s films harken back to the classic age of sci-fi, incorporating elements from the genre’s past with the modern elements that pervade the genre today. The technology is strange, the science is iffy at best, and the only limits are the imagination of its creator. It reminds me why I always come back to science fiction even after hundreds of hours reading and watching it.

If you haven’t seen “Valerian,” I really suggest you do. While it has its flaws, it is an amazing film full of love from everyone that worked on it, and the two hours it takes to sit down and watch it are more than worth it.

I rate movies from -10 to 10, with negative being so bad its good, and “Valerian” deserves an 8 if not higher. It’s a great film, and I absolutely love sitting down to watch it when I get the chance. The only reason I’m talking about it on here is because of how badly it did in theaters and how badly critics tore it apart.

It is estimated to have cost $177 million to produce, while it made back a total of $225 million. That doesn’t sound that bad, but you have to remember that that doesn’t include the marketing costs. This film was advertised absolutely everywhere, and it probably cost around 10 or so million alone. This is pretty bad financially for a movie with such a large budget, and the only reason it was able to break-even was the international ticket sales in Vietnam.

Overall, as I said around March, you can’t always link a movie’s quality to its performance in the box office, as there are many factors that can lead to box office failures.

My personal theory is that people were worn out of the science fiction genre from all the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” movies in the preceding decade, as well as the hundreds of other lower-quality films in the same time period. It is probably just a sign of genre fatigue that plagues every genre from time to time. Every genre has times where it is dominant and movies in it sell incredibly well, but people get tired after a while and sales dwindle. Best example I can think of is zombie films, because that was a pretty recent rise and fall.

This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.

Editing done by Evan Newell

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