Full disclosure: The Fifth Element, Luc Besson’s classic 1997 space opera, is one of my favorite movies. I’ve been longing for Besson to return to science fiction filmmaking ever since, so when his adaptation of the European comic series Valérian and Laureline was announced, I was through the roof with excitement with a single image having been put to film. Well, I was just in Hall H at the San Diego Comic Con where footage of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was screened for the first time, and I’m pleased to say that my excitement has only increased. Valerian looks exactly like the evolution of The Fifth Element that I hoped it would be.
I call it an evolution, but in some ways it’s a coming full circle. The Valerian comics were a huge influence for Besson, who grew up reading them, in the aesthetic of The Fifth Element; Jean-Claude Mézières, who illustrated the comics, was actually a concept designer for The Fifth Element. The kinship between the films is readily apparent as any of the concept designs shown during the panel for ships and aliens would feel right at home in The Fifth Element.
The amount of design work that went into Valerian is staggering. Besson said that there are over 8,000 alien species in the Valerian universe, with over 200 different species actually appearing in the film. Well over a dozen different alien concept designs were shown, ranging from fairly straightforward humanoid characters to truly bizarre ones that defy easy description, like one species that lives on wires and spends their time repairing the electrical grid of Alpha Station, the titular City of a Thousand Planets.
Some concepts for Alpha Station were also shown, this planet-sized city started out as a multicultural space station orbiting Earth. As more alien civilizations started mingling with humanity, they added their own architecture to Alpha Station, until it eventually grew so big it had to be towed out of Earth’s orbit and became its own planet. The concept art shown was a little hard to make out; it was very busy with lots of crazy looking alien structures. The portions of it showcased in the footage were very bright and colorful.
Oh, man. That footage. Besson introduced the footage very modestly, saying that since the movie wrapped photography only five weeks ago they didn’t really have any big sequences with finished effects ready to screen. He then proceeded to blow the roof off Hall H with an extended sequence of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) fighting off a four legged alien monster chasing a bus they were on, and a sizzle reel with shots of huge CG space battles and crazy alien characters, many of which were made with practical effects. There were a couple of other small scenes screened as well, most notably one showing Ethan Hawke’s character—who seems to be the Ruby Rhod of the movie—and a brief glimpse of Rihanna, whose part in the movie, according to DeHaan is “insane.”
I honestly couldn’t be more excited to see Valerian when it premieres on July 21, 2017. It looks big and fun and insane in the best possible way. Hopefully audiences will respond to it with the same enthusiasm the Hall H crowd did today, because it would be a real shame if it ends up making Jupiter Ascending money instead of Guardians of the Galaxy money.
Are you as excited for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as I am? Let me know in the comments.