Off to the cinema last night to watch Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I wasn’t expecting much, as the reviews I’ve seen so far have mostly been so-so. But they are WRONG. Valerian is a better comic book movie than any Marvel film I’ve seen, and a better space opera than Star Wars (though less kid-friendly). There may be a movie which better catches the goofy, optimistic spirit of a certain type of grand manner retro-sci fi, but I can’t think of one. It captures the notion of humanity-taking-its-place-in-a-wider-galactic-civilisation more engagingly than fifty years of Star Trek, and it does so in a two-minute pre-credits montage (in which astronauts of all nations and then increasingly weird and wonderful aliens are welcomed aboard the ever-expanding International Space Station). Then it whizzes a further 400 years into the future to casually blow Avatar out of the water with a sequence set on a beautiful beach planet where pearly-skinned noble savages live in giant seashells, before rushing us on to a world of white deserts and multi-coloured clouds where tourists amble about wearing clunky headsets, visiting an enormous, bustling market which exists only in a virtual dimension.
As all stories must it settles down a bit eventually, delivering its futuristic agents Valerian and Laureline to Alpha (the former ISS, still growing, crammed with aliens, and en-route for the Magellanic Clouds) to investigate a mystery there. But there are still elaborate detours to take in underwater monsters, man-eating alien fly-fishers, a colossal hat, and Rihanna.
It has its flaws, of course, but I was happy to ignore them. If you buy into it, the ramshackle, episodic structure is a feature, not a bug. The dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle with wit, but the visuals constantly do, (the aliens are funny, the costumes are funny, even some of the fabrics are funny). The only major problem was the central relationship: the bickery romantic attraction between Valerian and Laureline is lifeless, and would be a cliché even if there was enough of a spark between the actors to make it work. (From the few Valerian comics I’ve read I had the impression that the duo were more like Steed and Mrs Peel – they have great trust and affection for each other, but you can’t really tell if they’re a long-established happy couple or just good friends, it’s never mentioned.)
Anyway, if you want witty repartee and nuanced performances this probably isn’t the film for you, but if you want to be dazzled and entertained by crackpot day-glo visions of the distant future for a couple of hours it definitely is.
I’ve lost the will to blog lately, and don’t see it returning any time soon, but I thought it was worth marking the completion of photography on Mortal Engines. This doesn’t mean the movie is finished – post production starts now, and presumably goes on until pretty close to the release date, 14th December 2018. But it does mean that the live action has all been shot, and the cast are heading home.
I was lucky enough to be invited down to Wellington back in May to visit Stone Street Studios, where the production was based. I’ll post a full account of the trip once the movie is actually out, but I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets if I say that it was all looking very good. London was only just starting to be built when I was there, but I walked around the streets of Airhaven and Batmunkh Gompa, sat in the gondola of the Jenny Haniver, and peeked inside Mr Shrike’s house. Most of it looked very much as I’d imagined, except for the bits which looked better.
The actors were just as impressive – watching Robbie Sheehan, Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving and some of the other cast members at work made me realise that when actors complain that, ‘it’s SUCH hard work, dahling,’ they have a point: acting in a film like Mortal Engines means long hours and heroic feats of concentration – it can’t be easy, believably portraying intense emotions in the midst of what’s basically a busy factory, but they make it look easy. So did the director, Christian Rivers, who has the daunting job of orchestrating it all. I didnt hear any complaints, though – the cast and crew all seemed to be having a good time, which must bode well. During most of my visit a posse of aviators were busy doing their stuff in Airhaven’s top nighspot the Gasbag and Gondola. I think Anna Fang (Jihae), Captain Khora (Rege-Jean Page) and co. have a little bit more to do in the movie than they did in the book, and frankly they deserve their own spin-off movie, they’re all great.
Meanwhile, what lurked in this mysterious box in the corner of the studio? I didn’t dare to look…
The actor Robert Sheehan is playing the part of Tom Natsworthy in the Mortal Engines movie at this moment (well, it’s happening in New Zealand so I hope he’s tucked up in bed while I write this, but you know what I’m driving at). Anyway, the lovely people who run his online fan community The Sheehab got in touch with some questions which I’ve answered here. (I don’t know much about the film, and couldnt discuss it even if I did, so we mainly concentrated on the books.) They’re good questions! I hope I’ll be able to do more with the Sheehab as the movie’s 2018 release date draws nearer…