Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My Review of Valerian

Valerian is a good movie, and the hard work and passion put into making this film really shows. Interestingly, the two leads don't fit the archetypal physiques we are used to seeing. They're both short, Dane DeHaan isn't very muscular, and while handsome, he doesn't have the traditional good looks we ascribe to the ideal man. Cara Delevingne is thin, and beautiful in her own right, but not particularly busty, nor does she have a particularly great ass. Oddly enough, this works. I bring this up because it is so starkly contrasting from most movies. It does make it harder to believe Valerian is a lady-killer and has had so many sexual partners.

The plot itself is fairly straight-forward but with a good twist that I won't spoil here. As for acting, I don't know, it wasn't great, but it wasn't so bad that I  had to grit my teeth and bare it. It was serviceable, but it felt like there was a lot of missing emotional weight. This was particularly noticeable with Lauraline who always seemed to be emotionally distant, even though she clearly has feelings for Valerian. Their relationship works, but there is a scene where Valerian pours out his feelings, and that felt a bit off from the rest of the movie.

Technically, the movie is great. It greatly benefited from all of the advancements made after Avatar. The CGI was well done, and there were enough practical effects to make the world believable. The attention to detail was fantastic, and nothing felt wasted.

Lets dive into some of the themes of the movie. The de-emphasis on physicality is interesting. but in a far off distant future, that benefits from advanced technologies from numerous aliens, physicality doesn't matter as much when it can be augmented with power suits. In fact, we learn this in the beginning of the film when Valerian discusses his memory score. Since the The World of a Thousand Planets, Alpha as it's called, was started as the International Space Station, this makes sense. Astronauts today have to be both intelligent and physically fit, but again, in this film, physicality can be augmented. This makes the soldiers of the Human Federation more cerebral, than physical, an interesting switch, but not as well demonstrated when we see Valerian demonstrate numerous physical feats without apparent augmentation.

Another interesting theme, is the idea of not only numerous habitable planets, with thousands of different aliens, but also multiple dimensions, with at least one that can only be accessed through a form of augmented reality. This augmented dimension is subverted, as the alternate dimension is used primarily as a tourist attraction and as the biggest, open-air market in the galaxy, all hosted on a largely barren, desert planet. It's a cool concept, and well thought out, but played for laughs and used as the set piece for the film's first big action scene.

There are many more themes, and ideas going on in this film, and while there isn't enough time in a film to explore all of them, enough ideas are explored to give us a real impression of a living, breathing, believable world. This what I love about good science fiction.

Unfortunately, there are clearly political and social justice messages, not so subtly on display. Again, going back to the physicality thing, while an interesting idea about a more cerebral fighting force (or at leas Federal Agents), it also lends itself to the false idea that men and women are largely interchangeable. This is most apparent with The Pearls, an alien, humanoid race that are androgynous. Their females still have breasts, but the men and women both sound like females. It's weird. 

There is also a political statement about immigration with the scenes involving Bubble. I found this boringly typical, pro-immigration, left wing dogma. It doesn't even make sense. Alpha is an artificial world, created by numerous aliens, and inhabited by millions. Alpha allows for almost all kinds of cultures and almost any kind of behavior. Why then couldn't an alien sex worker (Bubble), not get citizenship? It's never explained, but it's there for the virtue-signaling.

Globalization and multiculturalism are also big themes in this movie. Again, Alpha started as Earth's International Space station. We see the USA getting along with the Russians, then with the Chinese, and then with all the rest of the world. As this progresses, so does the space station grow, until it's big enough to attract aliens. Despite the realities of how cultures tend to clash, all of the different races get along, and there aren't any big racial or cultural clashes on Alpha. The evil General has a somewhat "nationalistic" view, and is willing to trample over the Pearls whom he deems as "savages." Can you see where this going?

The above actually brings up valid criticism of war and the consequences of war and war crimes. This is a great subject to explore with science fiction, but it's not explored here very well beyond: war is bad, and all races and cultures are equally good/valid/have-something-to-offer - despite reality showing us that no, not all cultures are good. Some cultures are clearly better than others. We actually see this in the film as one group of aliens is willing to eat other intelligent races - and this is tolerated by Alpha's government.

What I do like about Valerian are all of the concepts on display. I really enjoy seeing creatively designed aliens, the imagination of the creators brought to life as they explore what could be. I like how Valerian and Lauraline's relationship is an old one, not new, and we're jumping into it after it's well established. I like all of the technology on display - especially the AR-alternate-dimension, and how people bring things into and out of it. I love the attention to detail.

Valerian is by no means a perfect movie, it is flawed, and the messages are obviously leftist. If you can set that aside, you may enjoy it. If you can't, don't watch it.

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