See It Instead: Valerian
I actually plan on seeing Luc Besson’s magnum opus. But if Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets isn’t your thing, here are some movies to keep you satisfied.
It’s become increasingly rare for us to actually see a movie that we write a See It Instead for. The series has been a not so subtle way to dis a movie that isn’t moving our needles. The lack of subtlety makes See It Instead less throwing shade, and more like summoning a solar eclipse. Well, I’m going to break from that tradition with Valerian et. al.
Of all the summer spectacles that have gotten my butt in theaters this year, the common thread has been color. Colorful characters. Colorful scenery. The bright, hopeful movies have been just what the strange Doctor ordered. As such, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will probably be my final inoculation of color before Zack Snyder de-saturates my life with The Justice League.
But I don’t have a ton of hope that Valerian is going to be a masterpiece. I’m just hoping it’s fun. So if your level of optimism is south of mine, here are some movies you can see instead.
The Obvious Pick: The Fifth Element (1997)
Valerian and the thousand special effects is the movie Luc Besson held off on making when he made The Fifth Element. He wasn’t satisfied with the state of state of the art special effects at the time, so he made The Fifth Element with as much practical effect work as possible.
We’ve already covered this movie before (in See It Instead form no less), but it is a classic that ages well. A re-watch of The Fifth Element is not only a fun, cheap time; it could be considered homework. If you are interested in seeing Valerian, seeing how Besson managed a bright, eclectic universe without CGI magic might be a fun pre-game.
The Visual Spectacle Pick: Avatar (2009)
No, not that Avatar. The slightly better one.
Crysta is a fairy living in the rain-forest. When a logging company comes to decimate the woods, she has her first interaction with a human. When she accidentally shrinks Zak, one of the loggers, he begins to realize the error of his ways. It is up to Zak and Crysta to save the forest from humans as well as pollution incarnate in the form of the villainous Hexxus.
Oh wait, that’s the summary for Fern Gully. Oh well, close enough.
Avatar was the technical extravaganza from the mind of James Cameron. Like Besson, Cameron wanted truly state of the art technology to tell his tale. When he finally got it, he created Avatar, a visual tour de force that made tons of money and made 3-D movies a bankable commodity.
While the visuals are impressive, the story is trite and cliche. As you might have guessed from above, the story is a bog standard tale of an oppressive force bent on raping a pristine paradise for its own benefit. Instead of fairies we have the Na’vi, and instead of humans we have… actually we still have humans. We suck. The acting is just passable, and everything in the movie exists to serve the visuals.
If I had to bet money, I’d bet that Valerian is going to be much the same. I don’t think Cara Delevigne can act her way out of a wet paper bag, and the movie has “Pretty! Shiny!” written all over it. But Avatar was an enjoyable popcorn flick, so here’s to hoping Valerian is as well. Because if it isn’t we could have another…
The “Please God Don’t End Up Like This” Pick: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Actually, don’t see this instead. Burn it with fire and jettison it out of the “nope, not canon” garbage chute. The only reason this film deserves to exist is as a cautionary tale. The warning: don’t let one man have all the power when it comes to making a film. Especially when he’s gone gaga for CGI.
Easily the worst Star Wars movie that doesn’t involve Christmas, Attack of the Clones was a tech demo lazily sewn onto the script for The Empire Strikes Back. The love story was written poorly and the actors executed it even more poorly. All the plot beats from Empire are here, but with the CGI cranked up to 11. The Phantom Menace may have been a little too bland and kid friendly, but the practical effects combined with a 30 year jump in technical prowess made for an exciting first viewing. Not so here. I hated this movie from the get-go, and when everyone cheered for Yoda impersonating Sonic the Hedgehog, I had to be the one dissenting “What the Actual Fuck?” in the audience.
Luc Besson has usually been strong in two categories: style and character. From Leon and Mathilda’s relationship amidst glorious carnage to Bruce Willis chewing scenery while in a freezer, Besson’s best fims have had charm balancing the slick visuals. George Lucas had none of that in Attack of the Clones.
CGI and the Three Bears.
All three of these movies are the possible porridge that Valerian could end up being. If it’s cool visuals with no plot, we get Avatar. If it’s a hot mess of bad acting and poorly planned visuals, we get Attack of the Clones. Finally, as most fans are hoping, we get just right: slick scenery with interesting people doing interesting things like The Fifth Element.
If you can’t bear paying 3-D/IMAX prices to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, maybe you should see these instead. Well, not Attack of the Clones. That way leads to the Dark Side.