Luc Besson takes us behind the scenes of his epic Valerian movie
As it did for the Hall H crowd at the film’s Comic-Con presentation earlier this year, Luc Besson‘s latest is getting a lot of piqued interests thanks to a fantastic Valerian movie teaser trailer debuting online today. Echoing the spectacle of Besson’s own The Fifth Element, next summer’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets adapts the French “Spatio-Temporal” agents that made their debut back in a 1967 issue of the comic strip magazine Pilote. Created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières (the latter of whom helped develop the look of Fifth Element), “Valérian et Laureline” work together for the Spatio-Temporal Service as a source of law and order hundreds and hundreds of years from now.
Besson invited CS for a behind-the-scenes look at his Valerian movie editing bay and made quite a compelling argument for why this one is going to be something really special. After all, the project boasts effects work by both ILM and Weta and approaches big screen sci-fi world building in a very non-traditional way. A lifelong fan of Valerian and Laureline (played in the film by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevinge), Besson began work on the film years before there was ever a green light.
“I sent 2,000 letters to 2,000 schools around the world saying, ‘I’m gonna do a sci-fi film,'” Besson explains. “‘If you want to participate, send me a spaceship, a world and an alien.'”
More than 2,000 artists responded and a few were hand-selected to work one on one with Besson, communicating with the director remotely via Skype. For two years, the small team of artists developed a massive, cohesive science fiction universe that both incorporates elements of the original comics as well as expands the narrative to include new creatures, spaceships and other fantastic elements.
There currently exists for Valerian a 600-page bible with entries for a hundred different alien creatures, each with a fully distinct culture and a place of origin that you can actually locate on a star chart. The titular “City of a Thousand Planets” refers to a space station called Alpha. Alpha itself has a detailed history, beginning as a human space station. As audiences will see play out over the Valerian opening credits, however, Alpha Station grew and grew over the centuries.
“It’s a space station where everyone in the universe comes with their knowledge,” says Besson. “It’s a city of science, Broadway, Wall Street. It’s Shibuya. Pigalle. It’s everything you want in one place. Anything you want to build, the knowledge will be in there. It makes a very special place. Who controls Alpha is obviously an issue because you could do whatever you want with the knowledge they have.”
The alien trio in the above photo represent the Kortan Dahuk race, the very first race with whom humanity made contact.
“They’re travelers,” Besson continues. “They don’t go through space the way we go because we take time and travel. They have a map of holes. It’s almost like a short cut. You go in here and then you appear here. They have a map of all the holes. That’s why they’re the first ones we met, because they travel through holes. But they share. They share because they’re nice.”
Because Besson wanted his stars to know how to react around each alien species, he encouraged DeHaan and Delevinge to memorize as much of the Valerian movie bible as possible, serving pop quizzes to his stars on set. Although the director admits that he sometimes forgets facts himself, he’s pretty certain on the Kortan Dahuk. After all, it’s his very favorite.
“I love him,” Besson smiles. “I love his profile and his face. There is such a sweetness and almost a sadness in his face.”
There’s still quite a lot of the Valerian movie universe to discover, but Besson gave us a few details about some of the species we see in the teaser. Look for a Galana farmer harvesting cobalt and for a crowd of Boulan Bathor chasing after Valerian and Laureline. As for that guy with the magnifying glass?
“That’s Igon Siruss,” says Besson. “He’s a mercenary. He’s a bad guy. He’s not nice.”
Although we don’t see them in the teaser trailer, another key alien race is a species that always travels in groups of three because they share a connected brain. They’re also highly intelligent, with the ability to speak 8,000 languages. As such, they deal in information.
“Their brain is divided into three parts,” says Besson. “One of them starts a line, the next one continues a line and the third one finishes the line… When they come, you’re always pissed off to see them coming. First, they’re going to sell you something. Usually, they sell you information that, in five minutes, isn’t going to be an unknown problem anymore. Usually they come right before a problem… If you kill one of them, you lose the information. So you can’t kill them or you lose everything.”
And then there’s the spaceships. Our heroes travel in an XB980.
“The B model is able to go to 30 centuries on average,” Besson continues. “The A model can’t go in time. It can go in space, but only in this galaxy. The B model can go 1,000 million light years. It’s a very powerful spaceship.”
In time? That’s right, Valerian and Laureline are agents cleared to deal with crises in time itself. That being said, time travel doesn’t play any role whatsoever in City of a Thousand Planets (which is loosely inspired by the sixth book in the series, “Ambassador of the Shadows”). Naturally, that doesn’t stop Luc Besson from already knowing exactly how time travel works in the Valerian movie universe.
“They are able to, by certain rules, go to the past if they want,” he says. “They can’t go to the future. That’s impossible. But they can go to the past, maximum 30 centuries. You need specific authorization. In this film, they don’t go into the past. Maybe in the second. It’s a bit complicated already. In the comic, time travel is very tricky. You need a specific order. You can’t touch anything. You can’t change anything. It’s very specific. They are allowed only to go to the past to fix some disorder. They’re cops. Basically, if someone goes and makes a mess in the 12th century, they’re allowed to go and get the guy and put everything back.”
Is that something we could see in a future Valerian movie sequel? Besson says that he’d be quite happy doing nothing but Valerian movies for the rest of his life.
“I built [the world] for this one,” he says, “but I can do much more if you want. No problem. I can sign for number two and three right now. But the reality is, I love the two characters. Because it’s a comic book that I read when I was ten. I’m in love with them since. So I can finish my life with them. No problem. And the good thing is, because they are agents, every film is [new case].”
A EuropaCorp production, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opens in theaters on July 21, 2017.