Why do we seek Utopia?

Why do we seek Utopia?

Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

(M) Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan and Clive Owen

Valérian and Laureline has been a popular French comic series since the 1960s and director Luc Besson (Lucy) had been a fan of Pierre Christin and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières’ work for years. The acclaimed director had not considered making a film about the adventures of the space agents until he was making his cult classic, The Fifth Element. It was during the making of this cinematic fantasy that Besson hired Mézières to do work on the film. During the production, the artist that was behind the comic book odyssey mentioned that Besson should make a film about Valérian. This collaboration took 20 years to come to fruition, but for fans of the French director and comic series the wait is over.

In the 28th century of Earth’s history, the international space station has now become Alpha, a modern day conduit for interplanetary diplomacy. A Utopian atmosphere that eventually morphs into a modern example of the beauty of all planets and species working together for the betterment of the community at large. With the perpetual growth, it eventually has to be moved to a new galactic address that does not detrimentally impact Earth’s atmosphere. Valérian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) help in maintaining the peace on Alpha and throughout the galaxy by being leading agents of an interplanetary police force.

As they travel to their latest assignment, Valérian has a vision of the planet Mul and how it came to its unfortunate demise. Unable to lose the impact of this dream on his mind, he tries to find out all he can about Mul and its ill-fated inhabitants. Upon their arrival at the acclaimed space station, he and his partner are saddled with the duty of protecting Alpha’s commander, Arün Filitt (Clive Owen). Their duties include holding onto a rare life form that seems to be the key to many of the mysterious events that threaten the pristine life of Alpha. During their first diplomatic event, Filitt is kidnapped by an unknown group of aliens and the crime fighting duo must investigate the origin of these invading beings and why they would want to abduct the commander.

The visual smorgasbord provided by Christin and Mézières’ graphic novels and the directorial style of Besson seem to be a combination made in cinematic heaven. This eventual collaboration merely had to wait until modern advancements in computer generation would help to bring this dream partnership together.

In the future, it may be said that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is visually stunning, but something went very wrong in the delivery. Two elements that Besson managed to leave behind on this intergalactic journey were a well thought out story line and convincing lead actors.

Great computer generation can only carry a film so far to success, at the heart of every great film there needs to be a compelling plot. There are whispers of an enthralling space odyssey contained in Valerian, but it quickly becomes a convoluted mess. The script is simple enough and most plot points keep getting reiterated through each scene. This leaves little to the imagination by defusing the dramatic tension and when it does finally conclude, all the audience can do is scratch their heads in confusion.

What provided The Fifth Element’s longevity and appeal was the campiness of the characters. This means that no one seemed to be taking themselves too seriously in the film and they were enjoying the ride. This detail should be part of Besson’s latest production, but the cast never seem to know when to be serious and when to give a knowing wink to the camera.

DeHaan and Delevingne have proven their acting capabilities from past performances, but there is little that they can do with this poorly written script. They are left to deliver overly long monologues that contradict previous plot points and must carry the burden of the whole film, despite having an exceptional supporting cast. It is frustrating to watch as Ethan Hawke, John Goodman and Rihanna are left to play forgettable and cringe-worthy bit roles, as opposed to being lively supporting characters. The excruciating pressure on these young lead actors leaves them with little to convince the audience that they truly care for one another. Their relationship is supposed to be at the heart of the film, but like the rest of the film, it only provides visual appeal and no real emotional energy.

Besson proves that he has a gift for developing a visually captivating film in Valerian. Unfortunately, he failed to support the visuals with a noteworthy story line and left his acting team figuratively floating in space with little hope for success. This Besson outing did not live up to the legacy of The Fifth Element or Lucy and makes his other CGI drive children’s film, Arthur and the Invisibles, look like a masterpiece.

Looking Deeper

Utopian societies are not new to literature or the cinema; it has led to a multitude of story lines. Sir Thomas More first utilised the name in 1516, but the concept has been around since the beginning of time.

Utopia can be defined as being an ideal place or any visionary system of political or social perfection.

Even in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, this is a concept that seems to be unlikely to occur. The facade surrounding Alpha is under-girded by a dark underworld that is far from idyllic. Yet, mankind continues to seek after this perfect society. Putting our faith in politics, education or religion, this pure existence seems to draw people into the latest cause or at least into the nearest cinema.

Why? The answer can be found in the bookends of the biblical narrative and humanities existence on Earth. In Genesis and Revelation, it shows that the world began perfect and there will be a time when it will be perfect again. The reason we seek after this ‘perfection’ is due to our existence between the bookends. While we wait for the world to return to this Utopian state, it is worth considering how to enter into this perfect and eternal society.


Passages to consider on the subject of Utopian-like society: Genesis 1-3, The book of Revelation and John 3:16. 


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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