The emptiness of Hall H prior to the Valerian panel was disappointing—like when Terry Gilliam showed the intro to The Zero Theorem a few years ago in front of a crowd of people not paying attention. At one point during today’s panel, moderator Josh Horowitz referred to Besson being in front of “6,000” fans; it may have been 1,500, tops. Maybe Snowden wasn’t the weirdest programming choice, as more people had shown up for Oliver Stone than Luc Besson.
Silver lining: lighter attendance ensured that anyone who really did want to get in could. Our gain, and everyone else’s loss. Big-time.
MTV’s Horowitz introduced Besson as “a true master,” mentioning that he’s never come to Hall H before, and touted Valerian as a comic that inspired Star Wars and Avatar.
“I love my new home!” said Besson as he looked out at the crowd, telling everyone how he came to Valerian and Laureline comics when he was 10 years old. “I fall in love with Laureline, but I want to be Valerian.” He felt the comic grew with him; he met the artist, Jean-Claude Mézières, and had him work on The Fifth Element. After that, the guy kept bugging him to do Valerian. Besson bought the rights “just in case,” got a script he thought was decent, but then saw Avatar and it made him throw his draft away, feeling that a more accurate version was finally possible.
Head of programming Eddie Ibrahim then came out to honor Besson’s first Hall H appearance and body of work with the Inkpot Award for this year. Besson then noted the stature of all the previous recipients and put the trophy back down, saying that he’d only accept it if, after we’d seen the seven minutes of footage he’d brought, we still thought he deserved it.
Besson’s wife Virginie produced the project. “Her English is much better than mine,” Besson said, “so I give her the task to present to you a couple of drawings.”
Alpha, the titular city, evolves from the linkup in the ’90s of the U.S. and Russian space stations. More join over the years, and in 2100, alien races want in. In 2300, it becomes too big for the planet Earth and is sent into space; in 2700, when the movie is set, it has become its own planet. This is how the opening credits go. The story of the movie, however, is set within a 24-hour period.
Like an outer space Zootopia, it has multiple environments: liquid and gas environments for aliens from the corrsponding worlds. Designs look overall like a haphazard Borg cube with domes and bubbles interspersed. The human territories look like a Blade Runner theme park.
Aliens include the following:
- An orange humanoid with a shovel-shaped head
- A bubble creature in a robotic body
- A circuit repair race that lives on strings
- The “Asimo,” with huge heads, who can recreate any type of cell and who look a bit like the Independence Day aliens without suits
- Aquatic aliens from the “liquid lands” in Bioshock Big Daddy-like suits
- Squat aliens with trunks who travel in threes, and who divide parts of crucial knowledge between them
- Giant underwater dinosaurs with jellyfish living on their heads
- Orange-eyed creatures that look like Abe from Oddworld
Spaceship designs are very phallic, and rounded at the back. There’s a planet that serves as the universe’s biggest market, with millions of shops stacked on top of each other. Valerian’s ship is called the Intruder, and looks a bit like a metal stingray.
Besson followed his wife’s images with some of his own, but they turned out to be vacation shots, which included photos of his foot and his butt crack. But after vacation, he edited together some scenes, with temp effects. Shots included epic space battles, Dane DeHaan running through about five different environments in what looked like the craziest endless runner game ever, Carla Delevingne kicking ass in some major boob armor, some Mad Max-type stuff in an armed school bus fending off desert monsters, and all sorts of aliens. The film has a visual aesthetic that’s maybe half-Fifth Element, half-Star Wars prequels; as for its characters, DeHaan sounds like he’s doing Keanu Reeves’ voice, while Ethan Hawke shows up as a strip-club owner behaving like Dennis Hopper. Valerain and Laureline bicker about flying the ship, dress like trashy tourists to go undercover, and run around in armored spacesuits covered in LEDs.
DeHaan and Delevingne came out afterward, with DeHaan calling his character a “space-bro” who’s not as cool as he thinks he is. Besson noted it takes two days to be able to look cool when you move in those spacesuits. While Besson touted how hard he pushed his leads, both of them claimed it never felt like work.
“Twenty years ago, I was weird,” said Besson, and now, “the world is as weird as me. So we match.” He found Fifth Element very frustrating in how the cameras would be kept locked and he’d have to do multiple takes for safety; now, he can put the camera on his shoulder and just shoot as much as he wants.
Besson left it to the audience to decide if his film looks similar to the source material, but admitted, “Consciously, no.” Besson also denied that Laureline was inspired by his Fifth Element heroine Leeloo, saying that Laureline was fully formed in his mind before Leeloo existed. “You guys don’t even know!” said DeHaan about Rihanna’s character, who is “so crazy.”
A cosplayer in the audience asked what the armor was made of. Besson replied that most was CG, and is just actors in gray underwear. Parts are made from plastic and foam. DeHaan told the crowd his acting began with dressing as superheroes as a kid, and now he’s always looking to challenge himself, which often leads him to dark places. He said that superhero movies are the most fun to shoot, “Period,” and Delevingne expressed similar feelings and passion about the genre. Both say they wish it were not just pretend, and they could really be comic characters.
Asked about the cool hats in his movies, Besson said he never thought about it before, but there is one very significant hat in Valerian.
The panel concluded with the panelists taking a group selfie, and getting the audience to do the wave—a fittingly joyful ending to a great panel. All in all Besson, DeHaan, and Delevingne inspired plenty of excitement about the brewing Valerian and Laureline. In a year, or maybe even a few days, this will be the panel you most regret you didn’t attend.
Featured Image: Lionsgate