Luc Besson can relax and check “kill it at Comic-Con” off his bucket list. Not only did the director-producer receive the SDCC Inkpot Award this afternoon, he received an unprompted standing ovation following the first-ever look at footage from his upcoming sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. His first appearance in the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H was an unqualified success.
Fans of Besson’s 1997 film The Fifth Element who have been waiting for him to return to the sci-fi genre can relax too. Despite the incomplete special effects and lack of narrative context, the roughly seven minutes of Valerian footage shown off this afternoon was every bit as good as Besson made it sound this time last year, when he talked up the project to select journalists during a private meeting in San Diego, and later with Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr.
Based on the classic French comic series Valérian and Laureline created in 1967 by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, the film stars Dane DeHaan as Valerian and and Cara Delevingne as Laureline, a pair of 28th century government agents tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the universe. Valérian and Laureline was a huge influence on subsequent science fiction, particularly Star Wars, as well as on Besson himself; he became a fan when he was 10 and routinely cites it as his favorite-ever work. He even hired Mézières as a concept designer for The Fifth Element.
Divided into five unrelated chunks that showcased Valerian and Laureline without giving too much of the plot away, the main takeaway from the shown footage is that Valerian is aiming big — maybe even Star Wars big in scope. Different worlds, environments, characters and aliens were on display, as was the easy, funny chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne. Characterizations are strong and leaning iconic, with DeHaan playing Valerian like a kind of future Johnny Utah and Delevingne playing unflappable straight man – well, woman – opposite him. Much like Star Wars, the world of Valerian feels lived in and vast and while I’ve been interested in this project since seeing concept art in 2015, I’m positively impatient for the film’s July 21, 2017 release now.
Besson, joined on the Hall H stage by his wife and Valerian co-producer Virginie Besson-Silla, primed the audience first with a presentation of concept art from the film while explaining the setting in which it takes place. That meant a look at some of the film’s numerous aliens, various spaceships and, more important, the setting: an enormous space station dubbed Alpha — the titular city of a thousand planets — on which 17 million inhabitants from all over the universe live, work and engage in all manner of good and bad deeds.
The audience loved that stuff too, but they (I’ll be honest, “we”) were mainly happy to have Besson in the room with us. Besson returned the favor, treating the event as something he took very seriously, particularly after Comic-con’s Eddie Ibrahim presented him with the INk Pot. Besson put the trophe on the moderator’s dais and asked the audience to let him know if he deserved it only after they saw what he brought to the theater. Spoiler alert: they did.