Ahead of STX’s presentation at CinemaCon, director Luc Besson and British actress Cara Delevingne made a pitstop at Hollywood’s ArcLight Cinemas last night to show off the second Valerian trailer in 3D. Today, STX chief Adam Fogelson loved the Valerian trailer so much, he played it twice to those in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
“Jaw-dropping” isn’t a phrase to throw around, but in viewing the second Valerian trailer in 3D, it seems to apply. Dressed in splashy saturated colors, the trailer begins with a desert chase scene, propelling Valerian and Laureline into the City of a Thousand Planets, in all its minute and stellar detail.
Based on the beloved Valérian and Laureline comics published by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières in 1967, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has been a longtime passion project for the French director that he’s held since his youth, some 40-plus years in the making.
Set in the 28th century, the epic sci-fi pic centers on Alpha, a metropolis that is home to species of a thousand planets, which is threatened when a dark force looms near. Ultimately, only the film’s protagonists—interstellar special operatives Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Delevingne)—can safeguard the future of their universe in this ambitious outer-space extravaganza.
While Valérian has lived with the director since his childhood, the director’s conceptualization of a Valerian film hasn’t changed with the years. In fact, it wasn’t until 10 years ago that the director considered taking on the project.
“I never thought that I could make a film with Valerian when I was young. It’s part of my childhood, but I never thought about it until I was like 30 years old. In fact, the guy who drew Valérian—his name is Jean-Claude Mézières—he was working on The Fifth Element, and he’s the one who said, ‘Why are you doing The Fifth Element? Why don’t you do Valerian?'” Besson explained. “And then I started to think—I said, ‘Oh yeah, I never thought about it.’ Because at the time, it was just impossible to do, because there’s like two characters and 1,000 aliens. We couldn’t do it—the technique was not there yet—so we just had to be patient.”
At CinemaCon today, Besson, said in the old days of the comic, he would have to wait each week to reach two more pages.
As a sit down with Besson reveals, this isn’t a director who is wont to overthink matters. So while Valerian is the most expensive European-funded film in history with an estimated costs of $180M, it’s little surprise that for the director, the biggest creative challenges of mounting his dream project came not with the ones and zeroes, but in the nuts-and-bolts creative assembly inherent to any film production.
“You never see the money—you don’t have a guy, in the morning, come in with a suitcase and showing the money. No, I think it’s the preparation that was the challenge. You really have to work, three years before, and be ready everywhere, and finding at each place the right guy, the right people. You really have to make it like a Swiss clock,” the director explained. “You choose all the little things, and eventually at the end, [imitates sound of a clock ticking]. It’s working. That was the biggest challenge, and through the entire process—it was like four or five years—how not to lose the main concern about the film, which is Laureline and Valerian, and their relationship.”
Examining his creative habits, Besson spoke of the importance music has had in aiding his continuity of focus over the course of a years-long development process. “I have the same music for two, three years, then the album of Rihanna arrived, and then I switched to the album of Rihanna for a year. But to get the same music, then you go back to the same [imitates sound of a ticking clock]—the same movement,” he said.
Scrutinizing Besson’s process, Delevingne pointed out what she feels to be the French director’s unique strengths, with Besson covering his ears as the leading lady sang his praises. “He’s got one of the most incredibly amazing imaginations of anyone I’ve ever met. When I first met him, he would tell me stories of when he was a kid—how much he loves animals. The thing about him loving strong women—I just think he loves humanity, and I think he loves the world, and the way he can bring that to life and imagine so many things…He’s a complete visionary,” the actress offered.
“You know, my first friend that I can remember—I was six years old—it was an octopus. So that’s a bad start,” the director joked.
At the top of today’s STX session, studio chief Adam Fogelson praised Besson for his ability to spotlight great female talent before their superstars, including Natalie Portman in The Professional, Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element, and Scarlett Johansson’s ability to be a solo B.O. star on her own sans the Avengers gang in Lucy.
With Besson’s love of humanity, will Valerian embrace the liberal politics and progressive views inherent to the creators of the Valérian comics? “A little bit,” Besson said. “You will find that in the story of the film. It’s not the classical, ‘the villain wants to destroy the world, and the superhero comes, and then he’s going to kick the ass of the super villain, and he’s going to save the world.’ That’s not this story—at least, for once, it’s different.”
While at Stella Barra Pizzeria following the 3D trailer premiere, Besson also took a moment to discuss the plans he’s laid for the film’s release date, with a Cannes premiere never really in the cards for the space epic—in marked contrast to the path the director took with The Fifth Element back in 1997. “We decided the date like two years ago, and we choose very humbly. You watch every studio—there’s Spider-Man, there’s Planet of the Apes—and then we choose a date where no one was there,” he said, matter-of-factly. “To be in Cannes, you have to be ready end of April, and we were not ready end of April. So it was never an idea, going to Cannes, because the film will be ready in June.”
STX came to distribute Valerian after pacting with EuropaCorp back in January following the dissolve of RED, the distribution pipeline that the French company shared with the financially strained Relativity. Carrying a production cost of $180M, the film is one of the most expensive independently-financed films ever made. Pic opens on July 21.