By now, comic books being reimagined as blockbusters is a pretty standard practice. Without looking, I could name at least ten from the last twelve months alone, and the trend shows no sign of stopping any time soon. And it’s more than just US comics like DC and Marvel bringing their characters to live action.
Luc Besson’s upcoming film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on the Franco-Belgian comic series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. The series ran from 1967 to 2010 and has had quite an impact on modern science fiction, most recognizably influencing cinematic classics like Star Wars and The Fifth Element.
At the moment, we as an audience have very little to base our speculations on, so rather than worry about what the upcoming film is going to be, let’s just focus on what we know.
Valerian and his partner Laureline are Spatio-Temporal agents, meaning that they’re responsible for keeping the galaxy safe, both in their present–the 28th Century–and throughout history.
As there isn’t much evidence of it in the trailers, it will be interesting to see if time travel ever comes up in the film or any future sequels–since it’s probably safe to say there will be sequels. As most of their adventures throughout the comics take place in various times of humanity’s history, there’s plenty of opportunity for the filmmakers to branch out and further explore the diverse landscape of the universe later.
The primary setting for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an intergalactic space station/planet called Alpha, which seems to be a combination of two settings from the comics; Syrte the Magnificent from Vol. 2 The Empire of a Thousand Planets and the Central Point first introduced in Vol. 6 Ambassador of the Shadows.
Syrte is a giant planet that “has ruled over all the system’s planets since time immemorial” and is made up of all the best parts of the cultures, knowledge, and architecture of the alien peoples that it leads. Alpha is similar, except that it instead of just representing these them, it seems to be the nexus point of a thousand converging realms, which is the general idea behind the Central Point.
With 40+ years of plot to draw from, it will be interesting to see how true to the comics the filmmakers stay, or if they’ll simply be using these characters as the inspiration for their own additional adventures set within the universe. It has been confirmed that the plot draws from several sources throughout the series but is primarily based on Ambassador of the Shadows–which will be interesting to see considering the fact that almost 30 pages of the comic follow Laureline as she looks for Valerian who has been taken prisoner, despite the fact that–despite the apparent emphasis on their partnership in the trailers–Valerian is clearly being promoted as the main character of the film.
In fact, for the first several volumes of the comic, Valerian owes much of his survival and success to dumb luck and his partner, Laureline, who is often faster on her feet and more resourceful. She’s a better fighter and a better agent, being more willing to question orders where Valerian often does as he’s told, even when he doesn’t agree with them.
On the development of Valerian’s character, Christin has specifically said,
“I wanted to go against all those characters who were dominating the market at the time. There were only two strong models: the Franco-Belgian boy-scout tradition, the fearless knight-in-shining-armor – like Tintin and even the Blueberry scripts Charlier was writing back then [for Jean Moebius Giraud]; the other great model was American super-heroes. I wanted to create a character that would be totally untraditional on that front. Valerian is a banal character; he doesn’t have any extraordinary means of action” (source)
Laureline is a peasant from 11th century France who saves Valerian’s life and discovers that Valerian is a time traveler, prompting him to bring her back to the 28th century where she becomes a Spatio-Temporal agent herself. She quickly proves herself a valuable asset and the two have been partners ever since.
As the series progresses, the two come to balance each out more and more with their partnership becoming a driving component of the story. Valerian is level-headed–if sometimes a bit thick–and good at making plans and seeing them through, where Laureline is impulsive but clever enough to think on her feet and usually stay out of trouble. Their relationship is often understated and lacks the UST and dramatic “will-they-won’t-they” of most fictional duos. Instead, they rely on each other completely and respect the others’ autonomy.
Despite starting out as a pretty straightforward adventure comic, the series ends up addressing some pretty heavy themes. Quite often, Valerian and Laureline are forced to make difficult decisions that will impact the lives and socio-economic well-being of the alien peoples scattered throughout time and space. Christin actively wanted to consider controversial social themes like how femininity opposes male pride, the personal struggle for individuality and equal rights, as well as the contradictory and problematic nature of ingrained hegemonic ideologies.
One of the most challenging topics Christin uses his characters to explore is the abuse of power in government and how that affects the people who are supposed to enforce political actions that they don’t agree with. Laureline is often outspoken with her opinions while Valerian struggles more with the nature of right and wrong and how to balance his own morals with his loyalty.
At the end of the day–or whenever, really. Time is a construct–Laureline and Valerian are way more than time traveling space cops. Their biggest and most important missions are the ones that don’t have a “correct” solution or a clearly defined “bad guy” to defeat.
And hopefully, the filmmakers understand and respect that. Science fiction is all about the exploration of humanity, not big explosions and stunning visual effects. Ideally, we’ll be able to look forward to some combination of all of the above. As long as the characters lead the plot and not the other way around, I think we can trust that we’ll be getting a film that stays true to the spirit of the comics while still bringing something new and fresh to the beloved franchise.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be out July 21.