Thanks to the success of Guardians of the Universe, blockbuster sci-fi adventures can be trippy again. Bulbous monsters, sparkly outfits, zero-G hairstyles, constellations that look like 70s prog rock album covers — it’s all cool now. And that means, oddly enough, that the world is finally ready for a movie based on the 1960s comic book that started the psychedelic sci-fi craze.
That’s what you’ll see in this first full trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the story of Valerian and Laureline, two spatiotemporal agents hired to guard the universe’s only intergalactic library in the insanely colorful cosmopolis Alpha. The movie is directed by The fifth element mastermind Luc Besson, whose most recent film was the transhumanist hit Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson. As regards Valerian‘s plot, there is some sort of nebulous threat that threatens not only the future of knowledge, but all of space-time.
The story looks nice, but the backstory is downright fascinating. Director Besson Is Obsessed With The Original French Comic Valerian and Laureline for almost his entire career. Created in 1967 by French literature professor Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières, the comic tackled social and philosophical issues with a good dose of mid-century radicalism. What made it unique was the combination of political commentary with the crazy, colorful art of Mézières. Mézières was a close friend of Jean Giraud, known as the influential sci-fi comic book creator Moebius. Both the work of Mézières and Giraud were the direct precursors of the sexy/otherworldly style that Metal Hurlant (heavy metal) magazine.
When Besson wanted to create the bizarre, shiny future in The fifth element, he hired Mézières as a concept artist. Other Hollywood concept designers, including Doug Chiang who collaborated on The Phantom Menace, have also discussed the influence of Mézières’ work. In short, the style and structure of Valerian and Laureline influenced fantastic art and storytelling for decades without most of the English-speaking world realizing it.
Some critics fear that the comic’s burning originality will be lost on generations of people who grew up with the pop culture it influenced. You can, but now might also be the perfect time for people to rediscover Valerian and Laureline. Books and comics often pave the way for movies and television, introducing new themes and ideas decades before they hit the mainstream.
How closely Besson’s film will follow the strip, which ran until 2010, is not clear. In the comic, Valérian comes from the 28th century, but his partner Laureline is a peasant girl from 11th century France whom he trains to be a spatial-temporal agent. In the beginning she is a sidekick, but later on she becomes his equal. Judging from what we see in this trailer, she has definitely reached or perhaps surpassed the equal stage.
What’s funny is that it’s not that the sci-fi audience has to get more fancy or sophisticated to appreciate it Valerian and Laureline– in many ways the story represents a nostalgic return to Silver Age science fiction, when creators combined swashbuckling tales of the 1950s with countercultural ideas of the 1960s. This trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets feels strangely innocent after decades of monochromatic dystopias. So, is the world ready for an original retro-futurism? We’re going to find out.
Valerian opens July 21 in the United States and August 4 in the UK.
List image by STX Entertainment