9:14am PT by Borys Kit
Comic-Con: Luc Besson's 'Valerian' Looks to Take World Creation to the Next Level
Luc Besson, the French producer and director, is sitting in a corner of a restaurant in the Gaslamp District of San Diego, feeling relieved. Really relieved.
About six hours earlier on July 21 in Hall H at Comic-Con, he unveiled the first footage from his epic sci-fi movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which recently began post-production. It wasn’t a packed crowd — the movie isn’t a sequel or based on a known brand but is based on a French comic series and it wasn't backed by a major studio — and so he was nervous, he admits.
Besson was afraid there would be a technical snafu. He was afraid that he had myopia from being locked in with the editing team in a dark room for too long. He was afraid the footage, that he only finished readying days earlier, wasn’t up to snuff since its special effects were still a work in progress.
But those that were there knew they had seen something special. There were shots of a hero creating energy steps as he leaped off a chasm, a man controlling a machine gun-like weapon via a cybernetic helmet, a sneaky and tough leading lady who escapes custody, space ships and aliens. And he received a partial standing ovation and thunderous applause.
“It was humbling,” Besson exhales.
The filmmaker is known for big and stylish international hits like 1990’s La femme Nikita and for then making the switch to English-language fare, with memorable films such as Natalie Portman’s debut, The Professional, and the sci-fi movie The Fifth Element, a production designer’s dream. He last directed the 2014 Scarlet Johansson hit Lucy. In between, he wrote and produced action franchises such as Taken, The Transporter and Taxi.
Besson straddles the line between being a Hollywood studio director and a European auteur, creating fast-moving stories, slickly told, but with an idiosyncratic streak. While 1997’s Fifth Element wasn’t a blockbuster hit, the movie did OK and developed a following. His admirers have been waiting for him to return to sci-fi ever since.
Valerian, based on French comics and starring rising actors Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, looks as if it will take the world creation of Fifth Element and amp it up tenfold. Ninety percent of its characters are not humans. There are many different worlds with distinct cultures. The footage shown in Hall H reveals that Besson pushing his own envelope.
The film’s opening is just a year away, on July 21, 2017, the same day that Warner Bros. has scheduled the release of the newest film from Christopher Nolan, the World War II epic, Dunkirk.
“I was surprised they put it in the summer,” he says of the film he’ll be going up against. “I’m a big fan of his, to be sure, but Dunkirk to me is a November, going-for-Oscar release.”
Speaking of Oscar releases, his favorite movie that he’s seen this year, he says, is Miss Sloane, a gun rights drama that stars Jessica Chastain that will open in December.
"It’s the best film I’ve seen all year,” he declares. “She’s the best actress in the world right now. After three minutes, you forget all the roles she’s done. She has this… capacity.” Besson’s company, Europacorp, produced Sloan but Besson maintains he is objective. “There’s other films of ours that I won’t mention,” he laughs.
Besson has spent most of the past year shooting Valerian but he been trying to keep up with other films. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was among them. He doesn’t think he’s the audience for the franchise anymore.
“I saw the first one at 16 years old. The shock that you have at 16 when you see that … you can’t have it the same way as a 55-year-old,” he admits. “I think I’m not the right client for Stars Wars anymore. I appreciate it that it had respect (for the original films), so it has the same vibe. But I prefer the Lucas trilogy and his input.”
After Comic-Con, Besson will return to Valerian. It has at least 10 months of post-production, he says.
The filmmaker, who is wed to his producing partner, Virginie Besson-Silla, seems like a man apart, between continents, though he is now based in Los Angeles.
"It’s 25 years now that I have a had house (in L.A.),” he says. “I was living in Paris, spending six months in L.A. Now I’m living in L.A. and spending six months in Paris.”