Interview: Luc Besson talks Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets!
Audiences at last year’s San Diego Comic Con were given a very special introduction to an exciting new film. Luc Besson fans were offered a bit of awesomeness courtesy of the VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS footage. Our own editor-in-chief extraordinaire Paul Shirey was in attendance, and he gave us a little insight as to what we can expect. And recently, I had the opportunity to join a small group of journalists to get a look at the teaser trailer for the new film. Surprise… it looks glorious.
Today we are thrilled that all of you will also get the chance to check it out today and see for yourself. I’d describe it in detail, but I highly recommend that you just experience it on your own. The visuals are outstanding, and I’m already digging both Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan. And then there is the music. This is the first time that the legendary rock band The Beatles have agreed to have one of their songs used in a trailer like this. The song was "Recorded by The Beatles in 1969, “Because” debuted on the Abbey Road album (1969). “Because” (A Cappella Version), featured in the VALERIAN trailer, made its release debut on The Beatles’ Anthology 3 in 1996." With this great song, the teaser presents a perfect blend of visual artistry, creative special make-up effects and damn good music.
During the press visit, Mr. Besson himself gave us a little tour into the world of VALERIAN. We watched the teaser trailer twice… I could have had it on repeat and been thrilled. And we had a very detailed conversation about what we saw. If you are a fan of THE FIFTH ELEMENT just wait until you get a gander at this. It is almost beyond words to explain all the beauty on display. What was even more impressive was Besson giving us an example of turning a simple drawing into something magical.
Afterwards, Luc sat down with us to discuss the film. He talked about using the influence of the source material, as well as bringing a fresh and unique approach to it by searching out for exciting new creative artists. We talked about the painstaking effects, the 3D conversion and just how detailed the film is. He also opened up about the running time and his refreshing take on not making a movie too long. The conversation began when the filmmaker described one of the many incredible visuals we were shown.
Luc Besson: That’s an original drawing from one of the five guys. That’s the drawing that we worked with at the beginning. It’s coming inside the station — Alpha Station. The idea that comes in later is that the circle is like a veil. When you go through it, it reads all the information of the spaceship. Who is it for? Are there parasites? Whatever you have inside, we will know it. That’s one angle. That’s the reverse. The idea was to lose totally the horizontal. We never know where we are. One of the prominent ways to resolve it was the gravity and how it works. The gravity is in the ground all the time. For example, in house you have the heater on the ground itself. Here, it’s the gravity. No matter where you are, that’s where the gravity is coming from. It’s almost like a carpet that you put down. If you’re on the other side, it doesn’t matter to us because we’re still walking on the ground. Actually, at the beginning of the film, we see when they install the gravity system.
[Watching the same scene] So now we have that in reverse. That’s the storyboard that we have in the beginning. It’s an easy shot. It’s just a spaceship coming in. That’s the first layout. On the first layout, we see the timing of the shot and the speed. It starts to get some shadows and we see that everything is moving in the back. Now we have some spaceships. It comes to life. This isn’t the latest one, but it’s close. But it’s not totally finished. This is way too clear. The flare is too big. I want to see more details. I want to see that this thing is turning. We have to reduce this here so that we see the thing turning on the back more. You see? Otherwise, we don’t see it enough. We see it’s turning, but it’s not clear now. The flare is too big. It makes it a little fake.
But that’s a pretty gorgeous shot.
With no actors!
What are those globe things that look like the EPCOT globe?
Those are aliens living in their own environments. That’s Alpha Station, which is the city of a thousand planets. It’s a space station where everyone in the universe comes with their knowledge. It’s a city of science, Broadway, Wall Street, Shibuya, Pigalle. It’s everything you want in one place. Anything you want to build, the knowledge will be in there. It makes a very special place. Who controls Alpha is obviously an issue because you could do whatever you want with the knowledge they have. The United Nations is there. Everyone is there. So that’s the second example. That’s a KORTAN DAHUK. That’s the first alien we see in the film. That’s another artist. The first one was Chinese, the one with the space station. This one is American. Personally, that’s my favorite alien. I love him. I love his profile and his face. There is such a sweetness and almost a sadness in his face.
Do you return to the artists throughout the process?
After that, I chose 15 guys. There’s the five major guys. After, there’s guys where I can give him the KORTAN DAHUK and he’s going to design the weapon who goes with it. The object who goes with it. I don’t need the main guy to do that. There’s guys that, if they’re inspired by him, can do it. In fact, I don’t think the original guy did his weapon or the communications system. That’s his communications system there.
Now that’s the storyboard with him. That’s the shooting. It looks very simple, but my job was to teach him how to walk. Look at the way he walks. There is something almost animal. I have to show the actor different animals like an ostrich. Many different kinds of animals. Pink flamingo. Just for him to be inspired. I put strange things under his shoes. That’s the difference, in fact. Just the way he walks. The two others are not so good. The one in front is really good. That’s the first test on the background. As you can see, there’s a part of the costume. Weta wants those, so we have the arm bit and the color, a piece of the hat. Now it’s the first and that’s the latest one. But then we’ll have people who will watch the film and say, “Yeah, yeah. That’s easy. Where are we going to eat?” Sometimes I see people finish a film and they go, “Yeah, that was good. Where are we going to eat?”
Is all the imagery from the comics?
The principal manifestation, yeah. It’s in “Ambassador of Shadows”. I mean, there’s a couple of moments.
How detailed do the alien races get?
We have a bible that’s 600 pages. There are five pages on each alien and where they come from. Even the address you can check on the map. On the star map. It’s real numbers.
Will you publish that?
I don’t know. I wrote the entire history of Alpha, because the space station was around for 500 years. I have 30 pages on the history of Alpha. Every ten years what happens. They took control and what happened. Every 80 years, they have to change the communication system because it doesn’t work anymore. Some aliens come with new technology and suddenly you can change the electric system. We wrote the entire story.
When Cara and Dane arrived, I told their agent, “They need to know all this.” I gave them the 600 pages. I said, “You have to learn everything. You’re a cop. You need to know the names.” I don’t want him, when he meets an alien to go, “Whoa” like this. I want him to know if they guy is peaceful. What is the history with the human race? Maybe we were fighting before but now we’re friends. It’s the equivalent of, “Are they Russian? Are they Swiss? Are they Italian?” It’s the same. If you’re someone from the government and you meet people from other countries, you want to know who you’re dealing with. It’s the same for them. They have to come.
The KORTAN DAHUK, there are always three. They are translators and they speak 8,000 languages. Their brain is divided into three parts. One of them starts a line, the next one continues a line and the third one finishes the line. If you kill one of them, you lose the information. So you can’t kill them or you lose everything. They’re very polite and they’re in the business of selling information to everyone. So when they come, you’re always pissed off to see them coming. First, they’re going to sell you something. Usually, they sell you information that, in five minutes, isn’t going to be a problem anymore. Usually they come right before a problem. When you see them, you know the problem is coming. When you see them coming, if I’m Valerian or Laureline, I’m going to go, “I don’t believe this. What do you want?” the attitude I have is because I know the history. You have to write it because they need to know. I’m sure they forgot. But I was tricky. There were times I would come on set and go, “The KORTAN DAHUK? Where do they come from?” Even I sometimes forgot myself.
Because of that history, could you move forward or backward at that location in future films?
The two detectives are, as we call them in French, Spatio-Temporal. That means that they can travel in space as well as time. But the spaceship they have, it’s an XB980. The B model is able to go to 30 centuries on average. The A model can’t go in time. It can go in space, but only in this galaxy. The B model can go 1,000 million lightyears. It’s a very powerful spaceship.
What can you tell us about the other aliens in the trailer? There was a blue alien picking flowers or something.
They are farmers, in fact.
There was another that looked like an inspector. He was looking at something under a magnifying glass.
That’s AUGIN SYRUS (?) He’s a mercenary. He’s a bad guy. He’s not nice. The BULONG (??) farmers, they grow cobalt in water. The first ones, the KORTAN DAHUK are travelers. They were the first to have arrived on Alpha a long time ago. They’re travelers. They don’t go through space the way we go because we take time and travel. They have a map of holes. It’s almost like a short cut. You go in here and then you appear here. They have a map of all the holes. That’s why they’re the first ones we met, because they travel through holes. But they share. They share because they’re nice.
Does the movie begin just hitting the ground running or do you have some sort of historic recap?
We will see the history of Alpha. That’s the beginning. It’s in the credits. Credits and we’re done. We know where we are. The credits are very funny. It’s basically hundreds and hundreds of years of history, beginning in 1975 with Apollo and Soyuz meeting. That’s the beginning of Alpha. Then the Europeans come and the Chinese come and the station grows, grows, grows. In 2100, the first alien wants to join. We say yes. Then the second alien and, fifty years later, it’s fat. They decide to take the station out of the terrestrial attraction because, if it falls, it would be catastrophic. So they push it out. It goes in the current in space. Then the story starts 500 years later. When we get back to the station, it’s 50 times bigger than when we left it. It looks like this when we come back. When we left it, it was just like a mile in diameter. Now it’s 18. It grows very fast, like Shanghai.
What is the film’s runtime?
Two hours and nine minutes.
Do I need to see this in 3D?
You can, honestly. I’m not a super big fan of 3D. But, once in awhile, like “Avatar” in 3D, it’s amazing. There are couple of films were I’d rather be watching in 2D. But I saw the teaser yesterday in 3D. I hope you can see that in 3D. The shot of the canyon in 3D is [amazing]. You see all the levels. The 3D is very impressive. I’m amazed by the conversion. I don’t know how they do it.
Is that runtime what you were shooting for or would you want even longer?
No, it’s two agents and one mission. You don’t need to do more than two hours. Most films, when it passes 2 hours 20 — except AVATAR… But I do it myself. So two hours nine and that’s it. It’s already long, two hours and nine minutes. But the film is fat, so you have things to watch. But I see some movies that are 2 hours 40. I mean, it’s just what I like personally. But I try to make what I like as an audience. Even if I love, love, love a film, I try to think, “Can I cut ten minutes?”
I’m curious about how the time travel works. Do they come from another time than when the story takes place?
No, they’re from the time. They are able to, by certain rules, go to the past if they want. They can’t go to the future. That’s impossible. But they can go to the past, maximum 30 centuries. You need specific authorization. In this film, they don’t go into the past. Maybe in the second. It’s a bit complicated already. In the comic, time travel is very tricky. You need a specific order. You can’t touch anything. You can’t change anything. It’s very specific. They are allowed only to go to the past to fix some disorder. They’re cops. Basically, if someone goes and makes a mess in the 12th century, they’re allowed to go and get the guy and put everything back. They can’t do just anything in the past.
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