Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Review of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Links to Pacific islanders
Joseph Veramu

I enjoyed watching Valerian. Science fiction and movies with social themes does not usually generate much interest with Fiji moviegoers. They tend to patronise films with lots of aggressive actions and neurotic characters abusing each other verbally. My daughter politely but firmly declines going to sci fi movies with me because she says they look so unreal and she has difficulty enjoying herself. On the few occasions, I have taken nephews and nieces, they have spent most of their time on their phones and less time watching the screen. Valerian has all the ingredients of a blockbuster hit. So far, the film has earned $36.1 million in the US and globally it has made $65.6 million on a $177.2 million budget. That is a poor showing and it needs to pick up in the next week or two to avoid posting a box office loss.


I say that the film has the ingredients of a hit because there is a tempestuous romantic relationship between Valerian and Laureline. There are lots of deliciously grotesque villains and the action is nail biting. It also has a highly creative story line and well developed characters.

The film unfortunately has some flaws some of which are not of its making. Most of us are so used to Hollywood action romance films where the action is gritty and the main actors display a passionate friskiness or edginess. In Valerian, there are no passionate moments to endear audiences too. Whenever the tender moments come, Valerian and Laureline try to get it over as soon as possible with a peck on the cheek or a quick kiss on their upper lips. For a French based movie, they are unusually restrained with not a French kiss in sight. Perhaps they were trying to avoid a PG film rating or they were sensitive to viewers like me who have been ‘born again’ and must guard against temptations of the flesh in dark cinemas.

DeHaan’s acting is breezy as if he’s playing his character for laughs. You get the feeling that the film directors decided to do away with the Hollywood stereotype of the muscular hero. When DeHaan takes off his shirt, one gets the feeling that he loves fast foods and fizzy drinks when he’s not acting. Cara Delevingne tries too hard to be gritty but without the passion it falls flat. I am not sure whether it has to do with the way the film is shot but some of the angle shots gives her a decidedly flaring nose and the glazed eyes of an untamed wild cat. Perhaps the most exciting talent in this movie is Rihanna acting as the shapeshifting dancer, Bubble who helps Valerian rescue Laureline from a primitive tribe before she dies of a mortal wound, She encourages Valerian to woo Laureline as she has many enduring qualities.

Fijians and Pacific islanders will be intrigued with the story line which centres around genocide in the Planet Mul and the cover up by General Filitt that Laureline and Valerian uncover. We are told that in Planet Mül, a humanoid race had lived peacefully in their paradise in harmony with nature. They fished for pearls containing enormous amounts of energy, and used small animals to replicate them. Their planet was deliberately destroyed in the cross fire of two warring sides. General Filitt refers to the Muls as ‘savages.’ The people of Mul remind me of Jean-Jacques Rousseau notion of the 'Noble Savage' born with the potential for goodness. They had an "innate repugnance to see others of their kind suffer".

The Muls try to replicate their paradise on a space ship that will sail in eternal bliss in the universe. Valerian and Laureline provide them with the energy-giving pearl and a converter to enable them to escape from Alpha. The due go off to their own paradise after they admit their undying love for each other.

I know that 30 years ago Pacific academics would be offended about Europeans perpetuating the myth of the ‘noble savage’. But times have changed and it’s really cool to know that the Muls were wise, forgiving and lived in blissful harmony with nature. In these challenging times of high NCDs and pollution, it would be good to look back at our traditional wisdom to find affirmation in reducing our carbon footprints and emissions, it is really affirming to be reminded that like the Muls, we too can take action to reduce pollution and live in harmony with nature.

The trick now is to get Fijians who admittedly can't stand science fiction movies to make an exception. Go and see Valerian if only to feel inspired to take action on having healthy lifestyles and protecting our environment. And if in the unlikely situation, something ghastly was done to you, please be as forgiving as the people of Planet Mul.

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