Den of Geek caught up with French director/writer/producer Luc Besson (Lucy) shortly after he premiered footage at Comic-Con from his upcoming movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Based on the French comic book Valerian and Laureline that debuted nearly 50 years ago (in 1967), the movie is a space opera in the grand tradition, infused with the European esthetic of classic publications like Heavy Metal — a genre that Besson has dabbled in before with his 1997 cult classic The Fifth Element.
With space-borne cities hosting thousands of alien races, fleets of battling spaceships and adventure on a galactic level (along with Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in the lead roles), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will hopefully bring audiences a fresh and exciting spin on the well-worn space opera genre. We spent a little time with Besson talking about the roots of the movie, whether the comics have inspired American filmmakers and more.
Den of Geek: This is one of those properties that is not very familiar to Americans. What do you think it has that can translate to audiences here who aren’t familiar with the books?
Luc Besson: I’m not sure that we have to think about that when you do the film. I think the audience today, when you do your best and you are honest, when you propose something, some of them are not receptive to that because they want to know what they’re seeing. They want to see sequel #2, #3, #4, #5. But I think much of the audience today is willing for fresh things. Me, as an audience, I’m ready for that. I’m a little fed up with (sequels); it’s all the same after a while. So I’d rather see fresh stuff. Maybe not all the time, but at least once in a while. Lucy did that in a way. Lucy was really an under the radar project, not a big film, and suddenly, boom — it did $500 million around the world.
You’ve read the Valerian books since you were 10. What do you love about them that you wanted to get onto the screen?
I love the team. The guy, the girl, they are cops, special agents, they go through time and space. It’s Starsky and Hutch. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It’s The Streets of San Francisco. It’s just this team. They are so cool together. They are bickering all the time, and they have jokes, and they fight, and it’s very human. That’s what I like about it, is you can basically have the exact same story today with a police car. You know, they are on a spaceship which is a police car and they go for a mission. The entire film takes 24 hours.
That’s what I like, is this mix between, I think, two protagonists that you can make very human. He’s a little pretentious, but he’s self-aware. And she’s very old-fashioned. So they are very human. But the world around the story, the other characters are just crazy. And they go through that like it’s normal. That makes it funny.
It seems like a lot of the imagery that we saw is very much out of a lot of different published sci-fi as well as things like Heavy Metal magazine. Is that the kind of design and look that you wanted to get onto the screen?
That’s where I come from. Valerian at 10 years old, and then when I was 13, 14, (French artist/writer Philippe) Druillet was a big guy. When I was like 15, it was Moebius. I got my first job at 16 at Heavy Metal as a script writer. So I had my first four pages published and I was in this world. On the music side I was totally into Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Billy Cobham, all very free jazz oriented. So that’s my culture. I discovered things like Marvel way after, when I was more like 25.
Do you think that the books had an influence on things like Star Wars and Avatar and perhaps seeped into the subconscious of some of the filmmakers who have created these science fiction films here?
You always have that. These guys have probably read a couple of issues of Valerian and have said, “God. That’s so good!” And they get inspired. At the same time, I would probably never make Valerian if I’ve not seen Star Wars at 16 years old. So (George Lucas) inspired me a lot. And then Jim Cameron invited me to the set of Avatar. He was so kind and gave me advice.
So it’s fine. People get inspired by each other. The real artists like Lucas and Spielberg, they are generous. They share. So you can’t reproach this one or this one because they have seen a drawing or they read a novel or something. I mean the world of Star Wars belongs to Lucas. And the work he has done is amazing. Yeah, maybe a couple of artists around the world inspired him, but that’s fine. That’s OK. We all do that. Tarantino said that he was very influenced by Leon. But I never felt like he was stealing anything. He has his own way of saying things that’s so brilliant.
On a separate note, are there any plans in the works for a follow-up to The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Besson’s 2010 fantasy film, also based on a French comic)?
I would love to, because I love this character Adele. She’s basically the grandmother of Indiana Jones. But it was in French and it’s difficult in France to do films with a certain kind of budget because it’s just in French. But I hope we can.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is out in theaters July 21, 2017.