Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I was in LA last week for the primary purpose of hanging around with Luc Besson as he held court about his upcoming sci-fi flick VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, which is deep into post and was on the brink of having its first trailer drop. I've said it before and I certainly believe it, but it's times like this that makes you want to tell the world that you've got a pretty sweet gig.
The Valerian trailer just hit the net. I've embedded it below and will come back afterwards to tell you all a little bit more about my time with Besson.
How great is the decision to use that Beatles song? If you're not as obsessed with that band as I am, that song is called Because and is off of Abbey Road. Although they reworked it, that is the master recording you hear, which marks the first time a Beatles tune actually sung by The Beatles has been approved for use in a trailer and Besson said that the okay came directly from Sir Paul McCartney.
When asked why McCartney approved it Besson just shrugged and said he thought it would be better if he let the lawyers hammer it out so he didn't mess up the negotiations, so he's never spoken with him. But he did say that they got the song before they began cutting the trailer and that what you see above was structured around the tune, not the other way around.
That teaser is also not finished FX. Hard to believe, but he said not only are most of the VFX shots in the trailer not final renders, but there are missing elements in some of the shots. For example, that final shot of Dane DeHaan falling? In the finished film there will be two balls that are falling with him. These are police robots that have 20 cameras on them and is following the action, filming him on the way down.
Besson said that the special effects shot count in Valerian is 2700 and as of last week Besson had only approved 200. He said this with a shrug, but it's clear looking at the Comic-Con reel he showed back to back with this trailer that he has a very specific vision of this crazy universe and he's not settling for anything less than an Avatar level of visual brazzle dazzle.
Weta Digital, ILM and Rodeo are doing the digital effects for this film and they're constantly sending shots for approval and the way Besson made it sound he's making it really difficult for them by almost always sending the shots back with more notes. This process will continue on right until release next year.
Valerian takes place far into the future (in the 2700s) and it's about a space station that has grown to about 12 miles in circumference over the decades. This place is called Alpha and it was begun by humans and as each alien species was contacted or discovered they added on to this space station, making it a kind of UN hub in the galaxy where every race and planet is represented, complete with living conditions habitable to each alien. That means there are domed areas that contain atmospheres deadly to humans, but that allow particular alien cultures to let it all hang out. There are under water sections, desert sections, etc. Besson said that all the collected knowledge of the entire universe exists in this space station.
At the center of the story is Valerian, played by DeHaan, and Laureline, played by Cara Delevingne, who are agents on an investigation that takes them through Alpha and in and out of many of the 1000 civilizations represented.
And Besson did his homework here. Not only was he a fan of the original French comic (he told us 10 year old Luc Besson would eagerly await the next step of Valerian and Laureline's adventures week to week), but this world grabbed him at such a deep level that he created a 600 page bible that detailed over 100 different species of alien. Where they come from, what they eat, how they reproduce, where their home planets are and what their function inside Alpha is, etc.
That kind of prep work wasn't unique just for the aliens (who are executed using all sorts of effects... I saw practical duck-billed platypus looking aliens, entirely CG creatures, humans and stuff in-between). Every department heavily prepped. Besson said he hasn't approached a film this big in scope since The Fifth Element, so he really wanted to make sure he was ready to hit the ground running. All this prep ended up assisting him in wrapping production four days ahead of schedule.
He also made sure the production artists and designers had ample time and freedom to work. He forbade them from talking to each other and gave them a full year with minimal direction and just let them loose. He said that resulted in some incredibly strange, although admittedly creative, alien designs, some of which did make it into the movie. “They came back with some shit honestly that makes you want to call 9-1-1. 'There's this guy you should check out...' Crazy stuff.”
Since prep was so intensive and it seems post is equally detail-oriented I asked Besson if shooting was his favorite part of the process. He quickly said no, his favorite part was the writing. “You are bothering no one and you can write '5,000 space ships arrive in the frame' and no one cares!”
As I mentioned earlier, we not only watched the trailer a couple of times, we also saw the Comic-Con reel that gave us a little bit better idea of the interplay between Valerian and Laureline (DeHaan seemed to be going with a Bruce Willis-y just another day on the job even though it's a crazy sci-fi universe thing and Delevingne was definitely more of a strong, confident, smart-ass butt-kicker) and then Besson took us into one of the VFX offices and showed us a few shots from the trailer broken down to show the evolution from storyboard to animatic to rough CG pass and then slightly more detailed passes until you end up with a frame dense with sci-fi imagery.
Noticing how much each shot seemed to be built for depth (lots of stacking in foreground, mid and backgrounds), I asked if the plan was to do a 3-D version and Besson said a conversion was absolutely in the cards. Normally I'm not the biggest 3-D proponent, but I must admit to being curious to see it after taking in this footage.
You can't make a judgment call on a film based on a trailer or sizzle reel, but I'm pretty stoked to see what the hell this big, weird thing ends up being. Weird being the key word. This had Besson's fingerprints all over it. Visually it reminded me of the audacity of The Fifth Element melded with the scope of something like Avatar. The characters came across as stylized, but not cartoons.
Besson's a master, especially when his heart's in it, and you can tell that he's head over heels for this particular universe. I wrapped up the day by asking if he was happy to one-and-done this or if he wanted to stick with it as a franchise should the opportunity open up. Without hesitation he said “I would love to do more than one. For sure. To direct!” Sometimes you get politician answers to that question, but Besson's heart is on his sleeve with this one.
I think everything looks killer so far. What about you guys? Do you dig this trailer as much as I do?