Imagine you’re ten years old. It’s 1969 and you’ve discovered a love of comics. One of the recent ones is a series called Valérian and Laurelin that was created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. Unlike a lot of comics during that period, this one took place in a far off future where people could travel through space and time and it focused on a dark-haired spatio-temporal agent (Valerian) and his colleague (Laureline) as they traveled across the universe. For an impressionable ten year old, it was magic. The only issue was unlike most comics, you’d only get two pages every Wednesday, and then you’d have to wait for more.
Perhaps that’s the very reason the series made such an impression on a young Luc Besson. When I spoke to the famed director recently in the editing room, where he’s putting together his visually audacious adaptation of Valérian and Laurelin, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, he revealed his long-term love for the characters. Here’s what he had to say:
“The first woman I fell in love with was probably Laureline. She was totally free and badass and it was a very modern heroine at the time and I was totally in love with her. The guy was also very cool. He’s a little bit pretentious. He always thinks he’s the best in all this. She’s here to say, “Eh, chill.” So I love the relationship since the beginning and that’s what drives me more than spaceship monsters and all this. It was the relationship of the two. It’s really Mr. and Mrs. Smith in space, you know they’re joking, fighting. So that’s what drive me since I’m young is that I love this team. Because they’re cops, super cops, they travel in the space and time but they’re fighting all the time, they’re so human.”
While most of you haven’t yet seen any footage from Valerian – the teaser trailer arrives on Thursday, November 10th – the extensive footage I’ve seen signals that this is going to be something special. What I’ve seen thus far makes the wait for the film’s release in July 2017 borderline unbearable. Loaded with astonishing aliens, epic action set-pieces, vast and teeming planets, and the type of scale and scope rarely seen on movie screens, Luc Besson looks like he crafted a film his ten year old self would have stood in line all day to see. If you think that The Fifth Element was the end-all-be-all of visionary sci-fi epics, you’re about to have the wind knocked out of you.
After seeing the teaser trailer and a scene from the film, I had a lengthy conversation with Besson. He talked about where he’s at in the editing process, how they’ve got 200 VFX shots done out of 2,700, his lifelong love of the material, why Cara Delevingne was the right actor for Laureline, how students helped design portions of the world, how he’s already written the outline for the second and third movies, and so much more. The cherry on top? We even got to talk about the status of sequels to The Professional and Lucy. If you’re a fan of this master filmmaker, I think you’ll enjoy.
The Valerian trailer drops on Thursday; in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:
COLLIDER: So where are you in the editing process now?
LUC BESSON: Editing is finished.
So you are just finishing VFX shots.
Where are you in that process?
BESSON: We basically finished ten percent of it. So it’s 2,700 shots and I approved 200.
Are you on track for everything going the way it’s supposed to be going?
BESSON: Totally on track.
Oh that’s great. When is the date that you actually aim to have everything done?
BESSON: End of March, for my birthday.
Is this coming out in IMAX?
BESSON: It will be in IMAX in most of the country and we don’t know yet. We were IMAX first on the 21st of July and then there’s this film called Dunkirk who comes on the 21st of July and because of the relationship they have for so long of course he will be on IMAX. So if they keep this date then we won’t be on IMAX in U.S. but in the rest of the world.
Is there a chance in the U.S. you might move away from Dunkirk or you..
BESSON: No, no.
So it’s coming out July 21st?
BESSON: It’s coming July 21st no matter what. We chose the date two years ago. Put the dates everybody’s ready because it’s not only U.S. it’s China, it’s Europe it’s everywhere.
You’re going that date around the world?
BESSON: Almost, yeah. You can’t move just because one director comes here. So we will go 21st of July no matter what. But we are in 3D so we have a 3D version and RealD and IMAX everywhere.
What do you envision the best way to watch this movie? Do you have a preferred format that you would like people to see this film in?
BESSON: Honestly, my concern 99% is about the storytelling, the emotion and all this. I never think about the format of anything until way far in the process and when we arrive to the fabrication of the thing then we start to say, “Okay right, what is the best thing we can do.” I choose the car before to choose the color.
I completely get it. We’ve talked before but there’s are going to be people who read this interview who might not realize you have been passionate about this material for an extremely long time. So talk a little bit about when you first got involved, you know falling in love with this material and what is it about this material that really speaks to you.
BESSON: First I’m 10 years old when I read the first comic book and at 10 years old it’s in the comic every week on Wednesday and they have only two pages every Wednesday. So I have to wait six days to have the new episode. I mean the young people today they click on the Internet they have all the information in the world. I have to wait for a week to have two more pages and I think it’s part of the love also. Because for six days you just dream about it. The first woman I fell in love with was probably Laureline. She was totally free and badass and it was a very modern heroine at the time and I was totally in love with her. The guy was also very cool. He’s a little bit pretentious. He always thinks he’s the best in all this. She’s here to say, “Eh, chill.” So I love the relationship since the beginning and that’s what drives me more than spaceship monsters and all this. It was the relationship of the two. It’s really Mr. and Mrs. Smith in space, you know they’re joking, fighting. So that’s what drive me since I’m young is that I love this team. Because they’re cops, super cops, they travel in the space and time but they’re fighting all the time, they’re so human.
I have to ask you about the casting, you mentioned that this is character you fell in love with when you were ten. So what is it like casting this dream girl that you have had a crush on almost your entire life?
BESSON: I’m glad I’m 50-years-old now because if I made the film at 25 I would be totally in love with Cara, [Delevingne] but I’m 50 and she’s very young so it’s much more friendly and professional. I just need to find an actress this little glimpse, this little humor, craziness that she has. Cara has all this naturally. She’s a little Laureline in our world today.
One of the things…you basically run a studio and you get to make really big decisions but now a day’s everyone is examining what star will bring international dollars and who’s good for what marketplace and so on and so forth. How much did those kind of financial decisions play a factor in the casting process? And maybe you how made the movie?
BESSON: Have you seen recently how many flop they got with this kind of patern. Like, “Oh this market and the thing and we should take this girl and the thing,” you see the result? I mean I watch box office mojo once in awhile and then you watch the thing and there’s no rule, it’s wrong. I mean loving a film is like falling in love with a woman or with a man like you never expect it. It it’s not the one you think you will be in love with, you know. You think always that he will be with a beard, and black, and big and finally he’s Chinese and you know it’s the same thing. There’s something very organic about the film and if you forgot it, if you don’t have this seed in it…this organic flavor in it the film doesn’t work it’s wrong. I’m not trying to excuse myself for my lack of confidence in numbers and all this…but I try to follow my instinct as a moviegoer and I do the thing I would love to see it at a movie. I’m like everyone, almost, I go to a movie once a week.
That’s not everyone, that’s you and me.
BESSON: But you know what I mean, right? I like every kind of film if it’s well made. I’m fine. I’m not a specialist fighting for a genre of film. You just have to follow your instinct. I’ve known Laureline for 40 years and I met Cara and I know it’s her, that’s it. And you can tell me whatever you want like, “Oh she never played before” or “She’s a model,” or whatever. I didn’t say yes right away I test her very deeply…very hardly it was very hard. But my guess was like if she’s going through the process and if she’s good at the end she can get the part and then she got the part.
How long was your first cut of the film vs the cut you have right now?
BESSON: I finished the editing ten days after the last day of shooting.
So you were already pulling stuff out that you didn’t think was…
How long is the movie?
BESSON: Two hours and nine minutes.
Oh, that’s a good length.
BESSON: Not too long.
No, yeah I like that, that’s a really good length.
BESSON: We put like probably three or four minutes in the garbage, that’ all.
Right, that’s what I was wondering. I would imagine with a film like this you made an animatic of the entire thing.
BESSON: Not everything but the biggest part yes. Even the first scene which is almost 20 minutes long it’s a really big scene that ILM is doing it’s in two different worlds parallel. I shot the entire 20 minutes with…I have a school in Paris with students. I took the 60 students we shot the entire 600 shots. We shot them and then we went to the editing with all the students…we did the entire thing put some music and noise and things and that’s the reference we have on the set. When it’s world number one it’s kind of blue and when it’s the world number two it’s kind of red so every technician they know when they watch the editing they know what we’re doing. Then after when we shoot, the editor was replacing the shot from the temp shooting by the reel we just did and replace it.
BESSON: But very useful in fact it much more practical.
Is there any technology that you are able to use in your movie that’s absolutely revolutionary to right now?
BESSON: No, only Jim [James Cameron] do that.
Yeah, he’s talking about some crazy stuff right now.
BESSON: He’s the master. He tests everything and then we take what’s left.
I just saw Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn at that high frame rate.
BESSON: You know for me Jim Cameron is like after on the mountain when it snows for three days there’s always the first few guys from the station, the pro, who goes to open the thing first to see if everything is okay, that’s Jim.