I’ve been greatly anticipating Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets for months, but since I had to report at San Diego Comic Con I haven’t had the chance to see it yet. Luckily for me, Titan Books created an art book to show off the movie so everyone could get a taste of the film before and after watching it.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Rooted in the classic graphic novel series, Valerian and Laureline- visionary writer/director Luc Besson advances this iconic source material into a contemporary, unique and epic science fiction saga. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives for the government of the human territories charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Under a directive from their Commander (Clive Owen), Valerian and Laureline embark on a mission to the breathtaking intergalactic city of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis comprised of thousands of different species from all four corners of the universe. Alpha’s seventeen million inhabitants have converged over time- uniting their talents, technology, and resources for the betterment of all. Unfortunately, not everyone on Alpha shares in these same objectives; in fact, unseen forces are at work, placing our race in great danger.
Why does this matter?
I think a lot of fans of this film and thus this art book were big fans of The Fifth Element like myself. The colorful future landscape, the incredible amount of detail, and the creativity on the screen continues in this production. Director Luc Besson speaks to readers quite a bit in this book and it’s revealed he had 5 artists spend over a year working on art before a script was even written. If that isn’t reason enough to pick up an art book I don’t know what is.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
It may look busy, but the sheer detail is epic.
Right out of the gate, this book captures the creativity and open minded thinking that went into preproduction of this incredible special effects film. Besson writes the intro but is also quoted throughout the book giving readers a sense of what he was looking for when developing the alien species, locations, and costumes. It’s quite clear a lot of energy went into updating the original comic from the late 60’s and 70’s, but the source material was ever present on Besson’s mind. The intro actually goes into great detail about the comic and–throughout this book–there are panels from it to show what was adapted.
One of the most fascinating parts of this book is how Besson describes acquiring an art team (he put out feelers in many art schools) and then whittled down his team to just five people. His idea was to have only a few people of his choosing develop the alien races which would ensure a more cohesive universe. He also implored the creators to develop long histories and details on every race. This was then given to the two lead actors who had to memorize the darn things so as to be in character! Directors must motivate and develop in sometimes surprising ways to get the performance and look they want and Besson proves throughout this book that he has many tricks up his sleeve.
So what about the art? It’s quite good with varying types thrown in to show what it takes to get such a lush world on screen. From penciled storyboards to full computer generated images there’s a mix of media types to explore in this book. Unsurprisingly Alpha, or the City of a Thousand Planets, gets the most pages in this book with varying art styles to peruse and get a sense of how its development started. It’s also interesting to see how Besson would have many artists develop stories for Alpha, hundreds in fact, and then this art was delivered to computer effect shops like WETA Workshop to pick and choose what they’d insert into the scenes. Once again, this book does a great job of showing how Besson did an incredible amount of work with his artists to capture a wide variety of looks for the film.
This book doesn’t spoil too much of the film either. While there is some detail about the characters and scenes there’s never a strong sense of the order of scenes or any big spoilers that are obvious to a reader who hasn’t seen the film. This book sticks to the art and while it might follow the plot of the film it never goes into detail about the story, which is a welcome element since so many art books tend to spoil entire scenes and endings.
The world may be covered in water, but it’s not deep!
It can’t be perfect can it?
Besson can get rather repetitive in this book as he wants everything to be “cool” or “funny” which not only gets old pretty fast, but it’s also not the most enlightening. There are passages in this book were Besson seems to suggest he was going for a vague idea as he doesn’t go into detail on what “cool” even means to him. It’s clear a visual spectacle was intended, but more reflection on what inspired choices would have been interesting.
The captions for images tend to be rather boring, never giving detail beyond, “This is X” which is unfortunate. Many art books tend to give a bit of color or purpose to what we’re looking at, but instead, this book has a colder museum feel when it comes to how it captions each piece of art.
Though not a given in every art book there’s absolutely nothing about the marketing for the film. A bit of a surprise given how big the film is, but probably not included since marketing is done later in a film’s timeline. That said, I’d love to have seen some of the poster designs.
Is It Good?
Luc Besson makes this art book feel special as his commentary is weaved throughout the volume. This book contains a lot of great art and the knowledge that over a year was spent creating it makes the work feel special. Imagination and creativity are strong proponents as you read through this and you might just get inspired flipping through its pages.