'Valerian' Director Luc Besson On His New Sci-Fi Epic (And Our Reaction To The New Trailer)

It's not every day a studio rents out a theater and hosts an event just to debut a trailer, but that's exactly what STX Entertainment did last night in Hollywood with the new trailer for Luc Besson's sci-fi thriller Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Besson, his wife and producer Virginie Silla, and star Cara Delevingne were in attendance, and I had the chance to speak with them about this jaw-dropping new look at the film.

The new trailer will be online tomorrow, but in the meantime, you can read my reaction to the footage, and learn more about what we can expect from this visually stunning movie.

Trailer Description

The trailer begins in the midst of a heist on a barren desert landscape. A small vehicle hovers across the dusty ground under a multi-colored sky and some Vasquez Rocks-style formations in the background. Special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are inside with a group of aliens, including a big one who gets angry and starts ripping the vehicle apart. In need of a quick escape, the heroes grab what they came for (some sort of mysterious package) and leap from the ground-level vehicle into a hatch on their own Millennium Falcon-style ship, called the Intruder, and it pulls up and out of the planet's atmosphere into space. When they're reprimanded by their commanding officer for being late, Valerian smirks, "Well, time flies when you're having fun!"

The duo flies into Alpha Station, which is the "city of a thousand planets" from the title. It's described in a voiceover as the one place where all species in the universe come together to share their knowledge with each other. We're bombarded with images of a bunch of different types of alien creatures, including a group of Wall*E-esque aliens pulling what may be data cartridges out of a place that looked like some kind of massive server farm. In a separate environment, we see a small alien with suction cup fingers touching one of several glowing orbs, which seemed to contain something precious (a food source, or perhaps the station's information itself?). The voiceover explains how an evil wants to destroy this Utopian society, and we see bipedal aliens that look like a cross between John Carter's aliens and the Na'vi from Avatar, and Clive Owen (a commander of some kind) informs a suited-up Valerian and Laureline that they have 10 hours to stop this impending threat.


There's a dazzling beach planet with a frightened looking alien looking at a ship flying through the sky overhead. We get a glimpse of the inside of a club where Rihanna dances and transforms from wearing a black cabaret outfit to a white nurse's get-up (much to Valerian's delight), and we see a look at a mean-looking alien who holds a double-barreled handgun at two other aliens standing opposite him, and the gun's barrels spread apart and one locks on to each of them. There's a chase with some giant whale creatures, who look angry and hungry. Then the two heroes fight their way through a quick montage, and the trailer ends with Valerian falling through a glass pane into a three-point hero stance and Laureline proudly telling a crowd of onlookers, "I taught him that."

Read on for my reaction to the footage and comments from Besson, Silla, and Delevingne.

Reaction and Interviews

Valerian looks incredible. This could be the antidote to many of today's bland-looking blockbusters, and seems to be the brightest, most colorful big-budget film since Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm aware the French comic on which this film is based pre-dates Guardians comics, but I noticed a number of similarities between the films: the reveal of Alpha Station here was reminiscent of the reveal of Guardians' space station Knowhere, Valerian and Laureline are literally referred to as "guardians of our future" in the trailer, and the two movies share a splashy, vibrant look with a sense that every inch of the frame contains an area waiting to be explored.

I asked Silla whether she and Besson kept track of what their contemporaries in the blockbuster filmmaking realm were doing, or if they worked in a more focused way in which they stayed in their own lane and only worried about their own product.

"We were really doing our own thing," she told me. "The source material was here since 1970, it's way before everyone. Going into that world, it was all there. Plus, Luc's crazy mind and his vision of things just came out like that."


As for the vivid color palette, she again cited the original source material as inspiration. "A lot of that was already in the comic book," she said. "It's very colorful. Personally, I'm not crazy about the sci-fi that is really gray, that you can't really relate to. I love that it can be fun and adventurous." From what I've seen, this movie couldn't be further from the bleak, mechanized sci-fi futurism we often see in films like this, and it feels like the blockbuster landscape is about to get a much-needed injection of fun.

As an aside, I wanted to mention something else that I noticed right at the very beginning of the trailer. It opens with a familiar but unexpected sound: the iconic drum beat from the Terminator theme song. The rest of the music doesn't bear any notable similarities to that score, but I'm convinced it's not a coincidence. I'm sure the marketing team wouldn't mind if audiences associated this movie with James Cameron's classic – subconsciously or otherwise.

But the marketing is something Besson himself doesn't control. When I asked him what his involvement was in cutting or overseeing this trailer, he replied, "None, because it's too – I don't know how to do a trailer. We have to show stuff, tell the story, it's too complicated. I can do a trailer, but it's two hours." But he "loves" this trailer, and especially appreciates the fact that it doesn't give too much away.

"I'm a little fed up with films where, after 20 minutes, you know who is the villain, what's the plot – you basically know the entire film. So...[in this movie] the villain is not the villain we think, and the evil is not the evil we think. It takes a lot of time – you follow the film because you want to know exactly what happens. Lots of people are lying in the film, and they have to figure out. It reminds me of a story where someone says, 'Oh, they have weapons of mass destruction,' and we arrive there, and there's none. It reminds of that a little bit."

It's interesting that Besson alluded to early 2000s American politics in that answer, because one of the first things to cross my mind when watching this trailer – which, again, focuses on an imminent threat looking to destroy a society's collection of science and knowledge – was to the parallels with our current administration. Like we've said before: the age of politically aware blockbusters is upon us. Moving on...


The new trailer also highlights some of Laureline's ass-kicking abilities, and Delevingne told me about the great admiration she has for her character:

"She's extremely hard-working, determined, skilled at what she does. She never gives up. She's studied everything, her knowledge about aliens and the spaceship and everything is beyond [anyone else's]...and also, she picks up and prods Valerian along. She makes him better. That partnership is incredible, but her role is very beautiful. She's an incredible woman."

Laureline certainly looks like a heroine who's capable of holding her own, and after seeing her and Valerian rocket their way through this bizarre world, I was curious about what the film's biggest action scene would be. Silla hinted at it and explained how difficult it was to pull off, considering the overwhelming amount of visual effects needed to complete it:

"There's one action scene that was really long and complicated to do because it was all blue screen, and that was the big market sequence. [On set] there was just a stick that was supposed to represent something, and everything was created around it, so that was a lot to do. That's in the big market going into the canyon, and when you see the movie, there's a huge chase within the market, and most of it was blue screen. We had just had the ground, the sand, and the rest of it was blue, so that was pretty challenging to do."


While much the film was shot against blue screens, there was one major set that was built practically: the inside of the Intruder, Valerian and Laureline's spaceship. Delevingne gushed about how cool it was to be able to walk around that entire ship and see the craftsmanship and precision that went into building it. The actress hasn't seen the finished version of the film, but she's still in shock that she's even in this movie at all. When I mentioned how this looks like the biggest project she's ever been a part of, she replied:

"For sure, 100%. From the beginning, it's just been crazy because it's still shocking to me that it's happening. Even now, watching this trailer, I'm like, 'That's me! Oh my God, you're Luc Besson! Oh my God! What the fuck is going on?'"

It sounds like all of us are going to be wondering "what the fuck is going on" while we're watching this movie, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will hit theaters on July 21, 2017. To hear more from Besson about this film, be sure to read Peter's interview with him from the editing bay.