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Valerian: The Problem with Big Independent Films

Updated on August 7, 2017
Abby Thomas profile image

Abby Thomas is a producer, TV writer, screenwriter, and playwright who has a B.F.A. in Dramatic Writing at SCAD and a minor in Producing.

Let's Talk Facts

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a major motion picture directed by Luc Besson. IMDB describes the summary of the movie as follows, "A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe." It stars Dane Dehaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad), and was produced independently.

Now let's talk some other facts:

  • Box Office Mojo specifies that the budget was $177.2 million, but many articles state that the film actually cost over $200 million.
  • At week 3 in the box office, Valerian's total gross is only over $36 million.
  • It is currently ranked number 12 in the box office, and has dropped 62.9% this week.
  • There have been 1,758 theaters to drop the film from its line up, putting the film at number 1 this week for that loss.
  • The film also now holds the title for not only being the most expensive French film ever produced, but also the most expensive independent film ever produced.

Where did it go wrong?

The answer lies in the story.


Where did it go wrong? The answer lies in the story.

A Failed Piece of Cinema

The answer as to why Valerian failed so much can be answered very simply:

It wasn't a good film.

Over the course of history, there have been a lot of films that had a great script, but a bad film came from it. In my opinion however, it is impossible to make a good film out of a bad story, and this script was bad, ergo it was doomed from the start. This film created an extravagant fantasy world, and although it did explain the world very well, going into a whole narrative about the different cultures within Alpha, it did not explain the rules. This film incorporated futuristic fantasy technology, interdimensional transportation, and possibly time travel? These things were not explained much. We were just thrown into it and were expected to understand, and as the movie went on, it became more and more confusing.

On top of that, the relationship between our leading characters was disastrous. The dialogue written for them was cliche and unnatural, and our actors had absolutely no chemistry. However, on top of that, the relationship dynamic was not well established; at the beginning, it was explained that Valerian had a thing for Laureline, but there was no actual relationship, but then in the very next scene, and throughout the whole movie, he's asking her to marry him. Then, once you get to the end, she doesn't accept his proposal, but tries to have sex with him I think, and I think he rejected her offer for simple kissing. It was incredibly confusing, and although there were moments where she clearly had affections for him as well, there was no build to their relationship throughout the movie.

There were also other moments that were disastrously written as well, and a lot of them came from the character of Bubble, played by Rihanna. The scene where she is introduced is a very interesting, dynamic strip sequence, but again, it was just thrown in there. Meanwhile, Laureline has been kidnapped and Valerian just forgets about her to watch Bubble transform and strip for him. Then only about 20 minutes later, the character dies in a scene that actually had me laughing in the theatre. The dialogue during her death was parody like, having Bubble asking Valerian if he liked her performance, and making it seem like she was incredibly significant in his life when they only just met. And Rihanna's emotionless performance didn't help much either.

Yes, the CGI and visual effects were phenomenal - it very well might even get an Oscar for it - but that doesn't make a movie great, and this film neglected that.

A Producing Standpoint

Seeing this movie made me wonder, why did this film even get produced with such a bad script? Well, think of it from a producing standpoint.

For starters, it's a comic book series. Nowadays, people aren't looking for original scripts, they want blockbuster films that are guaranteed to make money. With the superhero franchise at an all time high, and a lot of comic books and video games also being made into films, Valerian was joining the hype. This made the risk smaller for investors.

However, as Andrew Griswold from Fstoppers puts it, Valerian is a French comic series, and that is where all of its popularity lies. Since the funding was focusing on this being advertised in the United States, they neglected their already established fan base.

It also doesn't hurt that the director has a credible resume, and mostly as a writer. Luc Besson has 62 credits as a writer and 28 credits as a director on IMDB, the most known ones being The Fifth Element and Leon: the Professional. He also has 89 credits as a producer. He's not new to the investing game, and not only do people know him, he knows a lot of people in the industry. It makes me wonder how many of the investors even read the script.


Independent vs. Studio

With a bad script and failed box office ratings, it's unfortunate that this film holds the title for most expensive independent film ever, but is there a reason why this is the first film to reach this height?

To discuss the differences between deciding to produce a film through a studio or to produce it independently, it ultimately comes does to creative control. To produce a film independently means you as the creator have the final say in what happens to it from creative content to distribution, while with a studio, you don't. However, with a studio you get more funding and there's less risk.

I'm sure Luc Besson was enthralled by the idea of having complete creative control, but is it a better option if you're putting a whole movie's creative fate in the hands of one person? On top of that, Luc Besson was not just the writer, or director, or producer, he was all three, meaning he had absolute creative say. In a studio setting, he would be held accountable for all his creative choices, and they would take into consideration what is popular and what the audience wants. In an independent film, that might not be the case.

Although I'm a huge fan of independent films, there's a reason you don't have huge, expensive sci-fi films in that category.

© 2017 Abby Thomas


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    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 5 months ago from The Garden State

      The comic series has been around for many years in France (director Luc Besson's homeland) and is popular all over Europe, but it has zero awareness in the U.S.

      I hope for Besson's sake that the European comic fanboys gave the movie a warmer welcome than the U.S. did. Here it was like "Valeri-who now? Ehh, whatever." (haha)

    • Abby Thomas profile image

      Abby Thomas 5 months ago from Savannah, GA

      That's an interesting insight. I know I used to go to comic book stores all the time a few years ago, and I never heard of it until the trailer for the film came out.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 5 months ago from The Garden State

      I had never heard of Valerian, or this movie, till early May of this year when my local comic book store gave out free copies of a "preview" Valerian magazine with a comic story and lots of photos/hype for the film. The comic artwork was nice but I couldn't make heads or tails of the story, which appeared to have been translated poorly from the original French... so right then and there I decided that I was going to pass on the movie.