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Move over Star Wars – why Valerian might just be this year’s best space opera

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Looking to fill the Star Wars shaped hole in your life? Need a sci-fi fix to tide you over until December? Well, Cineworld has the answer as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets hits the big screen. It promises to be a space spectacular, brimming with exotic new worlds, bizarre alien species and eye-popping special effects.

All sound a bit familiar? While Valerian might share all the exciting traits of the aforementioned space opera, it’s actually based on a French comic series (written by Pierre Christin) that pre-dates the Skywalker family’s first outing.

Director Luc Besson has built an entire universe to bring this striking tale to the big screen and now he’s looking to give the Star Wars universe a run for its money. We look at the reasons why Valerian might just do that…

Luc Besson is directing

The ambitious French director of films such as Lucy and Léon, Luc Besson is no stranger to the science fiction genre.

His 1997 film The Fifth Element was a visual extravaganza. Its bizarre costumes, radical action and bombastic characters created a colourful and imaginative world that lingers in the memory. It's proof in Besson’s credentials to craft stylish and futuristic imagery, tell a great story and, most importantly, make it a fun experience.

Valerian was a passion project for him, ever since reading the original comics while growing up. The idea of actually adapting it into a film came about when Besson was shooting Fifth Element but he felt the technology wasn’t available at that time to make such an expansive universe. 30 years later he has finally been able to realise his dream and make Valerian a reality.


It stars over 200 varieties of aliens

Valerian stars a diverse range of alien creatures, certainly more than you could fit in a Cantina. It’s pushing the boundaries of scale with the films designers, effects artists and the director himself ha created more than 200 different aliens that appear in the film.

Blending a mixture of creatures from the comic with some original designs, it’s a film that promises to be jam packed with exotic extra-terrestrials. Amazingly, Besson confirmed in an interview that these were all either practical creature effects or motion captured and all shot on set, saying: “Most of the aliens were played by people, most of them. Almost 90 percent. Some of them are so weird that you can’t even put someone [in]."


It has more visual effects than Rogue One

No space opera would be complete without an array of interstellar special effects and from its spaceships to its aliens, Valerian is no different. To build such a densely populated world the film employed three separate effects companies to create an incredible 2,355 separate shots.

That’s even more than the last Star Wars film, Rogue One. This emphasises the scale of the story and locales in Valerian, which includes an epic market with 500 floors and a gigantic space station named Alpha. As with Fifth Element, Besson has brought his own sense of style and a vivid colour palette to the effects, which makes these eye-popping scenes unique in their own right.


It boasts an impressive cast

Model turned actress Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) stars alongside Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness) as the time-travelling special agents at the centre of the saga. The supporting cast is as diverse as any with Clive Owen as their commander, Commander Arün Filitt, with John Goodman and Ethan Hawke all in the cast.

Even the cast has the element of the unexpected. The most interesting casting choice is the addition of superstar, Rhianna. That’s right, the singer of hits like Umbrella and Diamonds has a potentially scene stealing role as a dancer in Ethan Hawke's futuristic club.


It's already record breaking

Valerian is one of those rare films that has already made history before it’s even been released. Luc Besson’s space epic is a French, independently financed production and it has broken the record for the most expensive film in the country’s history, finally costing 197.47 million euros in total.

To put this figure into a worldwide perspective, it’s obviously still less than Star Wars: Force Awakens, but don’t be fooled. It still represents how big in scope the film is. This is a scale typified not only by the special effects, actors and costumes but even by the lavish production and set design, with director Luc Besson going as far as to partner with car maker Lexus to conceive of some of the space craft featured. Classy!

Click here to book your tickets for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, opening this Wednesday.

Tom Nightingale is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.