The Capsules do Valerian

Kaneda and the Capsules arrive at a run down movie theatre hoping to score Valerian, only to discover that Valerian is a sci-fi flick. When they show up, it is debatable if one of them was aware of this and maybe wanted to actually see the movie. Heckling ensues, which quickly boils over into harassment of other theatre patrons and eventually edges into flatout violence and mayhem. This spectral visitant of Akria (1988) and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) keeps rattling in my head. It may well be heresy to fantasize about the anime classic and the hot mess of Valerian in this way, but it’s been hard to shake.

Besson’s Valerian stands as the most expensive French film ever made, costing around $150 million. Its premise follows a McLuhan-like global village that harbors an atrocity at its heart which must be atoned for. Sin and redemption along with some of the more interesting facets of the film, like Rihanna’s Bubble, get lost in the pastel shit-show. My wife likened the movie to an advertisement for a douche… in space, flowery, still a douche, and utterly pointless. Alien princesses pirouetting by vagina conch shells… a lot of the conversation surrounding Valerian has proceeded in these cheeky terms.

Cara Delevingne's Sergeant Laureline and Dane DeHaan's Major Valerian stare at the top of a web browser.
Cara Delevingne’s Sergeant Laureline and Dane DeHaan’s Major Valerian stare at the top of a web browser.

No doubt Valerian is destined to provide comic fodder for some time to come, but it is worth remarking on the connections between it and Akira. The films each find roots in comic books that are not of the superhero variety. Though I’ve yet to read Valerian, I imagine that like Akira, the comic is best considered as a separate text rather than an adaptation. Each also stands out in its contemporary big-budget cinematic landscape: Valerian for its euro-trash splash and Akira for its techno-phantasmagoria. Most of all, neither makes a whole lot of sense. In both the plot is obscured: for Valerian it’s all a high kamp kick with Cara Delevingne’s Sergeant Laureline never bothering to break runway strut, while for Akira it’s almost with a relish, a nod to the punk ethos of its Capsules, who in the face of conformity, conspiracy, and corporate-militarism continue to exert their identies and could really give two flying fucks about plot.

Extremity has already backfired on Valerian, which surely hoped to ride the pleasurable and outrageous wave that The Fifth Element (1997) caught. Conversely, for Akira, extremity has never hindered its appeal among its defenders, and only made it a more compelling and pleasurable film to return to. I first saw Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira when I was in high school. My friend Joe had heard about it, got a copy, and we watched it. Voltron, Mazinger Z, and Robotech/Macross 1 notwithstanding, it was my first real introduction to anime; it was also totally dazzling and sparked a life-long interest in Japanese animation. Its appeal lay not just in its artistry, but its cynicism, nightmare surrealism, and subject matter. Along with Gibson’s Nueromancer (1984) and Blade Runner (1982), it created the cyberpunk triumvirate of the baud-connection era.

A picture of a screen of the conclusion of Akira (1988)A  picture of the screen at the conclusion of Akira (1988)
A picture of the screen at the conclusion of Akira (1988)

A lineal notion of time and near thirty years may be all that separates Valerian from Akira; but in the age of wearable tech, wired homes, and push notification numbness, Akira feels prophetic. It teeters on the brink of the post-plot era, where narrative and facts – it posits – are the devices of puppeteers marionetted for escapism, ideological affirmation, and interminable consumption always distracting from the nature and essence of the medium itself. Of course the Capsules will react. This isn’t their world, but it doesn’t mean they’ll lie down.

Valerian, on the other hand, is the pure post-plot made flesh, a set of video game sequences without a controller for interactivity (unless you are counting your device in-hand as a controller) weaving an ahistorical collage of everything from the space race to the world of high fashion.

This, however, is also the value of Valerian.

Watch Varlerian zoom from one plotless prompt to the next and ignore the droll boredom that it encourages. This is akin to a character in a Hitchcock film fathoming the monument behind him/her, the difference being that Valerian is the monolith behind us. Yes, it’s still a bad movie, but prior to even seeing it the Capsules already knew that. The question is, did we?

Kaneda Rides
Kaneda Rides – Screen Grab from VLC

  1. Prior to anime being heavily marketed as such in the US, someone could have told me Voltron and Robotech/Macross (both of which I still enjoy) had connections to Canada just like Inspector Gadget and I would have believed them. 

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