valerian and the city of a thousand planets

For a man taking the biggest gamble of a long and colourful career, director Luc Besson looks pretty calm.

We met in London last week, at the Langham Hotel,  just a few hours before the European premiere of his eccentric, intergalactic sci-fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in Leicester Square. At an estimated budget of 200 million Euros, Valerian has earned the label of the most expensive European film of all time. 

But right now, there’s a risk it could go down in history as the continent’s biggest-ever movie flop,  one which, it has been said, could bring his mighty, Paris-based mini-studio, EuropaCorp, to its knees. Already the first weekend of US box office has been a rotten $17 and trade bible Variety gleefully termed it “a flop” – but these days, a poor American performance doesn’t always signify failure and the rest of the world may well be better attuned to Besson’s intergalactic quirks. 

On this podcast, I ask Besson if the thought of such a disaster makes him nervous? We also discuss his eccentric casting and cameos, why he loves Cara Delivingne, the future of cinema, his love for making movies and how to be different.

Besson is already synonymous with sci-fi cult hit The Fifth Element, made 20 years ago, but he’s also associated with a certain type of stylish European cinema, once labelled somewhat disparagingly “le cinema du look”,  but which furnished us with era-defining Euro hits from 1985’s Subway to diving adventure The Big Blue, Nikita, Leon and – a version of Joan of Arc, no less, along the way – successful franchises including Taxi, Jason Statham as The Transporter, and big Liam Neeson in the paranoid, right-wing series Taken (a film whose most famous lines one character in Valerian quotes merrily: “I will find you and I will kill you”.)

Valerian is based on a series of French comics by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claud Mezieres who started their strips in 1967 and Besson admits that at the age of 10, he fell in love with the drawing of Laureline. 

As we finish, off mic, Besson gets up to change his Valerian T-shirt for the red carpet. I wish him luck and hope the risk pays off. French cinema, European cinema could do without the disaster of losing one of its rare giants in EuropaCorp, I tell him. “Well,” he says, “The risk is more about notoriety. If it’s a big flop, then we’ll lose credibility for making these kind of films with these type of actors and technicians. So for me, the risk isn’t financial but human.”

I want to remind him about the 7,000 other species at risk, but he’s already gone.

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