Valerian movie promo image

“Valerian” Didn’t Just Flop; It Also Bombed

In the ever important opening weekend box office, the “Valerian” movie brought in a whopping $17 million.  It came in fifth for the weekend, behind “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in its third week, “War of the Planet of the Apes” and two movies that opened in the first and second slots for the weekend, “Dunkirk” and “Girls Trip.”

$17 million is a perfectly respectable gross for a rom com in January.  For a tentpole action flick that cost north of $200 million to deliver, it’s a bit questionable.

And by “questionable,” I mean “a disastrous flop.”  A bomb.

Why? Why did it have to be this way?

The Knives Were Out

Valerian movie promo image

I don’t generally read comments, but I couldn’t help it on this one.  I read the Facebook comments to the Valerian ads.  I read the YouTube comments to the movie trailers. I saw what people were saying on Twitter.

And a lot more people than usual had already written this movie off months before it opened.

Many of them pointed to the movie’s two stars.  They were untalented pretty people who couldn’t act and had no chemistry, they said, despite only seeing them in about thirty seconds of rapid fire clips.

Look, I’m not going to defend “Suicide Squad.” It was a wretched movie. An awful movie.  And, yes, Cara Delavigne’s character was perhaps the worst part of an an awful movie.  But that wasn’t her fault.  The Enchantress in that movie was underdeveloped, pointless, useless, and poorly conceived, poorly written, and poorly handled in the original script.  That role was dead on arrival.

Heck, most of that movie was DOA.  If it wasn’t for Margo Robbie, we’d all be dancing on its grave.

So she did badly in that movie playing an anemic character with no motivations and no character arc?  Fine.

They May Not Have Been Completely Wrong

I’ve watched the trailers for “Valerian” too many times now.  If anything, I was worried about Valerian, himself.  There didn’t seem to be much going on behind Dane DeHaan’s eyes.  In the trailers, he seemed a little empty.  He can perform the action bits, but the moments in-between were wooden.

But, again, this is just a trailer.  Tough to judge a 2 hour and 17 minute movie by a 2 minute trailer, I think.

I thought Cara Delevingne as Laureline looked and acted fine.  She had some good one-liners, kicked some alien butt, and did stuff.  There was hope for her.

But the hatred for the casting continued through the reviews and all the audience feedback.  So they were probably the wrong choices. Why were they cast?  Was there a reason to it?  Tax breaks from England for using an English actress?  They were cheap and the entire movie’s budget was in the casting?  Were the first and second choices just not available?  Was the preferred choice drunk and in rehab during filming, necessitating a last minute change to whoever they could get?

We’ll never know. I just think people jumped way too early on them.

 

Is It a Cultural Thing?

It’s a French property directed from a French director and made in France.

I’ve read the comics.  They’re great, but many of the albums would frustrate American audiences used to a more standard three act structure and, specifically, a huge third act.  “Valerian and Laureline” often ends quickly, if not abruptly.  It’s often on a question mark and a whimper, not a series of exclamation points.

Maybe all those aliens represent something in French culture we’re just ignorant of.

Maybe a huge sci-fi epic that doesn’t star Tom Cruise and borrow its plot from an American superhero comic is just doomed to failure.

 

Was It Doomed from the Start?

“The Fifth Element” did OK in the theaters, but Luc Besson’s track record is spotty, otherwise.

Is he an auteur who can’t attract a large enough audience to make a movie like this fruitful?  Is spending $200 million plus on a movie not a good idea without a big bankable start fronting the movie?

 

Did the Trailers Ultimately Fail?

I think this might be the biggest problem.  The trailers were beautiful, well-cut, and had great music behind them.  They captured a feeling for the movie well.  They were exciting.

But they didn’t tell a story.  They were all teasers. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but from what I understand most of the trailer’s material came from the first 10 minutes of the movie.  What’s the movie about?  What’s the danger?  What’s the quest? Who’s the bad guy?  Why should we root for Valerian and Laureline, other than that they’re a cute couple who enjoy the beach.

The plot seems to be that Point Central — sorry, “Alpha” — is under attack and Valerian and Laureline are going to figure out how and why?

That’s just not enough to get anyone interested.  We’ve all seen the “end of the world” disaster movie far too many times in this day and age of CGI everything.  That’s common. “Valerian” shouldn’t be.

 

But — They Changed the Name of the Series!!!

The thing I read over and over again that really made me want to scream were all the people saying the movie was basically a misogynist piece of junk because they dropped “And Laureline” from the title.

I’m sure the marketing people had a good reason for the title of this movie.  Honestly, “Valerian and Laureline” is a bit of a tongue-twister.  I don’t blame them for keeping it simpler.

But that’s not even the point.  The series wasn’t titled that until 2007.  You can’t complain that the movie is changing history when the comics only changed their history 10 years ago, anyway.  For the first forty years of the series, it was known as “Valerian: Spatio-Temporal Agent” and “Valerian.”

There’s even an accent on there somewhere, but I’m far too lazy with my keyboard skills to include it here.

Even better are the people who had never heard of the comic until now and were horribly upset about the “name change.”

 

It’ll Be Big(ger) in Europe

Europe reveres “Valerian and Laureline” as treasured cultural icons.

This movie is going to do pretty well in the box office over there this weekend.  They love their “Valerian and Laureline”. It’s a cultural institution.  In some parts of France, the fact that the movie failed in America might urge more people to show up at the theaters when it opens there this weekend.

It might not be enough to carry $200,000,000 in spending already, but I don’t think it’ll be the huge loss many assume it will be. The film was funded under a crazy scheme, spreading the losses out across the globe.

It is very weird to me, though, that the film didn’t open in France first.  You’d think they’d want to hit an audience that’s most likely to appreciate the film first to build buzz leading into a North American release.  Instead, the movie died in America and now moves to France with no momentum.

Weird.

Deadline Hollywood does a great job in explaining how the losses will be spread. Click that link for more details. There’s still no release date for the movie in China.  Maybe they’ll wait a year for this to cool off and then release it there to big fanfare?  It seems like the kind of movie they like over there: CGI-filled spectacles that are bold and splashy, with undercooked stories…

 

What’s the Future for BD Movies?

They’re still making movies based on Franco-Belgian comics in Europe. France makes a somewhat steady stream of them, most of which we’ll never see here. I think part of that is, indeed, cultural differences. Much of it is just Americans not wanting to “read” a movie or deal with subtitles.

The lack of awareness for the comics also hurts it here.  Don’t forget that comics books in France count for something like 12% of all book sales.  They know about the comics the films are based on, animated or not.  They’ve had a couple decent movie releases over there already, and there’s a Spirou movie on the way next.


Will we see any of those properties over here?  Well, this certainly won’t help things. Nor did the failure of this year’s “Smurfs” movie.  (That’s only American. The movie still brought in $200m worldwide.) Nor did the Tintin movie many years ago, which was promised to be the first of three, I believe. We never even heard about a second showing up on the planning boards.

Are there properties that would work in America?  Sure, there are. Not that many, but plenty.  They’ve made “Largo Winch” movies over there already, but I think one could work as an American production.  Ditto “XIII,” which has been tried a couple of times in North America and never got very far.

They make plenty of Asterix movies in France, both live-action and animation, and I’m somewhat surprised an animated one never made it over here.  It’s a bit more “out there” than most kid-safe movies like to be in the States, but I think it could work.

A Disney-animated “The Campbells” would be amazing.

There are a lot of lighter properties that might even make good tv series, like “Dad” and “Dance Class” and most anything out of the Bamboo catalog, which seems custom made for that kind of thing.

 

Pity Poor Valerian

We lost a great opportunity here this weekend to bring BD to America.  Let’s hope “Valerian” doesn’t become the “Howard the Duck” of European comic book movies. If it does well overseas in France and (eventually) China, it might not be a total bath.

But the public relations hit is real.

It’s still a good comic book, though.  Never let that get lost in this mess.

 

The Video Version of All This

This article is based on this vlog, recorded Monday, July 24, 2017.

 

 

5 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais July 26, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Well… It’s sad to be right.
    First off, the misogynistic crap is nonsense, a shorter title is just catchier, even if you can argue that it alienates women. Anyone reading the book knows that she was the real hero of the series.
    Laureline is supposed to be pretty and spunky and ginger. An anorexic british model with coke eyes doesn’t cut it I’m sorry. And don’t get me started on that guy’s lack of charisma.
    Miscasting aside, the real problem is simply that this movie comes 40 years too late. Pilote was big in the late sixties-early seventies, so millennials are definitely not the target audience for this. It could have been a cheap-ass curiosity like Barbarella, or even the original star Wars, back then; it would have cult status today. It would be okay as a Dark Matter-type series on cable today perhaps. Come to think of it, maybe some books should never be adapted into other media. Thank God they didn’t make a cartoon out of it like that Lucky Luke trainwreck a few years back.
    It should do decently in Europe, based on name recognition and nostalgia, and maybe in China but never in a million years will it recoup its budget, SF is not that mainstream over here.

    I’m going to see it tonight; the 3D in Spider-Man blew me away last week, so I’ll keep an open mind for this one.

    Oh, what’s The Campbells?

    Reply
    • Augie July 27, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Yeah, Valerian was ahead of its time, then everyone copied it, so now it looks like it’s copying everybody that copied it originally. That’s a problem.

      By the way, they’re starting up a new “Barbarella” series here in the States soon. I’m not holding out much hope.

      The Campbells is Jose Luis Munuera’s series about a pirate dad raising two kids. Very Disney-esque in its style. Look to the archives here; I’ve reviewed the first two volumes in the series so far. I have the third to review next. it got lost in the Valerian run-up. Volume 4 is due out in the fall, and I know Munuera is working on a fifth already.

      And I liked the 3D in Spider-Man, too. They didn’t overdo it. It just worked.

      Reply
      • JC Lebourdais July 27, 2017 at 10:53 am

        Cool, I’ll check it out.
        How can someone not be excited by new Barbarella? Jean-Claude Forest is one of the greats.

        Reply
  • JC Lebourdais July 27, 2017 at 4:31 am

    Soooooo….
    yeah it’s not terrible, mostly Meh (in French you would say “Bofff…” accompanied by a shrug).
    The main actors are bland, zero chemistry between the leads, Clive Owen is a cardboard villain. When some of your CGI characters have more presence than the live ones, you know something’s not right.
    Scenario is run of the mill, you’ve seen it a million times on Star Trek. That’s what I meant yesterday when I said this movie comes 40 years too late. In the meantime, this type of thing has been done to death. Valerian, the book, was groundbreaking at the time. Valerian the movie is nothing special, sadly.
    It doesn’t even treat the source material with that much respect. Sure it’s visually stunning, but it’s probably too much. I’ve read some early reviewer saying that it feels like a cheap video game. I’d say it feels like an expensive one, where all the money went on the visuals and none on the writing or the casting.
    Lastly, the 3D is nothing special, far cry from the one in Spider-Man that blew me away last week.
    So, not a complete disaster, not worthy of a Razzie, except maybe the director’s childhood ego trip award. Not bad enough for cult status later. Sad. (Gosh, now I’m quoting The Orange One).
    And to wrap this up, the idea of coming out against Nolan’s Dunquerque was a terrible idea, the lines at the cinema were about 90/10. Come to think of it, casting Harry Styles as Valerian might have been interesting to watch, and would have brought the female audience in droves. Oh well…
    Now I’m wondering how EuropaCorp is going to recover from this, say what you want about Luc Besson, love or hate, he’s one of a kind.
    Like we did with Watchmen or From Hell or LOEG or the Spirit , let’s keep treasuring the books that gave us so much and move on.
    My final take on this is one of perspective, that I won’t take Whedon’s Avengers or Jenkins’ Wonder Woman for granted any more. Adapting such material with reverence and making it work is quite an accomplishment, a rare occurrence on the big screen.
    Hey Augie, have you considered reviewing comic book-related movies or TV series, for fun? I’d love to read what you thought of Legion (was a complete cypher to me, I stayed at the door).

    Reply
  • Gary Beason August 26, 2017 at 6:43 am

    I didn’t see Valerian (though I might rent the movie) largely because of the trailers. And a trailer is a fair way to judge. It’s like when someone has an idea for a game or story, and they summarize it. If that summary doesn’t give me a reason why the story or game is special or at least interesting, then I don’t think playing or reading the whole thing will have a reason either.

    First, Dane and Cara clearly lacked chemistry and screen presence. I got nothing from or about their characters. And I’ll be very superficial: I really have no interest in seeing Dane and Cara for two hours, who appear to have one facial expression. Dead behind the eyes is a great way to put it. Give me a reason to like these characters or at least be interested in them. You might as well have had two crash test dummies on screen. Second, I got nothing about the plot. What’s the hook? What are the goal and obstacle? I didn’t think either came through in the trailer. In short, this looked like a visual spectacle and that’s it. And for me, I’ve had enough of that.

    I also thought of Jupiter Ascending as I saw the trailers–another sci fi hot mess. Besson might have a better track record than Wachowskis, but his good stuff was more than 20 years ago. Lucy was forgettable at best, a movie that started with potential but became silly. And honestly, I thought Fifth Element was good but far from great, even if you could edit out Chris Tucker.

    Put it altogether and I didn’t see any reason to pay $12 to see this.

    Reply

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