Luc Besson’s ‘Valerian’ profits from out-of-this-world inspiration

July 18, 2017 GMT

LOS ANGELES — By any standard, Luc Besson, who fulfills a childhood fantasy with Friday’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is an extraordinary and extraordinarily successful filmmaker.

Besson, 58, runs his own studio, regularly makes his French films in English for the global market and as writer, director or producer has scored a steady stream of hits that go back decades: “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon: The Professional,” “The Fifth Element,” “Transporter,” “Taken” and Scarlett Johansson’s “Lucy.”

“Valerian” is based on a futuristic fantasy series of French graphic novels that the young Besson loved.

It’s a technical wonder with thousands of special-­effects shots in landscapes with creatures that call to mind “Star Wars,” “Avatar” and Besson’s “Fifth Element.”

“When you start this kind of thing, you know it’s a serious thing,” Besson began in his French-accented English.

“There’s lots of competition: Marvel, DC Comics. There’s lots of super­heroes. You know it was going to be tough.”

He began years ago — “very slowly” — hiring 10 designers who worked separately minus any script for two years.

“They have contact only with me, once a week, through Skype, because I want their creativity totally without frontier. I want them to come back with the weirdest thing.”

With 6,000-plus drawings, “I start my puzzle, start to think about my two actors” — Dane DeHaan and Cara Dele­vingne — “because I real­ly want to have this flavor, like these people telling this story of this real couple in the totally incredible, amazing story in space.

“It’s very real in something that is not.”

Besson spent “many, many months” working on his screenplay — and then he saw “Avatar.”

“I came home, put my script in the garbage and started again because ‘Avatar’ just pushes all the limits. It was just amazing and I was not at that level.

“So thanks to Jim Cameron, my script is much better now, but it was real­ly a long labor of work every day, little by little.

“That’s the only way you can win,” he said, “and have at the end something that looks like a piece of art and not just like another film.”

“Valerian,” he added, “is made by hand really, with a lot of love.”