Valerian and Laureline, the 'thinking kid's' superheroes

IT may as yet be obscure in the English-speaking world, but the comic book series on which the new mega-budget film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based has long been the thinking kid's favourite elsewhere.

The sci-fi heroes on which Fifth Element director Luc Besson is betting his reputation – and a colossal €158-million (RM4.9 million) budget – have fascinated generations of European children.

The French film-maker was swept away by the time-travelling "spatio-temporal agents" Valerian and Laureline as a 10-year-old reader of the legendary comic Pilote, edited by "Asterix" creator Rene Goscinny, in which the strip first appeared.

These were not the usual macho superheroes straight from Marvel central casting, but thinking liberal humanists with a green conscience – the most cerebral of shoot-'em-up heroes.

Long before Hollywood discovered female empowerment, Laureline was not only outsmarting her enemies, she was also always one step ahead of Valerian, her brave, kind, but definitely dimmer sidekick.

Their creators, artist Jean-Claude Mezieres and writer Pierre Christin, told AFP that that they were delighted Besson's live-action feature respects their characters' "humanist and anti-racist" spirit.

Spectacular pyrotechnics

Among only a handful of people to have already seen the film, which is due for release in the US on July 21, the pair described the movie as "spectacular with lots of battles and pyrotechnics".

"I was a little worried that it would end up looking like an American sci-fi film, the usual battle between good and evil with good winning in the end," said Christin.

"We always wanted the books to be adapted for the screen, but a good comic strip doesn't always make a good film.

"I see now I needn't have worried," said the 78-year-old author.

Although the film is not a direct adaptation, "there isn't a gap between the film and our books which would lead us to say, 'We would never do anything like that,'" said Mezieres, who is also 78.

Cheeky humour

Besson got the idea from the get-go, he said. "He was one of our readers when he was 10 so we never needed to explain to him who Valerian was. He understood."

Neither of the creators were directly involved in the movie, the most expensive independent production ever.

"I don't think it would have been a good idea for us to do the script," Christin insisted.

"I never like working again on things that I have already done."

The friends began the 23-book series in 1967 with pretty conventional storylines. But Valerian and Laureline quickly found its warp mode when the plots began to deal with big universal questions, often with cheeky humour.

Christin and Mezieres' aesthetic and the world they created, with its emphasis on tolerance, optimism and perseverance, would later be credited with having a major influence on Star Wars and Besson's own The Fifth Element.

Having already sold five million copies of their books worldwide, they hope a Hollywood blockbuster might bring more Asian and English-speaking fans into the fold in time for their 24th book, which will be published in French later this year.

Mezieres said the sets for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets rely heavily on artwork from their books, but he was pleased at how they managed to "move them on".

His only major quibble was with the casting of the blonde British model Cara Delevingne as the red-headed Laureline.

"I was a bit reticent about that," he admitted. "There are not exactly tons of models who go on to to become good actresses.

However, she has proved him wrong, he said. "Cara Delevingne wanted to become an actress and she becomes one in this film," he said. — AFP Relaxnews