Last week I saw Doctor Strange. I liked it a lot, but I didn’t LOVE it. Maybe part of the reason was I say it in 2D rather than 3D, but even if I had, the fact remains is that it’s a film that leans very heavily on effects, and the spectacle it delivers is highly derivative of Inception, The Matrix, and Batman Begins. And Inception itself I guess was inpired by The Matrix.
The reason why I liked it had not a lot to do with the effects. It had to do with the unearthly presence of Tilda Swinton and the new-agey mysticism. The otherwordly aspect also lifted Inception and The Matrix, the idea rather than just the visuals.
However, when it comes to marketing films, they tend to focus more on the “thrill ride” aspect. It’s something you feel in your brain-stem and not your heart. What I know about human nature, though, is that the more you chase thrills, the more you become desensitized. Since we’ve entered into an era in which live-action films are increasingly shot in Avatar style, with almost nothing but CG all around them, there is a kid in a candystore effect going on where filmmakers throw in the kitchen sink just because. You could say this excess has been going on at least as far back as Star Wars: Episode I or the Star Wars Special Editions where digital CG was inserted to clutter the frame.
More is more has been something I’ve railed against quite a bit here and will continue to do so, because the fact is that production design by itself is NOT storytelling anymore than Froot Loops are part of a balanced breakfast.
And so we come to the newest nerd hype-fest, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, from Luc “The Fifth Element” Besson. (The Fifth Element being a film you either love of you hate, depending on your interest in Chris Tucker burning through minutes of screentime as a campy cross-dressing diva for no apparent reason.)
Anyway, it’s French, and French is ground zero for fashion, therefore we need pouty euro-trash in the leads.
Enjoy the trailer below.
Now here’s the thing. When I was a teenager, this kind of thing would have blown me away based on the look alone. The problem is this trailer gives me no reason to care. All it does is scream “Gee, aren’t the effect cooool?” Well, yeah, but we’ve been there, done that already. How about characters I give a crap about or a movie with some sort of purpose to exist rather than to simply stare at like watching someone play a videogame???
But they licensed Because from The Beatles, you say! Well, OK, I guess that’s a triumph in IP negotiations, but…where’s the beef?
Now here’s a stark point of comparison. Now, I did have some problems with Guardians of the Galaxy, but its main strength rests in the familial bonding of its team. I have a soft spot for the dysfunctional family motif, and Guardians of the Galaxy pushed those buttons deftly, while at the same time delivering the mandatory level of spectacle. So compare the Valerian trailer to the Guardians 2 trailer (which was playing in the theater before Doctor Strange).
Despite the fact that it continues to sort of wear out its welcome with Hooked on a Feeling (which I still feel should have been left with the Dancing Baby meme from Ally McBeal), the trailer spends most of its time focusing on the unlikely bromance between Star Lord and Drax.
Valerian has all the hallmarks of a recent notorious studio-killer-grade bomb, the Wachowkis’ own Jupiter Ascending. And so the ripple-effect of people getting pumped about this film are really jumping the gun.
A film that looks great does not a great film make.