Liberal humanism isn’t usually associated with comic books, but it’s a defining quality of writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières' supercool Valérian and Laureline series, a publishing phenom in France and Belgium. Having announced that he will bring the time-traveling, space-hopping duo to the screen in a live-action, English-language movie, the producer-director Luc Besson has now tasked himself with preserving their sensitive egalitarian agenda while visualizing its intricately conceived “spatio-temporal” world to please devotees.
As reported in Variety (paywall website) this morning, the project was announced in Paris by Besson’s business partner Christophe Lambert (not the actor), with whom he runs the French film empire EuropaCorp. Before Besson adapts Valérian and Laureline, he will direct the Mob comedy thriller “Malavita,” starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, which begins production in August. Also on his roster is an unnamed action thriller to star Angelina Jolie.
Besson’s enthusiasm for Valérian and Laureline is long-standing. “Circles of Power,” volume 15 in the series, greatly influenced his campy pop-sci-fi semi-classic “The Fifth Element,” for which Mézières was the conceptual designer; the flying taxicab driven by Bruce Willis’s Dallas through the congested air space of Manhattan was derived from the comic.
Published by Dargaud, Christin and Mézières' voluminous series, which first appeared in Pilote magazine in 1967 and completed its run in 2010, runs to 21 volumes; there is also a short-story collection and an encyclopedic guide.
Black-haired earthling Valérian, who was created as an antidote to Tintin and American comic-book heroes, is a 28th-century agent of Galaxis, capital of the Terran Galactic Empire, who carries out the orders of the Spatio-Temporal Service whether he agrees with them or not. By no means an omnipotent or supremely intelligent hero, he has sometimes compromised his missions through his incompetence, Clark Kent-like obtuseness, and occasional defeatism.
The red-headed Laureline is a dead-ringer for Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch, should Welch fancy auditioning. Originally a medieval peasant, she is much smarter than Valérian and prone to rebel against Galaxis’s orders. Using her sex appeal to her own ends without being exploited, she is (despite having been drawn for French Playboy by Mézières) an exemplary feminist heroine and the real star of the series.
As the series evolved, Christin steered it away from simplistic action-adventure conflicts between good and evil toward a grappling with ethical, ideological, and environmental issues (which suggests an influence on James Cameron’s “Avatar”). Fanboys alert – when Valérian and Laureline’s first big-screen exploit arrives, it may not be for you.