Luc Besson's having a very good day and a very bad day and here's why
It's funny how someone can have a day in the press that's both terrible and terrific. Take Luc Besson, for example. Today's first story about him is thrilling because I've been waiting for him to get back to science-fiction for a while. Last April, he told me during a conversation at WonderCon that he felt like he made "The Fifth Element" at the wrong time.
"We had digital, but it wasn't like it is now. We still had to build everything first," he told me, and having seen some of the "Fifth Element" models in person at Digital Domain, I know what he meant. They used digital compositing and digital mattes more than almost any film made before that moment, but it was still largely a model-based shoot, and all of the aliens in the film were on-set suits and make-ups. I think it's a beautiful movie, but Besson talked about how much bigger he wanted to go, how much of the script that he had to cut (material that he once considered turning into a sequel called "Mr. Shadow) because he simply couldn't find a way to make it in 1997.
So, yes, it's exciting to read that "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" will employ WETA Digital, Industrial Light & Magic, and Rodeo FX. Putting Sophie Leclerc, Scot Stokdyk, Philippe Rebours, Francois Dumoulin, and Joe Letteri together to bring Besson's vision to life sounds like Besson's got a dream team that will help him make something gigantic and new.
That "new" part is important, and Besson's got a pretty rich batch of source material to draw from with the "Valerian and Laureline" comics having been around since the '60s. I'm going to guess they'll draw storylines directly from the comics, which is good because it means Besson won't run into any trouble over story materials.
See, the not-good part of today's news in Luc Besson's world involves the movie "Lockout," which he co-wrote with Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, the directors of the movie. On the film, Besson's credited with "original idea," and his company, EuropaCorp, produced the film. According to a French court, they ripped off "Escape From New York" to create that screenplay. The plagiarism suit filed by John Carpenter in France paid off today in an official written decision detailed over at The Playlist, and it's sort of remarkable to see a court rule so clearly on this matter. It is almost unheard of for this to be proven, but in this case, the court ran down a full list of beats and ideas that were too similar to be coincidence, and there's a financial penalty that's been set in place as well.
As a screenwriter, Besson is a machine. He works constantly. On the IMDb, he has 60 writing credits. That's amazing. A lot of what he writes is in collaboration, screenplays for the action movies that are the bread and butter of EuropaCorp. Films like "Taxi" and its sequels, "Kiss Of The Dragon," the various "Transporter" movies, the "District 13" films, and the "Taken" movies are less script driven than action driven. What Besson does well is lay out a familiar framework that he can then use to prop up great set pieces that are fun to watch. I like Besson as a screenwriter, but wouldn't say he's a terribly original writer. Even so, there are any number of films that feel like they lift from "Escape From New York" in a major way and those films didn't all get sued by Carpenter. So why did Besson get targeted?
My first impression is that Carpenter has always talked about a possible third film for Snake Plissken, and he's said repeatedly that his idea would be for "Escape From Earth." That's exactly what "Lockout" felt like, and entertaining as it was, it may well have killed any chance there is for Carpenter to make his movie. How different could it be? The whole point would be to make a Snake Plissken movie in space, and that's exactly what "Lockout" feels like, with elements from both of the previous Plissken films.
Still, I'm sure Besson will pay the settlement and then dive into "Valerian," which sounds wild. WETA is going to be handling aliens for the film, and the great Joe Letteri says they'll try to do as much of it in camera as possible, while also using performance capture for some characters and keyframe animation for others. "We just have to use any technique available to us," he said, an encouraging thing to hear.
Rodeo FX is going to be focused on Alpha, a space station that is the size of en entire planet, made up of tons of ships all interconnected. Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, and Clive Owen are all attached to the film to star, and it should start shooting by the end of the year.
The part of the story I found most intriguing is that ILM was brought onboard for a single sequence, and it's being kept secret. That's very cool, and I can't wait to see what it is that they've been hired to do.
Besson may have had a pretty ugly and embarrassing legal decision filed against him, but he also seems like he's on track to make a film that he's been building towards for a while now, and I'm excited to see what he eventually delivers.
"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" should be in theaters in July 2017.