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Valerian Takes Flight

Long before Luc Besson became one of the world's foremost action auteurs - writing, producing and directing a string of iconic hits - he was a young boy transfixed by a comic-book series called "Valerian and Laureline," which debuted the decade before he happened upon it. Recalls the filmmaker: " When I was 10 years old, I'd go to the kiosk every Wednesday. One time, I found this magazine called 'Pilote.' Inside, I discovered 'Valerian and Laureline.' I thought, 'Oh my God, what is this thing?' That day, I fell in love with Laureline, and I wanted to be Valerian."

Besson quickly became addicted to the engrossing graphic serials written by French author Pierre Christin and boldly illustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres, devouring all 22 volumes. "It was the 1970s, and it was the first time we saw this modern girl kicking ass," he shares. "It was not about the superhero with the cape. This was much more light and free and enjoyable because Laureline and Valerian were like two normal cops today - except it's the 28th century, and everything is weird and amazing."

First published by Dargaud in 1967, the comic-book series on which the film is based inspired Besson not only to imagine his seminal The Fifth Element, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets it has also influenced other filmmakers to create some of the most iconic science fiction movies of the last half-century.

With his love of "Valerian and Laureline" always in the back of his mind, Besson grew up to become the creative force behind such influential action films as La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional. It wasn't until he started filming his cult-classic, retro-futuristic dystopian epic The Fifth Element, that he considered taking his childhood fantasy hero off the shelf and began toying with the idea of adapting the graphic novels into a movie. Besson laughs: "Jean-Claude Mezieres, who designed The Fifth Element, said to me, 'Why are you doing this? You should do Valerian!"

Constrained by the relatively primitive visual effects technology available in the 1990s, Besson knew it would be some time before he was able to create the wondrous "Valerian and Laureline" universe he knew the source material deserved. "When I went back to read the comic books again," he recounts, "I decided it was impossible to make the films. The technology at the time was not good enough to re-create all these worlds and aliens."

It would take a seismic jolt and a huge evolutionary leap forward in visual effects to enable the filmmaker to bring "Valerian and Laureline" to life. After James Cameron invited Besson to the set of his space epic, Avatar, the French director made up his mind. "When Avatar arrived, it made everything seem possible. I remember thinking, 'One day I will come back to sci-fi with these new tools, where the only limit is your imagination. That's when I decided to make Valerian."


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