Ultra HD
Worth a Look
3 stars
Amazon
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Overall Grade
3 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Street Date:
November 21st, 2017
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
November 14th, 2017
Movie Release Year:
2017
Studio:
Lionsgate
Length:
137 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the standard, day-and-date Blu-ray release, also written by M. Enois Duarte. Specifically, this review features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, Audio and Final Thoughts sections while both reviews share The Movie Itself and Special Features.

For a full in-depth review of the Blu-ray SDR HERE.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

While I readily admit the following statement is much too soon of a prediction to be making, I'm willing to wager Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets could potentially find a cult following. Frankly, the entire production shares familiar trappings to two other dearly-beloved Luc Besson favorites: The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional. But that's not to say this sci-fi adventure flick is nearly as good as either of those, both of which have rightly earned their cult classic status. Rather, Besson's latest actioner, which bombed at the worldwide box office, was welcomed with a generally lukewarm reception, similar to those movies except this one hardly received the same level of praise. Ultimately, time favored those movies, and I have a sneaking suspicion the same could happen to this one. A significant, if not also major difference, is the production being based on the French sci-fi comics, which are obviously not popular or really even known in the U.S., presumably from Besson's childhood, making it one of the most expensive pet projects ever brought to fruition.

Moreover, Valerian is, to some degree, a blend of those aforementioned movies, arguably Besson's two best-known features. The plot revolves around the clumsy, awkward romance of the two leads, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne). Only, here, we are told the latter refuses the aggressive advances of the former because he's a near-narcissistic, monogamy-hating womanizer. And given the recent news about inappropriate conduct that's been fermenting throughout Hollywood, this character trait is hardly an endearing quality most audiences would want to champion at the moment. Granted, it's easy to see where Besson, who also wrote the script, is going with this — a sadly clichéd trope for a predictable character development — the first mark on a checklist of several flaws. And no offense to DeHaan since he typically delivers a good performance, but he doesn't exactly have the screen presence or even the natural charm to make the character believable. Basically, Valerian's pompous boasting and self-importance comes off as artificial, more of a charlatan than a praiseworthy hero.

Unfortunately, this back and forth romance between the two young actors further fails in the flat, dead-eyed performance of model-turned-actress Delevingne, who was more effective under layers of makeup and CGI as Enchantress in Suicide Squad. Throughout the film's 137-minute runtime, Delevingne is better at being more visibly frustrated taking orders from her pretentious ranking officer than she is at feigning a love interest. The chemistry between the two is so wide and empty, the International Space Station, which has evolved into a gigantic space-traveling city, could comfortably park betwixt them. All the while, we're meant to believe the two soldiers are simultaneously solving a massive government conspiracy. It's worth noting the pair inadvertently stumble upon the mystery by sheer happenstance rather than clever detective work, exposing another troubling drawback of the film. The central premise of uncovering the truth behind a believed extinct species of primitive aliens is largely driven by coincidences, little blunders, and various flukes. The story is largely, if not entirely, motivated by several much-too-convenient plot devices.

It may seem as though I'm harshly hating on Valerian, but, truth be told, I was surprisingly entertained by this silly sci-fi adventure despite its many glaring issues. The wildly imaginative visuals, reminiscent of the eye-catching spectacle of The Fifth Element, is ultimately the production's winning charming. As if from the feverish revelry of a lunatic talking to himself at a park bench, the movie is essentially a cavalcade of bizarre, wacky creatures brought to life thanks to some incredibly talented computer animators and stage designers. And this inventively whimsical vision is brilliantly photographed by long-time collaborator Thierry Arbogast (Lucy3 Days to Kill), turning what could have been a far worse film into a tolerably elaborate curiosity. Besson and his crew unapologetically embrace the preposterous without the slightest sense of cynicism, delivering an amusingly straightforward, if also imperfect, popcorn flick. And somehow, the French filmmaker also convinced John Goodman, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer, Rihanna and Clive Owen to join the fun. If for nothing else, Besson has given moviegoers a delightfully enjoyable bad movie. 

Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray

Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy, which can be redeemed via EuropaRedeem.com or through VUDU but only available in HD SDR and HDX. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-vortex case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Valerian rides into danger with a great-looking if also a tad underwhelming HEVC H.265 encode that isn't much sharper than its Blu-ray counterpart. The same slightly softer moments persist and made all the more apparent while the sharpest edges along computer monitors, spaceships and even in the Commander's ornate uniform expose some mild shimmering. However, the fine lines of the stitching and threading in the sometimes-silly costumes remain distinct, and facial complexions are bit more revealing with excellent textural details and a lifelike rosiness in the human characters. Shot on the Arri Alexa digital camera, capable of 3.2K resolution but later mastered in a 2K digital intermediate, the many CG sequences are highly detailed, often laying bare the pipe and wire inners of Alpha or showing the well-defined gadgets and particulars of the various alien creatures. But just like on the BD, there are also times when those same sequences are a tad softer than the rest and when in contact with live-action.

Presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted HDR transfer also lands with average contrast compared to other recent UHD releases. Although whites remain crisp and clean, they are not significantly brighter or any more vivid than before, making the overall 4K presentation seem a wee-bit duller compared the HD SDR version. In fact, there are times when certain scenes tend to run hotter than normal, creating a bit of blooming in areas where the specular highlights should have received a welcomed boost, such as the computer screens ruining the fine lettering or the Mül plasma guns looking like white blobs. On the plus side, brightness levels offer a noteworthy improvement, delivering inky rich and silky blacks, which are greatly appreciated when our pair of heroes don their police-escort suits and in the Commander's robot soldiers showing stunning gradational differences between the various shades. Shadows are also deep and penetrating, providing better depth while maintaining excellent detailing and clarity in the darkest portions.

Arguably the biggest surprise keeping the Ultra HD from receiving higher marks is a color palette that isn't any more vivid and intense than in HD. Granted, the photography of Thierry Arbogast still dazzles the screen with a terrific spectacle of primaries, but they don't really look much different than before, which is probably better than looking weaker. But on a more positive note, the jump to UHD does come with a slightly wider array of secondary hues, showing brighter magentas and yellows to give the production a fun, animated feel. A genuine highlight for better appreciating this is the scene with the neon-colored butterflies and the richly-saturated feast for the eyes known as Paradise Alley, making for a more memorable 4K HDR presentation. 

UPDATE: Unfortunately, I forgot to also watch the Dolby Vision HDR version of the movie though considering how busy my week has been, it's perhaps not too surprising this somehow slipped my attention. Nevertheless, I take complete responsibility for this oversight, and having now watched Valerian for a third time, I've updated the score on the picture quality because the DV offers a dramatic improvement over both the HD SDR and HDR10 encodes.

While resolution and clarity understandably don't show any change, contrast is significantly brighter and more vivid with blazingly crisp and intense whites. There is also a major difference in the specular highlights, making lights radiate and glisten much brighter while looking tighter and sparkling without ruining the finer details. Even more surprising are the richer, silkier blacks throughout, providing the image with better dimensionality and superb, inky shadows. The best part, the area where Dolby Vision proves superior over HDR10, is the richly-saturated palette display far more sumptuous primaries, like the luminous blues of lights, the jubilant reds on some of the aliens and the more true-to-life greens of the solider uniforms. The same goes for the vividly luminous and wider selection of secondary hues which continuously dazzle the screen. Like with the HDR10 version, the scenes in the extra-dimensional Big Market, with the neon butterflies and at Paradise Alley are the 4K presentation's mesmerizing highlights, offering a feast for the eyes and some wonderfully demo-worthy moments.

HDR10: 3.5/5

Dolby Vision: 4.5/5

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The imaginative sci-fi adventure flick crashes into home theaters with the same excellent if also surprisingly lacking Dolby Atmos soundtrack as the Blu-ray. That level of surprise, of course, largely depends on expectations, but given the particular genre and the amount of on-screen action, there really isn't much activity in the overheads. On a few occasions, spaceships are heard zooming above the listening area, along with the pew-pew sounds of laser guns and the electric pings of computers in the control room, and debris from explosions can seem as though raining down in all directions. However, these moments ultimately feel far and few in between, and the ceiling channels are mostly silent throughout. The saving grace are the side and rear surrounds being employed more consistently and aggressively for generating an awesomely immersive soundfield, making the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track the better, demo-worthy aural experience.

Imaging is also highly engaging and incredibly dynamic with lots of background activity that fluidly and seamlessly pans across the three front channels. Alexandre Desplat's score spreads across the screen with superb fidelity and outstanding balance while lightly bleeding into the front heights, exhibiting rich, detailed clarity in the mid-range. The dialogue and whispered conversations remain precise and never overwhelmed by the loudest action pieces. The low-end is robust and room-energizing, delivering a few wall-rattling moments the provide plenty of weight and depth though the bass never truly digs into the ultra-low region.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe (HD, 59 min): A worthy and decently interesting documentary detailing the entire production with cast & crew interviews and lots of BTS footage.

Enhancement Mode (HD): While watching the movie, owners can essentially interrupt it and access a variety of featurettes when icon pops up on screen.

Enhancement Pods (HD, 36 min): The same aforementioned featurettes for watching separately.

The Art of Valerian (HD): Still gallery collecting concept art.

Trailers (HD)

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Other than the UHD Blu-ray with HDR10, there are no exclusive features on this release.

Final Thoughts

Based on the French sci-fi comics, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the latest from visionary filmmaker Luc Besson. The film, sadly, failed to find an audience in theaters. On home video, it has the potential for gaining a cult following because, despite the production's many glaring issues, the wildly imaginative sci-fi adventure flick manages to be an entertaining, inventively whimsical vision that unapologetically embraces its preposterous premise.

The Ultra HD rides into danger with a great-looking if also a tad underwhelming 4K HDR10 presentation that isn't much better than its Blu-ray counterpart. However, the video improves dramatically in Dolby Vision, offering significantly better dynamic range and a picture that pops with a vivid, wider array of colors that electrify the screen. The same excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack tags along for the ride to keep things entertaining. With the same set of supplements, the overall package is recommended for Besson fans, but the curious will want to give it a rent first behind deciding on a purchase. 

Technical Specs

  • Two-Disc UHD Combo Pack
  • UHD-100 Triple-Layer Disc / BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region Free (UHD Only)

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 2160p HEVC/H.265

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.39:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby Atmos
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, Spanish

Supplements

  • Documentary
  • Enhancement Mode
  • Enhancement Pods
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailers
  • UltraViolet Digital Copy

Exclusive HD Content

  • Blu-ray Copy

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