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Friday, August 04, 2017 

Filmmaker Luc Besson can't relate to superheroes

There's more I've found about the Valerian & Laureline movie adaptation (which already tanked stateside) that's worth taking the time to focus on here. First, I thought it'd be a good idea to look at what this review of the film says about the content:
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, despite its designation as mainstream summer fare, has a political perspective. Science fiction often deals in allegory and this is no exception. There’s nothing subtle about the points Besson makes about the perils of climate change (an early scene in which paradise is destroyed), the importance of multiculturalism (Alpha’s diversity of species), and the dangers of xenophobia. And the threat to the space station’s continued existence is described as a rot that has been born deep within.
Yup, as I'd noted before, it looks more like Besson's real motivation for making this movie was recent political events, which he took the wrong side of. Yet at the same time, there's quite a bit of irony in the movie's screenplay, by Besson himself:
...Similarly problematic and no less insidious is the film’s attitude towards diplomacy and race. Late on, Valerian and Laureline break rank in order to protect an alien civilisation previously thought to have been lost, yet up until this point they treat the various foreign cultures they encounter with nothing but intolerance and hostility.
No kidding! But probably no surprise coming from a director with leftist political visions as hideous as what Besson harbors. On the one hand, he couldn't have gotten around to filming the movie at a worse time, as recent events, in France and elsewhere, have apparently influenced him from a SJW perspective. On the other hand, if his screenplay is any indication, he still has no qualms about taking an insulting approach to any race or culture, for surely the wrong reasons, and it wouldn't shock me one bit if those he thumbed his nose at the worst were his own society.

Anyway, moving onto the main topic, Besson spoke with Bleeding Cool about what he thinks of American superhero comicdom. And, among the other subjects brought up, there's this peculiar little comment he makes:
As to why it has been harder for the French school of comics to find popularity in English speaking countries, he told me “It’s something more European, we have a very old culture, we welcome different people from China, from everywhere, American is much younger and self-orientated, there is them and there are the others. They do great things but their tendency towards self-supremacy is a little big.”
My my, do I sense contempt for the US here? Sounds like the man subscribes to a belief that America is little more than a domineering force with no competent view on anything. Methinks Besson's spent too much time with his head under a jellyfish, not unlike what he borrowed out of "Ambassador of the Shadows". Besides, French-language comics have certainly found audience in the UK, and possibly Australia/New Zealand, and come to think of it, even in America and Canada, if you know where to look, there were at least a handful of French-language products that found an audience, so it's laughable to say they don't find much at all among the English-language audience. Now, here's what he had to say regarding superheroes and powers, and he decidedly misses their point:
I asked if there was anything that Valerian And Laureline could teach such an audience. “What I like is Valerian is not a superhero at all. He doesn’t have superpowers. Sometimes he can be heroic. If he wants to save his girl he can take two swords and fight three hundred coulkan Batoire, but the rest of the time he’s a little pretentious, stupid, cracking bad jokes, a little too secure in himself, sure of himself, so he’s like us and I can identify with that. It’s very hard for me to identify with a superhero because he has a superpower, and I don’t have a superpower, all I can see is his power and say ‘oh, thank you so much for saving my life, me, poor little human being.’ I don’t like this relationship. I cant identify with the guy, I’m not like him.”
I guess he doesn't dig Asterix either, and not even Obelix. The former doesn't have superpowers per se - only when he drinks the temporary effects of the magic potions brewed by his village's Celtic druid Getafix in Brittany - but it's pretty apparent Besson's disinterested in one of the leading ideas in superhero comics of better days: wish fulfillment. That's one of the main points of superpowers in these science-fantasy tales, yet he doesn't even consider what some of the creations over in Europe have to offer. It's not too hard to guess he didn't like Benoît Brisefer with his own superhuman strength either. Even though none of the above are superheroes like what DC/Marvel publish. As for being "too secure" and making "bad" jokes, that could just as easily describe superheroes like Spider-Man, so why does he think European comic book writers have a monopoly on such traits?

In fact, how come he makes it sound like there's only male superheroes to expect for help? What about all the female superheroines? Surely he wouldn't want to be in the role of say, Major Steve Trevor and look forward to getting aid from the "beautiful angel" that is Wonder Woman? Or have the Black Canary come to his rescue? I just don't get this clown. What I do get is the feeling he wouldn't be grateful if a superhero came to his rescue. I didn't notice him say he thought Laureline was one hot redhead either, or whether he'd love to have a gal like her to back him up and come to his aid when he needed it, putting his appreciation for her character under a question mark to boot.

It doesn't take a genius to figure he has a very superficial view of superheroes, seeing as all he can see in them are powers, and not personalities, let alone what they use said powers for. If he can't dig them for what they are, or wish he could have something like sci-fi powers himself, then he's one sorry dope. Of course real life humans don't have superpowers, but that's why we create all these fictional characters and worlds to tell fantastic tales of what we wish we could have. And isn't he aware that Christin and Mezieres once came up with a scene alluding to the Fantastic Four in 1990's "The Living Weapons"? In that tale, Valerian got temporary stretching powers and Laureline the temporary ability to turn invisible, a la Reed Richards and Sue Storm, so I'm not sure why Besson said Valerian doesn't have powers, when in one story, he got them in a manner of speaking, if only for a short time.
We talked about how Valerian, in the comics, began as an authoritarian figure, a cog is the machine as opposed to Laureline, who always bucked the system, and how this changed as the stories continued, Valerian turning against his government. I asked what lessons are to be learned… and if rules are made to be broken?

“Rules are made to be followed until you can prove they are wrong, it’s funny to see in the history of the human race, when one man says ‘we shouldn’t do that, yes I know it’s the law but it’s not right, let’s do it differently.’ The Berlin wall didn’t fall because of the politicians but the people. They say, ‘I’m fed up with this wall, give me a hammer.’ They don’t think about the consequences. It’s just too much. And that’s what I love about the real power of the human being, the big changes come from the simple people.”
Now isn't that hilarious coming from a leftist who's followed their rules without question, and doesn't seem interested in proving their MO's wrong either. In that case, one can only wonder why he seemingly appreciates the fall of the Berlin Wall and unification of Germany, which meant the collapse of communism, a leftist doctrine. France has some terrible, badly developed laws too, still existing to this day, that he doesn't seem the least bit interested in changing either. So what's his point?
Is there too much trust in authority? “One of the big themes of the film is, for many centuries, the number one [in terms of importance in society] was the human, the number two was the business. Not even number two at the beginning, you have loyalty, the family, a bunch of things, and business and money were probably five or six. Today for the first time, we decide to put at number one, the business, and at number two, the humans. It’s the biggest mistake of our entire history. This decision is wrong, and if we don’t change it we will go to our end. Because you cannot do that. Human has to be first. You cannot put economy and business up front. It’s impossible. We take the wrong decision every day. We know that wind power is a source of energy that’s perfect, but some people say it’s not profitable. But it’s profitable for everyone to use that. And that’s one of the biggest themes: we wipe out an entire race in the film by mistake but we don’t want to pay for it.”
And there's phonies out there leading to a "civilizations die from suicide, not murder" situation, and don't want to apologize for it. His country's going to hell in a handbasket, and he has the gall to complain about putting business above humanity, when he won't even consider his own populace? I'm not impressed.

Hence, I can't feel sorry his self-indulgent movie hasn't been a success. He exploited a comic book series he alleges to be a childhood favorite for little more than stealthing in his leftist politics according to how leftists are going by them now, and he even insults the intellect further by depicting the two leads mistreating practically every alien race and/or culture with nothing but contempt, no matter what it's built on. No wonder it's not bound to enjoy the cult status the Fifth Element achieved over the past 2 decades.

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Superheroes have never really dominated the field outside North America; masked vigilantes have a place, sometimes ugly, in American tradition but are less accepted elsewhere.

I would be curious to hear more from Avi about the Israeli comic scene. In the English-speaking world, we know about Rutu Modan, because a lot of her work has been translated. Miriam Katin and Lior Zaltzman have published work in English. Michael Netzer is fondly remembered by super-hero fans from the time when he worked in the U. S. And we know North Americans cartoonists who have written in English about their experiences in Israel, like Miriam Libicki and Sarah Glidden. But is there other work that is being done in Hebrew that we don't know about and that is worth publicizing?

It's an excellent question. There have been some Israeli-created comics - certain comic strips - as far back as the 1970s or so, with one notable example being "Sabraman" by a cartoonist named Uri Fink, and there's an article on Tablet about some of these creations. Most surely aren't widely known outside Israel, but I think there are some of interest that are favorable to Israel, and someday I'll have to do additional researching and write more about the subject myself. Thanks for asking.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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