Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets 4K UHD Blu-ray Review

Valor in Visuals

Two possibilities await Valerian in the future. In one scenario, Luc Besson’s cinematic imagination earns a cult-ish following in the undercurrent of pop culture, savored by the few. In the other, Valerian dies for two, maybe three decades. Then, it’s viewed with renaissance eyes, resurrected as a heralded visual classic. The chilly, indifferent critical reception at the time of release? A baffling anomaly.

Sometimes films need time. They need space to work themselves into film vernacular. In the now, Valerian sits in-between a bevy of eye-searing visual effect overdoses. There’s too much around Valerian, no fault of the movie itself, if unavoidably true.

What Valerian does with this creative palette is addictive. One stream of consciousness filters into the next, oblivious to the needs of standard storytelling. The third act piles on a tale of indigenous peoples crushed by a human-led war. The guilt of historical western atrocities certainly sprinkles into Valerian, and with it, an almost comical similarity to Avatar. Message diluted.

Studio-produced outings rarely act so odd, exotic, or terrifically alien

In this time, Valerian struggles with its identity. There’s the current of a French comic book married to a surrealist futurism. In-between are protagonists in a sarcastic and adversarial relationship; the two are made to appear far too young for the intended sexual energy; Valerian looks like teen fiction.

Valerian doesn’t feel lived in either. This future is joined to technology, overly busy as to bury minuscule details. As the characters walk through their paces – and a number of draining action scenes – the lack of comfort or establishment in this realm begins to hinder things. Primarily, the lack of cohesion flattens Valerian’s grandiose intentions. An entire galaxy of alien species fills Valerian. Outside of native tribesman living in peace, rarely do they factor in the greater story. Each reveal serves as limited window dressing.

Besson’s screenplay seems sure this is a one-off and his own fandom of the original comic pour out en masse, uncontrolled. As an American studio film, Valerian works on its own volition. Studio-produced outings rarely act so odd, exotic, or terrifically alien. Also, bizarre, comic, and childish, certainly saturated in Saturday morning mayhem. Therein sits the potential for a simmering fan base. Forget the inane, barely descriptive plotting; most of it seems included out of spite. Valerian exists for the sake of expression and wild ideas. This cinematic concoction is one of impossible color, deep vistas, and free-thinking design. It’s a ride, but a tenuous one. Now, anyway.

Video (4K UHD)

For a film like Valerian, the UHD presentation feels… improper. What’s added by the HDR – slightly denser color and powerful black levels – strangely limits some elements of fidelity. It’s not bright enough either. All of the holographic screen technology barely pops at all. Luckily, color density accounts for a lot here. Flesh tones beam with accuracy. The splendor of alien worlds (in the first act especially) bomb the screen with the most gorgeous blues.

Pulled from a 2K source, Valerian limps along, cleanly to whatever extent that helps. It’s a disc free of digital noise. There’s little benefit to overall detail in this presentation, somewhat softened and plain. Sharpness reaches a level of adequacy but never beyond.

All of the visual effects get their due. Spaceships whip by a pure black space. Alien creatures with translucent skin make for an appealing design. In the deepest shadows with all-black CG robots, nothing is lost, an impressive feat.

In comparison to the Blu-ray, Valerian on UHD loses some luster. Pay attention to skin texture during the introduction of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) on the simulated beach. The 4K disc hardly grabs onto anything substantial. It’s contrast over fine detail, creating an issue of personal preference between formats.

Video (Blu-ray)

This disc is not a perfect one. Noise follows the visual effects, and sometimes to egregious levels. The environment after Valerian exists the simulated beach is covered in artifacts. Black levels slip toward gray with a loose control over shadows. Some crush comes into play, with the opposite end being a fall into gray.

Nicely rendered color doesn’t have the edge of the UHD. However, the brightness manages a pleasing saturation. Accurate flesh tones and a bevy of primaries flood the screen, at least until Valerian falls into a darkened city as its locale.

All of the benefits here come down to detail. While some finer levels of clarity drop off at 1080p, human characters benefit with extensive facial definition. Uniform stitching brings an apparent consistency. Even the digital aliens look great.

Audio

Both discs offer an Atmos mix. Valerian’s design captures the world in full, while offering some fun placement tricks. Dialog from onboard AIs always comes from the rear channels. David Bowie’s Major Tom blares from the stereo channels during the opening credits, a delight in fidelity and separation.

This complete soundstage uses every bit of positioning it can. Marketplaces push ambient dialog into the front and rears simultaneously. Ships pan by in the sky front to back perfectly even when not on screen. When they are, add in superb, powerful LFE response. A doomsday scenario in the first act rips apart a planet. That sounds as you think it should, rattling the room with dominating force.

Extras

Lionsgate includes bonuses on both discs, if in different formations. The Blu-ray includes 14 featurettes in the form of “enhancement pods.” These can be played during the movie as a pop-up feature. This isn’t an option on the UHD, and both discs offer the ability to view them individually from the extras menu (35 minutes worth of them). The Art of Valerian stills gallery offers HDR when viewed on the UHD.

Equal on both formats is Citizens of Imagination. This strong, five-part making of runs an hour total, filled with interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. It’s definitely worth a watch.

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 16 Valerian screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 8,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.